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UNESCO news: Seville not on danger list, but Doñana heading that way

July 4, 2013 – 4:52 pm
Now the tallest building in Seville, after 800 years of the Giralda dominating the skyline: the Torre Pelli

Now the tallest building in Seville, after 800 years with the Giralda dominating the skyline: the 178-metre Torre Pelli.

Last week saw two of Andalucia’s UNESCO World Heritage sites in the news for two very different reasons: Seville, whose new (and first) skyscraper, the Torre Pelli, was (is) of such towering height and sheer incongruity that it had almost got the city placed on the In Danger list, is now in the clear. Doñana National Park, on the other hand – a UNESCO biosphere which is Europe’s most important wetland and home to many rare migratory birds as well as the endangered lynx – may be heading for the same list.

The Mayor of Seville, Juan Ignacio Zoido, was informed by UNESCO last week that the international body was no longer considering the city’s Monumental Complex of the Cathedral, Alcazar, and Archive of the Indies for the At Risk list. The building of the Cajasol/La Caixa headquarters, which is 44 storeys and 178 metres high, will not result in the city being added to the In Danger list, and thereby risking having its World Heritage Status removed.

The city’s inclusion on the blacklist was being considered, since a report by UNESCO inspectors who visited in November 2011 had recommended that construction be halted and the height of the building be modified. However the UNESCO committee’s verdict was much less damning: at their 2012 annual meeting, they simply asked for developments in the surrounding area to be carefully monitored, especially with regard to their vertical impact, as promised by the Ayuntamiento. It was probably this undertaking by the city council which persuaded UNESCO to close its file on the Torre Pelli issue.

The marismas, or marshlands, of Doñana Park, change seasonally and offer delicately-balanced inhabitat for their migratory inhabitants.

The marismas, or marshlands, of Doñana Park, change seasonally and offer a delicately-balanced habitat for their migratory inhabitants.

Meanwhile, Doñana, which has one of the largest heron colonies in the Mediterranean, faces environmental threats from all sides. These include the dredging of the Guadalquivir river at its mouth, near Sanlucar de Barrameda, to enable larger ships to reach the port of Seville. This activity could result in the levels of water in the seasonal wetlands being severely affected, thereby putting the delicate ecosystem out of balance. Plans to start fracking for natural gas have been halted for now, thanks to campaigning by groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.

Strawberries being grown under plastic tenting in Huelva - agricultural irrigation is damaging Doñana's own water supply. .

Strawberries being grown under plastic tenting in Huelva - agricultural irrigation is damaging Doñana's own water supply.

But the greatest danger for Doñana is the threat to its water system from farming around the outside of the park. Countless strawberry farms are located in the area near Doñana, and many have made illegal boreholes to provide water to irrigate their crops. The strawberry industry in Spain is worth an estimated 400 million euros, 90% of which comes from Seville and Huelva, and such a cash-crop is seen as essential to Andalucia’s failing economy.

UNESCO has demanded that the government bring in measures to monitor water consumption in the area around Doñana, with an updated report on the situation due on 1 February 2014. Read the Guardian news story on the subject here, and a WWF report (in Spanish) here.

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