1 of 2
Photo by Lee Woolcock
Nature reserve home - Nature vs Barça
The wild beach at El Remolar-Filipines
2 of 2
Photo by Ferran Pestaña Rodríguez
Horses at natural reserve
Horses at El Remolar-Filipines, drinking water in the shadow of El Prat airport
It can be painful to visit the nature reserve of El Remolar-Filipines. This sliver of coastline on the Delta de Llobregat just southwest of Barcelona is so strikingly beautiful, its wild beach and wetlands dotted with myriad waterfowl species, its air scented with pine forest, that you can’t help but imagine what the place must have once been like on a larger scale. Before the surrounding area, some of the most fertile land in Catalunya, was parcelled up and covered by motorways, residences, industrial infrastructures, airport, port and crops (albeit, fewer and fewer of these last remain).
A small piece of the delta’s once rich, vital ecosystem is now preserved within a patchwork of nature spaces, most prominently the Reserva Natural del Remolar-Filipines in the municipality of Viladecans. The reserve has two small lagoons that are visited by some 164 species of birds a year, as well as by over 30,000 people in 2009. The reserve also includes 2.7 kilometres of beach, the Platja de Viladecans, one of the last stretches of wild beach left on the Catalan coast. The protected beach is lined with wild grasses and is home to the endangered Spanish Psammodromus lizard and the snowy plover, among other rare species. Given that human visitors must park their cars about three kilometres inland from this beach, relatively few people actually make it out there in the summer.
As rare and remarkable as this natural jewel may be, however, it is still not safe from the ever-encroaching human world. None other than FC Barcelona has recently announced plans to build a huge sporting and leisure complex, the ‘Barça Parc’, on some 30 hectares of undeveloped land immediately adjacent to the reserve. The area for the planned complex has long been the subject of dispute. “In the Thirties, during the Second Republic, there was a plan to build a holiday-leisure town here,” explained Ricard Caba, a resident of Viladecans and member of SOS Delta-Salvem Oliveretes, a group that is attempting to halt development of the land. “Then in 1972, plans were made for swimming, rowing and nautical facilities, in 1987 for a hippodrome, in 1992 for an aquatic leisure park and in 1997 for a golf course. But none of these projects were ever realised.”
The proposed earlier projects were halted for different reasons. There was a lack of investors for some, others met stiff resistance from community groups, while still others were stopped by new European Union legislation and court sentences. The growth of the airport of El Prat, Catalunya’s biggest airport, has also considerably conditioned any further development in the area.
In September 2009, however, the town council of Viladecans gave the go-ahead for the Barça Parc project. Ricard Caba explained to Metropolitan that part of the reasoning behind the town council’s approval is a long-standing desire by Viladecans to gain greater access to the coast. Located about 10 kilometres inland, the town finally managed three years ago to bridge various motorways and complete a road from its urban area to the El Remolar-Filipines reserve and the wild Viladecans beach. The Barça Parc will further cement the town’s presence on the coast, where the town also wants to build a seaside promenade close to the wild beach.
“The thing is, the zoning legislation for the land on which Barça wants to build dates from 1976,” said Caba. “The law, therefore, was made under a pre-democratic government; we believe it is illegal and needs to be changed.”
Apart from questioning the legality of the zoning law, Caba and others also feel that the Barça Parc project doesn’t even comply with the dubious law as it currently stands. According to the 1976 legislation, the hectares in question can only be developed for sporting installations. The Barça project, however, calls for building not only a large new stadium and various playing fields, but also a shopping centre, an amusement park, a convention centre and a hotel. To further drive home the inappropriateness and doubtful legality of developing the area, Caba pointed out that the land in question forms part of Natura 2000, an EU-sponsored network that works to maintain biodiversity throughout Europe. “The Barça Parc is just another huge commercial venture,” he said.
Another group opposed to the project is the Sociedad Española de Ornitología, or SEO, the national branch of Birdlife International, the bird conservancy organisation. According to an online statement by SEO, the massive new complex will have a severely negative impact on the already fragile ecosystem of the delta’s remaining nature spaces.
As SEO puts it, “The complex will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the zone, with the accompanying problems of mobility, and such an enormous increase of visitors will further degrade the already fragile nature reserve. Unquestionably, the project is far from being compatible with the basic principles of sustainable development and the protection of nature.”
Most of the area on which Barça wants to build its complex is now the only remaining undeveloped area outside of the nature reserve. This land, SEO feels, should be protected to create a ‘biological corridor’ joining up the scattered patchwork of natural spaces in the delta.
A source close to the project and Barça, who asked not to be named, explained that while the club was aware of complaints about the project, it is not their role to respond to those complaints. “Barça Parc is still in the developmental phase. The club is well aware that a part of those surroundings is protected, and close attention is being paid to that in the development of the project. Everything proposed will be compatible with that zone. We’re working on the project and there’s no date yet to break ground.”
The Viladecans town council, meanwhile, defends its decision to allow the development, claiming that the zone risks even further degradation without greater civic involvement in its preservation. “Now people come and dump truckloads of rubbish on the property [adjoining the reserve], and the council has to divert resources to clean it up,” Enric Serra, head of planning and development for the Viladecans town council, told Metropolitan. “It’s basically a question of funding. It’s all well and good to have protected areas, but who is going to pay to manage and protect them?”
One unavoidable aspect of both the nature reserve and any future use of the land around it, is the El Prat airport. Every few minutes, jet planes blast off low over the reserve. As disturbing as this may seem to the birds and other local residents, the airport is in fact partly responsible for the health of the delta’s nature spaces, said Vicente Ortún, a long-time visitor to the nature reserve. “The mayor of El Prat has quite ably used the nature reserves as a bargaining chip in negotiations over the successive enlargements of the airport.”
The latest, the T1 terminal opened in 2009, brought the closing of several undesirable campgrounds on the coast, as well as snack bars and chiringuitos. The quality of the seawater and the sand have improved as a result, said Ortún, and the waters of the Llobregat river are much less polluted. Still, Ortún worries that Barça Parc would seriously degrade the wetlands area.
As community and environmental groups continue to fight to preserve what is left of the Delta de Llobregat, it remains for the formidable Barça, a team famous for its graceful and generous style of play, to decide whether it might not be best, in this case, to cede victory to a more than worthy opponent.