Views of Donana: Fragmentation and Environmental Policy in Spain

3 Colum. J. Eur. L. 1 (1996)

James J. Friedberg. Professor of Law, West Virginia University, J.D. Harvard Law School, B.A. Temple University.


Drought, plus ecological pressures from agriculture and tourism, threatened the Donana wetlands with desiccation. Rain had been scarce in southern Spain for five years. Strawberry and rice growers on neighboring land drained local waters to irrigate their crops. Nearby, the beach resort of Matalascanas and the pilgrimage town of El Rocio siphoned off additional significant water.   The Dofiana wildlife area presents an intriguing portrait of fragmented multilevel governance. European regional and environmental policies interact with national, regional and local interests of politicians, business people, farmers, scientists, labor unions, administrators, and environmentalists.

Relatively new and rapidly evolving governmental institutions complicate the picture. Spanish democracy under the 1978 Constitution is young. The Constitutional Court has only a few years of jurisprudence. Most autonomous regional governments have been functional for merely a decade or so, as permitted for the first time by the 1978 Constitution. Furthermore, Spain joined the European Community only in 1986 – so has had to adopt a plethora of European law during this same period of national transition.’ Finally, the EC itself changed during this time and expanded its legal competence, not least in environmental policy, as it moved toward greater integration under the Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty on European Union of 1992.

“Donana” signifies various overlapping spaces – the Spanish National Park, the Andalucian regional “pre-park” or nature park, the historic wildlife preserve (“Coto Dofiana”), the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the “Entorno” (or “comarca”) surrounding the core, and the general space that includes all of these. The territory sits astride the mouth of the Guadalquivir River near the southern tip of Andalucia, the southernmost region of Europe. Members of the Spanish nobility owned most of the area from 1309 when it was granted to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, reserving it as a hunting grounds for the aristocracy and thus insulating it from much economic activity. Situated northwest of Gibraltar by about 100 kilometers, it has been off the beaten path for centuries, its Atlantic location and marshy topography further shielding it from the helter- skelter development of the nearby Costa de Sol on the Mediterranean side of the peninsula. The coastal highway around the southern perimeter of Iberia halts at Donana and only reappears after a forty kilometer gap at Matalascanas where it continues west along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. The nature reserve’s immense scientific and aesthetic value has discouraged attempts to connect this coastal road along the beach. Nonetheless, the pressure of economic development has gradually reached Dofiana over the last few decades, and increased dramatically in the last few years.

Donana is environmentally unique, host to more species of migratory and local birds than anywhere else in Europe. Three types of physical environment share the park – marismas or marshy wetlands, scrubland (mattoral), and mobile dunes that seem more Arabian than European. The marismas probably are the habitat most responsible for the tremendously varied fauna – especially the migratory birds. Unfortunately, the marismas have shrunk considerably in recent decades, encroached upon by economic development, and parched by drought.