UNEP’s World Bird Migratory Day 2023: “Water: Sustaining Bird Life” and the dire state of Doñana

The Doñana National Park in the Guadalquivir basin in southern Spain faces an unprecedented challenge! Despite enjoying all possible levels of legal protection, Doñana National Park and its surrounding natural areas are under severe threat due to decades of (ground)water overexploitation, the effects of which are aggravated by a severe ongoing drought. Adding insult to injury, members of the Andalusian Parliament are pushing a new law proposal to regularize almost 2000ha of illegally irrigated land in the area.

As international bird migration experts we strongly oppose the current law proposal, which has already been heavily criticized by experts of Doñana Biological Station, the regional water authority of the Guadalquivir basin, the Spanish Minister of Ecological Transition and Prime Minister, the EU Commission, and UNESCO.

In addition, we are extremely worried about the impact of the ongoing drought on rice cultivation in Guadalquivir basin. Rice paddies provide vital stop-over and wintering habitat for large concentrations of European waterbirds, for which they are also flooded in winter under an EU-subsidized agri-environment scheme. The drought caused the surface of cultivated rice paddies to drop by >50% in the past two years, and will be close to zero in 2023. This represents a major threat to numerous European waterbird populations.

We therefore take the opportunity to publish an open letter on UN’s World Migratory Bird Day 2023, 13th May, under the slogan “Water: Sustaining Bird Life”, to raise awareness about this pressing issue and requesting UNESCO to list Doñana as ‘World Heritage in Danger’. Representing the international bird migration research community, we stress the need for an ambitious, cross-sectoral plan to preserve the key natural values of Doñana NP and the Guadalquivir basin, and in particular its international role for migrant birds; one of the main reasons for which Doñana is listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.

Wouter V., José A., Jocelyn C., Juan N. &  Theunis P.


Open letter is available in five languages:


Featured image: current appearance of the Santa Olalla lagoon, the largest permanent lagoon of Doñana ©EBD-CSIC.