The Asociacion Amigos de la Laguna de la Janda's blog is always worth reading even if, for monoglots, like me it means doing so through the uncertain medium of Google Translate. Arguably, their latest post (see here) is their most significant one yet as it reports a recent finding regarding the legal status of La Janda. This legal paper (see here) has concluded that La Janda is publicly owned. This 38 page document probably doesn't make transparent reading even if you've perfect Spanish so my take on what it says and it's importance may well not be as accurate as it might be so read what follows with a pinch of salt!
Fortunately, though, the document has an abstract in English which explains the background to the legal finding. This reads as follows: The opening In the second half of the 20th century, the largest wetland in Spain, the lagoon of La Janda (Cádiz), was drained, pursuant to a law that conferred special incentives to the drainage promoters such as ownership of the land. However, in the case of La Janda this drainage did not succeed and the Government reversed the grant of the property and announced its return to the public domain. Notwithstanding this, the Government has not exercised its jurisdiction to regain its full property rights, even though the Supreme Court has ruled in its favor and the land has retained its wetland characteristics. This paper analyzes the legal history of this event and the authority of the State for the restoration of the lagoon.
The rest of the paper is not only in Spanish (of course!) but in a legal jargon that defeats online translation. However, from what I can make out (and what is suggested by the abstract) it seems that the failure to fully drain the land, as set out in the original grant, means that La Janda remains in public ownership. Not only that but in the paper's conclusions there's a relatively simple sentence which reads, in translation, as follows - "The investigation is not subject to the administration's discretion, but is a duty that must be fulfilled in the defence of its assets, in the face of which there is no scope for administrative inactivity". This I understand to mean that the governmental department responsible is legally obliged to take control of La Janda as it forms part of the state's assets. There's a good deal of dense legal argument (I think!) in the document but from what Google and my meagre Spanish can make out, the conclusion is that the restoration of the laguna, or at least of some of the wetlands, would be the in the public good and that therefore the administration is obliged to take action.
At this point a note of caution must be added since those who currently farm La Janda are both very wealthy and well connected politically. One apparent example of this influence is that when, a few years ago, a paper was prepared on La Janda for a conference in Jerez on Spain's wetlands, it was suddenly pulled, without explanation, by the organisers. Talking to my well informed Spanish friends at the Birdfair last week, they seemed to be confident that the case is watertight(!), that the administration includes those willing to push this forwards and that the judgement can be used to exert pressure on those who farm the land to make concessions. That said, there also seemed an awareness that a wholesale restoration and any consequent loss of jobs was not feasible in the current climate (nearby Benalup has one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain). However, there seemed to be a real confidence that birding visitors should see concessions to allow for the wider public use of the area within a year or two. This may take the form of access along currently closed tracks to areas of wetland and of other interest (although whether this would be by permit or entirely open remains to be seen). In the longer term there may even be some restoration. It would be foolish to underestimate the reality of political inertia, the lack of funds for any significant restoration and the power of vested interests, but the judgement gives hope that this superb birding site may become still better in the foreseeable future. Watch this space ....
Update - I am indebted to my friend Javi Elorriaga for the link to an article in La Vanguardia (see here) which, even in Google Translate, explains the situation very clearly. For those with good Spanish, he also directed me to a book on the restoration of La Janda (Bases ecologicas para la restauracion de los humedales de la Janda - Cadiz, España € 17.00 by Manuel Angel Dueñas López € 17.00 - see here)
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks at Secondary School. I have lived in Kent , where I taught History and Sociology, since the late 1970s. In that time I've served on the committees of both my local RSPB group and the county ornithological society (KOS). I have also worked as a part-time field teacher for the RSPB at Dungeness. Having retired now spend as much time as in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.