Strawberry farms threaten Spanish wetlands

Strawberry farms threaten Spanish wetlands

Standing in the middle of a stretch of land surrounded by dunes and pine forest, Juan Romero examines the cracked ground then stares at the dusty horizon.

"It's dry... really dry," the retired teacher said at the huge Donana National Park in southern Spain, home to one of Europe's largest wetlands, which is threatened by intensive farming.

Water supplies to the park have declined dramatically due to climate change and the over-extraction of water by neighbouring strawberry farms, often through illegal wells, scientists say.

The situation could soon get worse as the regional government of Andalusia, where Donana is located, has proposed expanding irrigation rights for strawberry farmers near the park.

It's a battle pitting environmentalists against politicians and farmers, and the proposal to widen irrigation rights has drawn backlash from the EU, the UN and major European grocery store chains.

The proposal would regularise nearly 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) of berry farmland currently irrigated by illegal wells, said Juanjo Carmona of the local branch of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).Defenders of the proposal argue it will aid those who unfairly missed out during a previous regularisation of farms in the area put in place in 2014 under a Socialist government.

About 9,000 hectares of farms were regularised but another 2,000 hectares that started being farmed after 2004 were deemed illegal.

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