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Lagoa wetland to become nature park

Saved from destruction, Alagoas Brancas set to become protected nature park

Local citizens and environmentalists are finally celebrating the salvation of the Alagoas Brancas wetland in Lagoa, home to hundreds of bird and wildlife species. The area, which was due to be levelled for the construction of a commercial outlet including a supermarket, will be purchased by the municipal council using €3.7 million from the Environmental Fund and revitalised to become the new Nature Park of the City of Lagoa.

 The news was confirmed last week in an official statement by the Portuguese Government.

“The Environmental Fund of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Action has signed a protocol with the Municipality of Lagoa that will allow the acquisition of land in Alagoas Brancas. The amount of €3.7 million has already been transferred by the Environmental Fund, and the Municipality of Lagoa can move forward with the acquisition of approximately nine hectares of land for the creation of the future Nature Park of the City of Lagoa,” the statement reads.

The project will cost €4.4 million in its entirety, the government clarifies.

“The technical project, under the responsibility of the Municipality of Lagoa, will involve a renaturalisation project to create a natural area suitable to be visited and enjoyed,” it adds, explaining that it will undergo review by the ICNF (Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests) and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025.

According to the government’s statement, the site of Alagoas Brancas is a “wetland area of about six hectares in the municipality of Lagoa. Despite its size, it has an interesting diversity of bird species and is important from the perspective of conserving national and European populations.”

 

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Photos: DR MANFRED TEMME

It adds that environmental association Almargem conducted a study of three wetlands in the Algarve in 2019, involving various experts and funded by the Environmental Fund.

“Alagoas Brancas was one of the three wetlands analysed in detail, and the natural values identified in this study provided a correct perception of the existing biodiversity on the site,” the statement reads.

“The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Action has committed to finding the best solution, in collaboration with the municipality of Lagoa, to safeguard and properly manage this wetland area and its natural values, in accordance with the law,” it adds.

“In this context, during the year 2023, and in conjunction with the Municipality of Lagoa, the option of acquiring the Alagoas Brancas plot and adjacent lands was evaluated.

“The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Action has thus committed to supporting this project, through the Environmental Fund, aimed at creating the Nature Park of the City of Lagoa in the Algarve, a commitment that has now been secured,” the government statement adds.

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“We found a solution that pleases everyone”

Lagoa Mayor Luís Encarnação told the Resident he is happy to have found a solution that “pleases everyone”.

“There are four aspects that were important to us: preserving the environment and the species that can be found at Alagoas Brancas; solving the issue with the developers who own the land; responding to the concerns raised by environmentalists and local citizens; and finally making sure that Lagoa’s best interests were safeguarded,” the mayor said.

Now that the council has already received the €3.7 million needed to purchase the land, the focus is on completing the deal.

“We hope to sign the deed by the end of the first quarter of 2024,” said the mayor, stressing however that these deals can sometimes drag on for “reasons that are out of the council’s control”.

He confirmed, however, that the goal is to begin works on the new park this year and have it completed by the end of 2025.

The council is currently consulting specialists in order to create the draft project for the park, which will then be sent to and shared with environmentalists, relevant entities and local citizens.

“We want everyone to participate in this process, so that we can create a space that can be enjoyed by everyone,” said Encarnação, stressing the “privileged location” of the wetland area right in the heart of the town.

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“Happy but apprehensive”

While the news that the land is being purchased by the local council has been celebrated by the environmentalists and local citizens who have been fighting to protect the wetland area since 2017, they remain “apprehensive” about the council’s nature park project.

“We are happy of course, but we still need to know more about the council’s plans for the park,” says Anabela Blofeld, one of the lead campaigners for the ‘Salvar as Alagoas Brancas’ citizens’ movement.

“For example, we do not even know which experts the council is consulting,” the local resident told us.

One key aspect that the group wants to see guaranteed is the protection of the hundreds of bird species and the wealth of wildlife that can be found at Alagoas Brancas.

“The park cannot be fully accessible to the public like an urban park because these species need to be protected. There must be a protected area for the animals,” Anabela said.

Considerable clean-up work must also be carried out at the site, she explained, as the area has been “abandoned” for years.

“More in-depth studies are also needed, as we are still very far from knowing the full range of wildlife that can be found at Alagoas Brancas. Something new is found almost every time a specialist visits it,” Anabela stressed, referring to the “rare community of plants” comprised of several threatened species which was recently discovered at the wetland area.

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Despite their concerns, the campaigners are happy to see that their efforts to protect the area were successful.

“It was due to the pressure exerted by citizens that we have reached this outcome. We hope this can act as an example for other citizen groups,” she added.

The battle to protect Alagoas Brancas started in 2017 when the area was unexpectedly closed off and diggers moved in to level the land.

From then on, nature lovers and concerned citizens banded together to make sure the owners of the land could not move forward with their plans to build a supermarket and other commercial establishments at the site.

They continuously stressed that the wetland was what inspired Lagoa’s name and highlighted the thriving wildlife that could be found at the area, having even successfully stopped the works on multiple occasions via embargoes and injunctions. However, the local council had always defended that it had its hands tied, claiming that stopping the project would cost the municipal authority “millions of euros in compensation” which it could not afford.

The matter was eventually brought to the attention of Portugal’s Minister of Environment, who vowed that a solution would be found.

The promised solution has finally come in the form of the vital monetary support from the Environmental Fund which will allow the council to buy the land.

By Michael Bruxo
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