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November 2019
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SPEA is an Environmental not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support research and conservation of wild birds and their habitats, by promoting sustainable development for the benefit of future generations.
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Portugal's Salgados – more grief and illegal activity in a sad and frustrating saga

The Salgados wetland – also known as Pera marsh – is one of the Algarve’s best known birding localities, and it is visited by thousands of birdwatchers ever year. Unfortunately the future of the wetland has been neglected by the Portuguese local, regional and central authorities, in spite of all the effort put in by SPEA (Birdlife in Portugal), the RSPB and other conservation NGOs to preserve it as a valuable natural asset that benefits both birds and tourism. SPEA and the RSPB are once again calling for the Portuguese ministry for agriculture, the sea, the environment and land planning to act, in a sensible way, and assume the responsibility it has for the management and the sustainable future of this important site

The Salgados wetland qualifies as an Important Bird Area (IBA) due to its breeding bird populations, that include ferruginous duck, black-winged stilt and avocet – flamingos had a go at breeding there a couple of years ago. It is also one of the best places for birdwatching in the Algarve, as result it is very well know by many thousands of visiting birding tourists.

SPEA, the RSPB and others have been working constructively towards the sustainable protection of the wetland over several years. We’ve campaigned and tried to work with local, regional and central authorities, the local tourism developers, the Algarve water board and local law enforcers

Despite our efforts and the commitment put in by the conservation organsiations, there has been no meaningful action. The Portuguese statutory conservation agency (ICNB, under the ministry) has stubbornly refused to designate the area as a Special Protection Area under the Birds Directive.

Total inaction or disinterest by the enforcing agencies meant the wetland has suffered over the years in the face of a countless list of abuses and threats: overflying with small planes, illegal grazing, using it as a 4-wheel drive practice area, opening of the sand bar to the sea in the middle of the breeding season, or illegal abstraction of water

Most recently when the, now bankrupt, golf course was constructed more than a decade ago (Herdade dos Salgados), it started to extract water from the wetland to irrigate its greens and gardens, because the water company had cut their supply due to unpaid bills. In spite of SPEA’s alerts, letters and contacts with the competent authorities, the situation was denied and/or allowed to go on for weeks on end, resulting in the partial drying of the wetland.

The management plan for the wetland, which includes most of the SPEA/RSPB recommendations, is not being implemented. The document has been approved and endorsed by all the responsible bodies in 2008, but so far the Algarve water board and the Portuguese ministry have revealed total lack of will to implement it on the ground.

All in all it’s a frustrating and sad saga, where public bodies that should protect the public interest (the site is a huge asset for the Algarve tourism – a main earner of income for the cash strapped country) instead neglect of the site is allowing it do deteriorate.

No wonder that citizens are irate.

So are we.

After the recent news that the last contract in the plans to construct yet another golf course on the west side of the wetland has been signed came out, many people exploded with rage. This development, which includes several hotels, and many villas, had been legally approved in 2007, but is led by a holding that has been mired in economic and political scandals.

Faced with a bankrupt large-scale development that did nothing to protect the wetland, and often contributed to its degradation through illegal water extraction, and the inactivity of the authorities, many citizens are now angry that the construction of this other development may now start. To many, it will be the final nail in the coffin slowly surrounding Salgados.

The RSPB and SPEA fully support the calls from many thousands of citizens to protect Salgados. We ask the Portuguese ministry of environment to, once and for all, commit to the protection and management of the wetland, identify and prosecute illegalities, and implement effectively the management plan for the wetland.

Over and over again, the interests of cement and golf, villas and hotels prevailed. With Portugal undergoing a major economical and political crisis, with the Algarve’s tourism in the balance and with many thousands of citizens angry and frustrated, it may be time to stop, think and re-plan. You too can say to the Portuguese authorities – please sign the petition below and pass the word.

Please sign this petition to help us

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