REN – the National Ecological Reserve of Portugal – is a biophysical structure that includes all the areas that, due to their ecological value and sensitivity or exposure and susceptibility to natural risks, are subject to special protection. In the past years, a drastic reduction of the protected areas has taken place in the coastal Alentejo (Alentejo Litoral) – by law and with the agreement of the local government.

What is the National Ecological Reserve (REN)?

REN (Reserva Ecológica Nacional) was established in July 1983 by Law (321/83). Promoted by the architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles, it had always been considered a unique and innovative milestone for Portugal Ecology. The intention of REN is to safeguard fundamental areas of the territories of environmental sensitivity, e.g. because they protect water lines or defend the coast from erosion.

At the time, REN was unique in the territory of the then EEC (of which Portugal was not yet part) and that it is currently considered an example followed by the European Union for the implementation of the so-called green infrastructures.

Today, the National Ecological Reserve is seen by many mayors as the main obstacle for the development of their municipalities.

The Reduction of the REN Territory through law

In the past years, a drastic reduction of the protected areas has taken place in the coastal Alentejo (Alentejo Litoral) – by law.

A revision of the law in 2008 allowed the municipalities to reduce the areas that until then were safe from construction due to their environmental sensitivity. The new criteria used for the demarcation of the National Ecological Reserve in the municipalities of Alcácer do Sal and Grândola have reduced the demarcated area to the beds and banks of watercourses, and to a very restricted strip of the coastal area, leaving serious gaps in areas of groundwater recharge – with clear favoring of private interests and in clear violation of the strategic guidelines that should have been followed.

The Numbers are huge

The environmental association ZERO (Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável – Sustainable Land System Association) states that already between 2013 and 2014 an extensive area of the REN disapperad.

According to the association the area of the ecological national reserve REN was reduced

  • by 68% in the municipality of Alcácer do Sal (from 55,340 ha to 17,999 ha) and
  • by 76% in the municiplity of Grândola (from 37,905 ha to 9150 ha).

Looking at the values disclosed by ZERO, the ‘strategic areas of protection and recharge of aquifers’, were increased from

  • in the municipality of Alcácer do Sal from 28,755 ha to 0 ha
  • in the municipality of Grândola from 19,185 ha to 2970 ha.

The ‘high value areas of water erosion of the soil’ were increased

  • in Alcácer do Sal it from 15,925 ha to 5052ha
  • in Grândola from 13,325 ha to 0 ha.

The graphics below compare the area of the REN as defined by the DL 93/1990 and (probably) 2016. More worrying may be the scenario of the area if it was compared with the original REN in the size it was proposed by Gonçalo Ribeiro Teles in the approval of this territorial management instrument in 1983. (link)

Source: ZERO.ong December 2016
Source: ZERO.ong December 2016

According to QUERCUS (Associação Nacional de Conservação da Natureza – National Association for Nature Conservation) the REN’s area in Alcácer do Sal corresponded to 37% of the municipality “in the old delimitation”, and 17% in 2017; in the municipality of Grândola from 46% to 11%. (Source: Público.pt)

Permission is given to build at the Alentejo’s Coast

The REN’s territory is replaced for real estate and tourism purposes, and is has the smell of illegality.

In the last two decades the local authorities of the municipalities of Alcácer do Sal and Grândola have made tourism the driving force behind the economic and social development of their regions. The expectations are based on resort type tourist developments, with hotels, residential component and golf courses. The projects announced and presented aim the installation of 30,000 tourist beds in the two municipalities. (Source: Publico 2017)

Herdade da Comporta

In 2008, the Council of Ministers approved a new proposal to delimit the National Ecological Reserve at Herdade da Comporta, an area of over 12,500ha in the municipalities of Alcácer do Sal and Grândola.

The Herdade de Comporta estate is one of Portugal’s largest agricultural enterprises and was privately owned by the Espírito Santo Group until its bankruptcy and dissolution in 2014. Its main business continues to be rice and wine growing, but in recent years investment in tourism has become increasingly important.

The sale of two large properties of the Herdade do Comporta was completed by GESFIMO (Management Company of the remaining Espírito Santo assets). Paula Amorim, the subsidiary of the Portuguese billionaire Americo Amourim, and the company Vanguard of the French millionaire Claude Berda jointly proposed the use of this area and won the tender at the end of 2018.

The current projects (ADT2 and ADT3) cover 365 and 551 hectares respectively, for which the municipalities of Alcácer do Sal and Grândola have already submitted development plans that include zones for luxury hotels, numerous holiday villages/apartments and several golf courses with a number of approx. 12,000 beds. [Source: Wikipedia.de, Público October 2018]

Other Contruction Projects

Other projects are planned that ‘promise’ the creation of thousands of jobs but destroy the ecological areas (Source: Público 2017):

  • Herdade da Costa Terra tourist development project (construction of 204 houses, apartments with 560 beds, 4 tourist villages with 775 beds, 4 sets of tourist apartments with 823 beds, an inn with 40 beds and an 18-hole golf course),
  • Herdade do Pinheirinho project (construction 204 lots for houses, 2 hotels and 4 for apartment buildings, three for villages. tourist apartments and other plots for complementary equipment, totalling 2912 beds, 27-hole golf course with around 90 hectares),
  • Alcácer Vineyard Resort (1010 beds),
  • Aldeamento Turístico das Casas do Montado do Sobreiro (223 beds)
  • Aldeamento Turístico de Lazer e Desporto do Alentejo (100 beds).
  • Tourist villages in Herdade do Laranjal (3100 beds),
  • Aldeia de Santiago (910 beds),
  • Herdade da Lança (200 beds),
  • Herdade da Barrosinha (8000 beds),
  • Herdade da Alápega (4420 beds)
  • Rural Tourism of Herdade da Boavista and Sampaio (1540 beds)

Consequences of Tourism Projects for the Coast of the Alentejo Litoral

REN aimes to contribute to the sustainable use of the territory and its objectives including the protection of natural resources, water and soil. The prevention and reduction of the effects of the degradation of recharge of aquifers and the risks of maritime flooding, floods, soil erosion, and mass movements. It also contributes to the adaptation to the effects of climate change and safeguarding environmental sustainability and the safety of people and goods. The protection of the aquifers guarantees much of the water supply to the population.

REN has always been the subject of great controversy, with numerous municipalities proposing over time the disaffection of classified areas. But, thanks to its existence of REN, the territory and landscape of Portugal is not even more fragmented with many obvious risks associated of construction in dune areas or steep slopes, and other.

The construction projects will destroy large parts of the previously intact dune landscape and the pine forest that will secure these dunes. The consequences are incalculable for the coastal area of the Alentejo Litoral.

The foreseeable increase in drinking water consumption caused by golf courses and pools will further reduce the water table in this area as well as its low groundwater level.

It is questionable if the local population will actually benefit from the hotel operation. The luxury tourism with its golf courses, the SPA hotels, and the noble beach houses and apartments will take place in secret, hermetically shielded from the life of the local population.

Sources:

Publico July 2017

Decree-Law no. 166/2008

Decreto Lei 93/90

ZERO.ong

ZERO wants a correction of the situation, the investigation of responsibilities and an analysis on national level.

‘ZERO’ – Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável (Sustainable Land System Association) had access by the Inspecção-Geral da Agricultura, do Mar, do Ambiente e do Ordenamento do Território (IGAMAOT), to a set of documents corresponding to two pieces of information (information no. I/716/15/SE relating to the audit, except for the legal regime of the National Ecological Reserve (REN) in the municipality of Alcácer do Sal and information no. I/1270/14/SE relating to REN in the municipality of Grândola), whose results are truly dramatic and show how the two municipalities proposed and managed to get approved the withdrawal of 68% and 76% in relation to REN previously delimited in Alcácer do Sal and Grândola, respectively.

In the case of Alcácer do Sal by order no. 12212/2014 of 3 October, rectified by order 6550/2015 of 12 June, and in the case of Grândola by order no. 5185/2013 of 2 April, the Coordination and Regional Development Commission of Alentejo, upon proposal from each of the municipalities, and with the approval of the Portuguese Environment Agency, but not of the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests, whose involvement was not properly carried out” (zero.ong)

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