It is a sign of the times, when in the depths of a european winter, the chilled damp public of the UK and Ireland as well as our northern european neighbours, that a family can sit down to a breakfast, lunch or dinner and have fresh strawberries by the bowl full, The demand for this fruit has long been high in these northern latitudes, and none profit more from the modern worlds intense agricultural practices, due their ability to supply an addicted continent in the grips of winter, with this sought after nugget of mouth watering fruit, than the Spanish.
Tucked away in the southwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula, hugging the Portuguese border, sits the province of Huelva. A province famed for it's highly sought after Jamon Iberico, ( from pigs foraging on acorns ) which many fanatical foodies consider to be the best in the world, it's southern border faces the Atlantic so fantastic seafood is another tourist draw to go with miles of golden sands, and of course strawberies. This red berry alone is worth 345,000,000 pounds to the economy, making the Spanish the worlds largest exporter of this Red Gold, as the locals fondly refer to it. There is however a high price to pay for the huge amount of fruit produced, and for far too long this problem was left unchecked, blatantly ignored by every official in the region from the local Mayors and their cohorts to the regional government official in nearby Seville and even as far as Madrid. The main ingredient, the magic element is of course water, and there is simply not enough of it to go around, and when one of the most important wetlands in Europe is sitting smack bang in the middle of the area producing all the strawberries, it is a recipe for disaster, but that has not stopped anyone from turning a profit, regardless off the cost to the environment, and the creatures dependent on the health of these fragile ecosystems.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
The problem has been ignored and brushed under the carpet over a prolonged period, but luckily the tragedy playing out right under the noses of the authoritires finally enough people, including concerned locals, some of whom share the deep passion for the wonders of the Donana wetlands, that rely on the regions aquafier, caused a ripple that turned into a wave of concern which thankfully became impossible to ignore. The problem the authorities faced was how to balance the needs of Spain's most important wetland, with the need to keep people employed and generate wealth for the region. The effects of tapping into well over 1000 illegal boreholes was undoubtedly having a profound effect on the health of the park, not only from the ever decreasing level in the Aquafier, but the huge amount of run off which is heavily tainted from all the irrigation water laced with fertilizers, especially nitrates. Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, the same applies to watering crops, and simply opening the sluice gates and letting the water flow a rate of knots, is not always the best way to get the most out of the worlds most valuable natural commodity. It is estimated about 40% of the water is lost due to percolation, or washout through the sandy areas, a shocking % that any area can afford to lose, let alone one that is so environmentally sensitive as Donana.
There has, fortunately, been action taken by some of the bulk buyers of the regions prize fruit, as the concerns about the use of illegal production methods have entered the public conciousness. Some of the big supermarkets have stated they are working with growers to only buy crops that have been grown using water extracted from legally documented water supplies, and thankfully it has recieved much needed press, because far to many people in the UK and Europe simply don't think about the food that sustains them, most get as far as the supermarket, beyond that it's a huge horses mouth most don't wish to look into.
The feeding of the masses comes at a high price for this planet, and lack of education, corporate and personel greed, stupidity and mans ever increasing desire to posses and consume way more than is needed, is leading us, and all the species and ecosystems we can take with us, down the road to a very uncertain future, and it is not looking rosy.
Donana is a shining example of just how stupid we as a species truly are. These wetlands have for millenia been a permanent home for some, a stopover point on migration for millions of other birds, for other an over wintering ground for birds from latitudes further north, and yet with all the so called advances humans have made, sending probes out past the planets, deciphering the most complex genetic mysteries in nature, we are still capable of systematically destroying vast amounts of life, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than pure driven greed. We as humans seem to forget we are but just another species of life on earth, one that has evolved to take the roll of guardian over the whole domain, and this lack of humility understanding and respect will be our undoing. I think the words penned by Henry Beston in his classic " The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod" perfectly sums up just how we have gone from being part of the intricate web of life on earth that evolved over eons, to a species seemingly hell bent on becoming master of the whole spectacle and sending it towards the abyss........
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
― Henry Beston,
Back in 1998, a retaining wall at the Canadian owned Los Frailles mine gave way, the result was devastating, as 5 million cubic mtrs of higly toxic mine tailings was released and entered the surrounding countryside and the Guadiamar River, the main feeder river for Donana National Park. Negligence on a grand scale, in not keeping regular and thorough checks on such important structures, was the order of the day, and to this day the effects are still poisoning the area. The authorities recovered 37 tons of dead fish from the river and it's shores, and the vast majority of the metal heavy toxic waste was dumped into a large empty ditch, which means the area that was affected is cleaner, but the problem was moved to another location, what kind of solution is that. There has long been the desire in the region to reopen the mine to create jobs, and to pour yet more money into the pockets of the multinationals who control so much of this industry, but opposition is high, as it should be. Donana and many of the species that call it home, is still recovering from the disaster, the effects of intense agricultural practices in place for this red gold is one Donana and it's species could well do without, so this fragile ecosystem battles on, with politicians in Brussels threatening action and other pitching in like Juan Carlos del Olmo, CEO of WWF-Spain.WWF-Spain
"For too long, authorities in Spain have ignored science, disregarded international treaty obligations, disobeyed UNESCO decisions, defied EU regulations, and resisted public opinion,” said For too long, authorities in Spain have ignored science, disregarded international treaty obligations, disobeyed UNESCO decisions, defied EU regulations, and resisted public opinion,”
The Lynx is a species that needs to have unfragmented territories, it can cover many miles in a day in search of food, but the once lush green wet corridoors it had through tracts of countryside have been drying up, the other species that used them, including the Lynx's main prey species, the rabbit has dwindled, forcing the lynx into areas in normally would not need to go, this has resulted in more encounters with with road traffic, in which the Lynx always comes off worst. The people of the area are entitled to take advantage of the climate and make a living, but all involved have to remember, it is not ours to destroy and turn into a toxic fertilizer riddled cash cow, which would not be to far off the mark to label as, in i'ts current state.
“Nature is a part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man.”
― Henry Beston,