Ecologists angered by restoration project ‘fraud’

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Photo: S Arroyo, AHSA

Ecologists are claiming that an environmental restoration project along the Vinalopó river may be doing more harm than good.
The regional government project is ostensibly supposed to restore the landscape and natural habitats, but the friends of south Alicante wetlands association (AHSA) argues that it is actually a ‘brazen excuse’ to construct a footpath which is damaging what was a well-conserved area.
According to AHSA: “The principal objective theoretically consists of eliminating invasive vegetation, principally giant canes (Arundo dunax), which populates some areas of the over 5km of the channel of the Vinalopó river where the project is being carried out.”
However, the ecologists raised the alarm a few days ago when heavy machinery started clearing an area around the confluence of the river with the Vereda (narrow path) de Sendres.
Here the predominant botanical species is the common reed (Phragmites australis), a native plant that forms a reed bed ecosystem that is ideal for dozens of species, frequently birds associated with aquatic environments.
The relationship is so close that two members of the Acrocephalidae familyof birds are named after them, in Spanish and English, the reed and great warblers, which are both protected by Spanish law.

Common reed warbler at Elche reservoir Photo: O Aldeguer, AHSA

They both nest in these reed beds of the Vinalopó and at this time of year there could still be some pairs with nests.
And downstream, where the salinity of the soil is higher, there is an abundance of species associated with saline areas, some of them protected, which are facing the same fate as the riverside reeds.
AHSA accused the project of being a ‘fraud’, insisting the funds were intended for genuine environmental restoration projects, not constructing a path, ‘a job which has absolutely nothing to do with improving the natural environment but is causing serious environmental harm’.
They also warned that the installation of several thousand square metres of plastic sheeting along the riverbanks poses a high risk if there is a flood, which could drag this material forming an enormous blockage in the river that would increase the damage caused.
The ecologists criticised the regional environment department for capitulating to city hall’s demands for a path, regardless of the environmental harm and poor timing of the work, both for taking place during the breeding season and installing the plastic sheeting all at once, rather than in stages to minimise risks.

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