Andalusia administration moves to shut illegal wells drying out Doñana reserve

The plan to reclaim the endangered wetland would close more than 500 illegal boreholes and reclaim all land which has been irrigated since 2004, mostly to grow strawberries

A long-awaited plan to regulate the use of land in and around the Doñana National Park in Andalusia was finally published on Wednesday. The plan, which had been agreed upon in principle in 2007, aims to find a balance between the needs of local farmers and the protection of the park, an area of great biodiversity and one of Spain's largest wetlands.

The overarching element of the debate is water. Doñana, wedged between Huelva and Portugal, relies on a huge aquifer to feed its wetland, which is home to the largest population of Iberian lynx left in the wild. But local farmers, who produce mainly strawberries, need water as well. The problem lies in the 1,000 or so illegal wells that scatter the park, slowly sucking the life out of the aquifer.

The Environment Ministry stated on Monday that when the plan is definitively rubber-stamped?it is now in the public information stage, giving those affected by it two months to study it?between 500 and 600 of these wells will be closed. The proposal also allows for 9,000 hectares of land to be irrigated, over half of which lies in Almonte, Huelva. All land that has been irrigated since 2004, when the Territorial Organization Plan for Doñana came into effect, will be reclaimed.

Andalusia's Public Works department on Tuesday declined to specify how many hectares would be reclaimed, but the region's environment department put the figure at between 800 and 1,000. The WWF says that last summer the regional government put the figure at 1,400 to 1,500 hectares.

Unesco has voiced its concern over the use of the World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve and agriculturalists have stated their concern that mismanagement of resources tarnishes the image of their products in international markets.

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