Wednesday, June 8, 2022
The elegant pose of the Iberian lynx. The majestic flight of the imperial eagle. The thunderous growl of the brown bear. These are the first images that come to mind when one thinks of biodiversity loss in Spain. Emblematic species whose status, as Eduardo de Miguel, managing director of Fundación Global Nature, points out, "is being reversed, with increasing populations." And yet, the unfathomable variety of plants and insects in Spain—what De Miguel calls "great biodiversity”—appears to deserve less media attention or sound more muted alarms among the public. For decades, it has been suffering from the impact of human activity that does not consider the planet’s limits.
Bird and small mammal populations are also declining. Life cycles perfectly orchestrated for millennia by Mother Nature are being interrupted. The harmful effects impact ecosystems’ richness, which is undoubtedly valuable in itself.
Even from a strictly economic point of view, De Miguel warns that the loss of biodiversity harms an important part of our production model. He offers the example of the decrease of microorganisms in the soil and their influence on the organic matter that ensures natural efficiency in agricultural use, and the gradual decline of, in the expert’s words, "pollinators such as bees, which are essential for crop species such as almond and cherry trees".
In Mediterranean countries such as Spain, more than 50% of biodiversity is concentrated in wetlands. Over the last century and so far this one, De Miguel continued, "our country has lost 60% of its wetland area, either by pollution, desiccation or encroachment for cultivation". For this expert, the recovery these kinds of environments should have a national strategy.
Recovering native ecosystems
In this context, and for the last 20 years, Fundación Cepsa and the regional government of Andalusia have been collaborating on a large restoration project of La Laguna Primera de Palos, in Huelva. The initiative has become a benchmark for this type of intervention, especially for its comprehensive approach addressing ecological and landscape recovery without neglecting a strong educational side.
Javier Camacho, the biologist in charge of the project, explained that two decades ago the lagoon was subjected to numerous impacts that reduced its biodiversity: "Overgrazing, logging and agriculture had greatly simplified the enormous heterogeneity of the flora, especially affecting plants such as hollyhock".
And remember that this, in turn, made it increasingly difficult to preserve the native fauna that fed on their fruits. "Many aquatic birds—the marbled teal or the horned coot—had also been disappearing from the site due to the drastic reduction of shallow areas where many species find refuge and a place to feed or breed", he said.
For these reasons, the project focused on several simultaneous actions, which created a virtuous circle: the reintroduction of species that had fled in search of healthier habitats; increasing populations of those that still remained, although with very reduced populations; the progressive return of the plant richness that the area originally had; and intervention on the topography to favor the generation of shallow areas.
In these 20 years, we have worked with almost 100 species of native fauna and 17 species of native flora. The challenge now is to maintain what has been achieved and continue on the path we have set. All this in a surrounding context of intense human activity. “We have to be aware that the lagoon is located in an area of very high value for a multitude of activities (industrial, agricultural, port, tourism, etc.)", Camacho stated. So, the biologist said, the goal "is to achieve a state as close as possible to the natural state while maintaining most of those uses. For the scientist, this point of equilibrium exists, and we need to work to find it".
While Fundación Cepsa is working with local administrations and players in the search for that middle ground between development and sustainability, La Laguna Primera de Palos is attracting more and more visitors. In small groups, visitors enjoy a botanical route and several bird observatories that recreate the traditional architecture of this area of Huelva. Nearly 100,000 people have already enjoyed its many environmental awareness programs. It teaches firsthand the benefits of a healthy biodiversity. And it proves that a can-do attitude makes it possible to rebuild ecosystems of great value for biodiversity.
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