Forest Fires Ravage Valuable Nature Park in Portugal
Rome, Italy – The Natural Park of Guadiana in Southern Portugal has been ravaged by a large forest fire over the last few days. Valuable forests, home to important species like the Iberian lynx, have been destroyed by flames that struck the area surrounding the centre of Mértola. The three simultaneous fires in different areas represent evidence of the fact that the fire may be due to arson.
“Forest fires represent an environmental emergency in Portugal to be urgently and efficiently tackled. ADPM asks the Portuguese government to promptly intervene in order to identify who deliberately lit the forest fire and to make sure that the costs of the damage are recovered,” said Rosario Oliveira, President of the local NGO ADPM (Association for the Protection of Mértola Heritage). “Also, the government should properly apply the environmental measures of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) to avoid that subsidies are used for artificial plantations which, as well as destroying important natural habitats, increase the risk of huge forest fires.”
The 70,000 ha Guadiana Valley Natural Park was created in 1995 following the joint efforts of WWF and ADPM. It includes one the most valuable riverine ecosystems in southern Europe and is part of a wider naturally rich area, with valuable forests of cork oak and holm oak, home to the last Portuguese population of Iberian Lynx. The southern Portugal region is one of WWF’s priority areas in the Mediterranean to implement the innovative “Green Belts against Desertification” plan, together with partners. The plan involves the creation of a network of protected areas where nature conservation and sustainable development beneficial to local communities are integrated.
“WWF calls upon the Mediterranean governments to make sure that forest land conversion to other land uses is prohibited after fires”, said Pedro Regato, Head of Forest Unit at WWF Mediterranean Programme Office, “Moreover, real preventive measures against forest fires should be put in place, such as incentives to farmers and forest owners to conserve forests and the development of forest fire risk assessments.”
Estimates say that around 230,000 forest fires took place in Portugal from 1990 to 1999, totalling almost 500,000 ha of burnt forest land. Forest fires represent an extremely serious environmental issue in the whole Mediterranean region, where every year more than 600,000 – 800,000 hectares of forests are destroyed by fires, an area the size of Crete or Corsica. Fires in 95% of the cases are due to arson, related to conflict of interests and land speculation. Today, in most EU Mediterranean countries – Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece – the average total burnt surface has quadrupled since the 60’s.