COMMENT – The nature of the challenge

Some organisations work actively with the Portuguese governmental bodies to ensure new villa, hotel and other tourist developments are both environmentally sustainable and in harmony with the natural world. With increasing economic pressures, this work can be difficult and complex.

The debate about the highly controversial development of Praia Grande at Salgados, the last undeveloped stretch of the coastline below Silves, rumbles away in the background of our day-to-day lives in the Algarve.

On the one side is the development company, whose latest attempt to appease the conservationists is a proposal to include a ‘nature park’, which they say will protect the sensitive habitats and nature of the area.

These habitats include a stream estuary, sand dunes, a lagoon, saltmarsh and a fossil cliff, and some of these are already the subject of conservation measures because of their unique natural features and wildlife.

The investment that the developers propose to spend on the so-called nature park is €1 million (see Algarve Resident, February 8 edition for full report). This tells us a lot about the extent of the work that the development company is prepared to carry out to preserve a vital part of the natural heritage of the Algarve.

Anyone who knows anything about the cost of protecting sensitive eco-systems and their species, and then to continue with the programme of maintenance essential to retain such an area in good ecological condition, will know that €1 million is a paltry sum with which to achieve even short-term conservation goals.

Large-scale developments with small-scale mitigation for loss of habitat cannot succeed. It would be interesting to hear what proportion of the overall investment in the tourist development €1 million represents (Editor’s note: according to developers, the project represents a total investment of €232 million).

Habitat conservation always requires ongoing management, and that means an ongoing commitment to continuous investment in order to ensure that subsequent stages of the development do not undo work carried out to protect the environment from the earlier phases.

Many people must be suspecting that neither the money nor the so-called conservation work is additional, but rather money planned for existing elements of the project but now redefined in an attempt to appease opponents.

Like all the world’s governments, including the one in Britain, the Portuguese government has to manage the expectations of a population battered and bruised by the failures of … well, earlier government policy, surely.

Also, like many other beleaguered European governments, the Portuguese see only one route to prosperity and that is to commit to more of the same old policy that got us into trouble in the first place.

We hear of ‘building developments’ and ‘tourist developments’ when, if they had learned anything at all from the mess we are in, we should be hearing about ‘sustainable developments’.

We need projects that will earn money not only in the short term but also, crucially, in the longer term. What we do not need are any more projects that simply involve spending money creating short-term construction jobs, but which then collapse in ruin and disaster, both for the people who live here and for the environment they live in.

The Algarve is littered with mothballed or abandoned construction sites, including one immediately adjacent to the proposed Praia Grande development. No doubt the developers involved in that earlier project provided the same glib and superficial answers that the Praia Grande developers are offering to a concerned public, who see the potential for another major environmental disaster in the Algarve should this new project fail.

This time the consequences of failure might not be just one more abandoned building site; it could be the wholesale destruction and permanent loss of one of the few ecological gems left in the Algarve.

Sue Parker