New record for overwintering birds, but Spain’s wetlands are suffering

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WWF España
RECORD numbers of wetland birds are overwintering in Andalucia, with close to a million recorded during the 2016 annual census.

RECORD numbers of wetland birds are overwintering in Andalucia, with close to a million recorded during the 2016 annual census.

This represents an increase of 115,000 over the previous record, set in 2014.

Around 645,000 of the birds counted during the census, which included 230 sites, were in Doñana National Park, which straddles parts of Huelva and Sevilla provinces and is the largest wetland in southern Spain.

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Regional Environmental councillor, Jose Fiscal, said: “This increase is due in particular to the abundant rainfall that hit the Atlantic coast during autumn, which had led to excellent flooding in Donaña’s natural marshland.”

The councillor was speaking at a release of endangered species at the artificial Cañada de los Pajeros reserve in Puebla del Rio, Sevilla, in order to commemorate World Wetlands Day (WWD).

However, the positive news regarding the number of birds present in the region came as a scathing WWD report by SEO/Birdlife International concluded that Doñana, the Ebro Delta and the Albufera de Valencia, Spain’s three most important wetlands, are on the verge of environmental collapse.

The Executive Director of the organisation, Asuncion Ruiz, explained how wetlands in Spain, a country that “has the potential to become the desert of Europe,” are reaching “a point of no return that will not only endanger nature, but also society.”

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WWD commemorates the signing of the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands in 1971.

However, Ruiz said that Spain “should drop its bragging over its status as the country with the third largest number of Ramsar sites,” because “its poor conservation standards may lead to its expulsion.”

She added that the chronic situation in Doñana, the Ebro and Valencia has forced her organisation to open an official investigation “to assess whether Spain meets the requirements to remain in the catalogue.”

Wetlands are among the most fragile ecosystems on the planet, with around 60 per cent having disappeared during the 20th century, and a colossal 87 per cent since the year 1700.

In Spain, the conservation status of an estimated 80 per cent of freshwater habitats fails to meet standards, with decades of pollution, overexploitation and mismanagement having taken their toll.

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