Quercus throws weight behind people’s fight against lithium exploration

Portugal’s oldest, and certainly one of its most respected, environmental NGOs has vowed to support the multiplying communities raising objections to the prospect of open-pit lithium mining going forwards on their doorsteps.

Quercus has already presented a formal complaint to UNESCO over plans for two mines in the protected Barroso region – destined to affect the populations of Boticas and Montalegre.

As reports explain, the area has been designated World Agricultural Heritage by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Thus the gouging of two mines into landscape that is internationally recognised for its unique characteristics represents a “severe threat to the integrity of the Barroso region’s system of agriculture, forestry-production and grazing”, says Quercus.

Quercus is the second high-profile environmental association to speak out against what appears to have become the government’s ‘poster child’ for Portugal’s economic growth (click here).

Papers have already explained that the people of Boticas and Montalegre are mobilising against mining contracts already signed between the State and various companies (click here) and (here).

But Quercus stresses it will “use all the means in its power to stop environmental assaults that are being prepared” in other parts of the country – so many of them in areas blighted by the devastating forest wildfires of 2017.

On June 22 in Covilhã, the NGO will be hosting the “First National Forum on Lithium and the Environment – the problem of lithium in a national context”, to which a number of town councils are expected.

As independent news service O Minho has reported, three municipalities in the Alto Minho are now battling the lithium ‘hydra’, and on Wednesday another borough joined the cause (the Câmara of Pampilhosa da Serra, Coimbra district), saying it was in “absolute disagreement” with a lithium project for the area.

The mayors of Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima and Caminha, stress they are not simply in disagreement to mining plans, they plan to “put every difficulty possible” in the way of them.

José Maria Costa, mayor in Viana do Castelo, told O Minho that the three boroughs straddling Serra d’Arga are actually working on getting the hillside a form of iron-clad classification so that mining activity is made impossible.

The project, Da Serra d’Arga à Foz do Âncora, covers just under 4,500 hectares that already boasts Rede Natura 2000 ‘classification’.

The councils’ hope is to win a further form of ‘protected area status’ which would reinforce the territory’s importance as having emerging touristic potential- and leave mining out of the equation.

The study has already identified 1,124 species – among them a rare plant “believed to be extinct in national territory” (Scrophularia Bourgaeana), as well as plentiful birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and ‘geological elements’.

Back in May, growing people’s opposition to mining companies’ plans saw Fortescue Minerals pull out of one project in the Peneda-Gerês natural park (click here), but the company is still committed to going forwards with other projects, and there remain doubts that Peneda-Gerês will not be further targeted by prospectors.

In the run up to October’s legislative elections, the government is keeping quiet, saying only that it understands populations’ fears, but that they are unfounded (click here).

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