Doñana’s deterioration has worsened over the years, despite the fact that recent rains have eased the ongoing drought and given the wetlands a breather this winter, a mirage according to biologists. Breeding waterbirds are the main victims of this ecological downturn, and their numbers have been declining sharply as lack of rain, intensive strawberry cultivation and tourism have deprived valuable wetlands of their livelihoods over the past decade.
The development of fifty of these birds in the emblematic reserve between 2004 and last year shows a general setback. Only two of the 24 species analyzed by researchers at CSIC’s Doñana Biological Station show a positive trend. The rest is declining, according to an analysis by conservation organization SEO Bird Life.
“We note the serious decline and a very declining trend since 2019 in the biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems. The reasons are multiple: the overexploitation of water bodies by intensive agriculture, the poor state of water and poor purification, agrochemicals and global warming,” rebuked Carlos Dávila, head of the technical office of this NGO in Doñana, this Thursday , UN World Day of Wetlands According to SEO Bird Life, 85% of these reserves in Spain are in poor condition.
Until a decade ago, the chicks of flamingos, teals, pochards or marsh harriers were born and raised in the sweet lagoons of Doñana, but each time in a more reserved way. “The temperature record in 2022 is not the future but the present and the rain trend is becoming less and less. Urgent action is needed to reverse current unsustainable water use, as well as other threats such as wild boar predation, extensive livestock mismanagement and illegal hunting,” adds the expert.
Aerial view of the Santa Olalla Lagoon, a month and a half ago. ICTS/Doñana Picasa Biological Station
The Department for Ecological Transition last November put forward a shock plan of 356 million to buy farms and sewerage works that will reclaim the aquifer and marshes, while the board announced it would also put forward a package of measures but hasn’t moved yet became Tab.
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Biologists who have been tracking the birds on site highlight that the common tern and brown duck have not breeded since 2018 and are considered extinct breeders, the marble teal is critically endangered and only 13 breeding pairs remain in the park. Meanwhile, the future of the marsh harrier looks bleak: 36 pairs were counted in 2005, three in 2021 and none in 2022.
The only exceptions are the greater flamingo, whose population is showing a 14% annual increase despite not having tried to breed since 2019, and the bald duck, which has increased by 12% but also did not breed in 2021, the worst year of the last 15 Years.
Workers in the strawberry plantations in Lucena del Puerto (Huelva), in 2022. PACO PUENTES
In 2022, the bird count was 80,880 specimens, the second-lowest number in the entire historical series and a far cry from the reserve’s boom years of the early 1990s, when more than 600,000 birds wintered at Doñana.
“The demise of the teal is very remarkable, since it was in fact the most common duck in the Doñana swamp, which was an ideal habitat for this species, since it was a swimming duck adapted to the temporary and dynamic wetlands of the Mediterranean . Today, the swamp is drying up too early for this species, which breeds in summer,” points out Andy Green, professor in the Wetland Ecology Group at the Doñana Biological Station. The expert adds: “The swamp has become a green filter that cleans sewage from the population and fertilizers from agriculture, which has a major impact on breeding birds.”
Doñana suffered one of the worst periods since the 1970s in the hydrological year 2021-2022, with only 282 liters of rain per square meter, the worst year of the last decade. The average annual temperature was the highest recorded at 18.5 degrees and the highest ever recorded at 46.3 degrees. These extremes caused the Santa Olalla Lagoon to dry up completely, which has only happened in 1995 and 1983 so far.
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