Saving the Doñana World Heritage site: Global scientists’ manifesto

The curiosity of naturalists kick-started the conservation of Doñana wetlands more than 60 years ago. Since then it has been a unique living lab for scientist from all over the world. Today, backed up by decades of research data and witnessing the degradation, which has placed this unique wetland in danger, WWF want to make an urgent call to authorities to ensure future generations can also enjoy it.

Call from the global scientific community to withdraw proposed legalisation to expand the area of red berry crops in the northern crown of Spain’s Doñana National Park and World Heritage Site, promoted by the President of the regional government of Andalusia.

If enacted, the new law would accelerate the destruction of the globally important Doñana wetland, whose survival depends on the sustainable use of groundwater and surface waters. It would impact local communities, legal fruit farmers and nature as well as undermine climate adaptation.

We, the undersigned scientists, stand for the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of Doñana for the benefit of people and nature. It is a critical piece of our shared global heritage and its health must be protected for future generations.

We urge the competent authorities to take the following key steps to safeguard Doñana. We call on:

  • The regional government of Andalusia to withdraw the proposed Law to modify the Special Management Plan of the Irrigation Zones located to the North of the Forest Crown of Doñana, and instead to urgently implement the existing measures within this plan;
  • The regional and national governments to create a safe operating space for Doñana National Park, through a holistic approach that considers the entire catchment area and Biosphere Reserve, using the best possible scientific evidence to restore its hydrological functionality, and improving the conservation status of key habitats and species. This is in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which promotes ecosystem restoration as a key measure to increase biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and prevent and reduce the impacts of natural disasters;
  • The regional government to ensure sustainable agriculture in the region within the current climate change scenario, including taking the necessary measures to transform the sector and promote other sectors with incentives for economic diversification, including investment in education, industry and sustainable value-added services.
  • The European Commission to take all necessary actions to stop the proposed law and intervene vigorously in defence of Doñana, and to ensure compliance with European laws.


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Decades of monitoring and numerous scientific studies leave no room for doubt: some of Europe’s most important wetland ecosystems in Doñana are in a critical condition and dangerously close to the point of no return - even though the area formally enjoys the highest possible levels of protection as a National Park, Biosphere Reserve, Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, and World Heritage site, while various sites are also included within Europe’s Natura 2000 Network.

The rapid growth of industrial agriculture and mass tourism has placed Doñana under ever increasing pressure. Climate change is now exacerbating the crisis, threatening wetland ecosystems that are vital for local communities, economies and globally important biodiversity - including hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. For more than a decade, Doñana has been experiencing a dry period and climate change is expected to cause further shortening of the hydroperiod and to increase evaporation in the region.

The rate at which Doñana is losing key natural values is alarming. Current levels of groundwater extraction are unsustainable and the alteration of Doñana’s hydrological dynamics seriously compromises this unique ecosystem. Over the past 20 years, groundwater levels have dropped by up to 6 meters, and in some areas and moments even up to 20 meters, resulting in the drying out of even the largest lagoons, and the disappearance of numerous species, including amphibians, dragonflies and aquatic plants. Centennial oak trees are dying, while shrub vegetation is undergoing radical changes. Over exploitation of the aquifer is also impacting local breeding populations of iconic waterbirds, and causing eutrophication of surface waters and subsequent biodiversity loss. Growing water scarcity also threatens people who depend on Doñana. 

Despite this dire state of affairs, the Parliament of Andalusia has given the green light to the processing of a proposed law, which would regularize 1900 hectares of land that is currently being illegally irrigated for red berry production, even though these lands do not have a water concession. This amnesty bill is being pushed through rapidly, despite strong opposition from the Spanish  government, the Water authority, environmental organizations, and a significant proportion of Doñana’s legal farmers, as well as warnings from the European Commission and international institutions like UNESCO.

This proposed law would repeal the main measures under the 2014 Special Management Plan of the Irrigation Zones located to the North of the Forest Crown of Doñana. It has the same overall goal as a proposed bill that was presented in the parliament last year, but not approved due to regional elections. The current bill contains a perverse preamble, which claims that the new law would contribute to restoring Doñana and implementing the landmark judgement of the European Court of Justice, which demanded action to safeguard the wetlands. In reality, the proposed law would aggravate the overexploitation of scarce water resources, putting the future of Doñana in danger - along with the local communities and biodiversity that depend on it.