"Why do they insist on repeating the mistakes of the past in Lagoa dos Salgados?"

Michael Bennington, from Northern Ireland, has been coming to the Algarve for over twenty years to see birds and […]

Michael Bennington, from Northern Ireland, has been coming to the Algarve for over twenty years to see birds and one of his favorite spots has always been Lagoa dos Salgados, a wetland near Praia Grande, between the municipalities of Silves and Albufeira.

«This is, without a doubt, one of the best areas in the whole of southern Portugal for bird watching. It's good for children and young people who are starting birdwatching, it's good because observers can come here and don't disturb the birds, it's accessible for people who have difficulty moving around. This is superb!”, guaranteed this experienced birdwatcher.

This Saturday, Michael Bennington was one of nearly 120 people, of various ages, nationalities, places of residence and professions, who participated in the popular action for the defense of Lagoa dos Salgados.

In addition to those responsible for the various environmental protection associations – Almargem, Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA), League for the Protection of Nature (LPN), Quercus, A Rocha, Aldeia/RIAS -, of nature tourism companies – Proactivetur, Southern Tracks, Birdwatching Algarve, Birding in Portugal – , the popular action brought together other people who are part of the platform for the defense of Lagoa dos Salgados, residents and neighbors, bird watchers from all over Europe, people interested in defending the environmental heritage and the landscape.

Nearly 120 people in the protest for the defense of Lagoa dos Salgados

The protest was mainly due to the tourism-real estate mega-project that is planned for the sylvan margin of Lagoa dos Salgados, in the Praia Grande area. Participants drew attention to another mega-project, Herdade dos Salgados, which, on the Albufeira side and also on the edge of that lagoon, is now practically abandoned, after the bankruptcy of the group that used to own it. "Also in Salgados, a lot of investment, a lot of employment was promised, and then they owed money to everyone and created unemployment," he stressed to Sul Informação Isabel Sousa, one of the participants in the action, who introduced herself simply as the "neighbor" of the lake.

Luís Sequeira, president of the national board of Quercus, defended the need to «learn from the mistakes of the past», stressing that the Lagoa dos Salgados, which has no legal protection status, «should have been classified long ago».

However, the Ministry of Environment and the Institute for Nature Conservation have long denied their interest in classifying the lake as a Special Protection Zone (ZPE), revealed Domingos Leitão, from SPEA.

“As for us, there has been a mistake here. Quercus two months ago asked for the classification of Lagoa dos Salgados as an SPA, but we received a response from the Ministry of Environment saying no. On Monday, we will have a meeting with the Nature Conservation Institute and one of the issues we will address will undoubtedly be the classification of this wetland», added Luís Sequeira.

Helena Guimarães, president of the Algarve Nucleus of the League for the Protection of Nature, stressed that Lagoa dos Salgados, in addition to its importance as a shelter, feeding and nesting place for numerous species of birds, some rare or endangered, is an important element “for another tourism in the region, a tourism that lasts throughout the year and that attracts tourists with purchasing power here, as are the majority of people who do birdwatching or are interested in nature”.

And what will be a victory in this fight for the defense of Lagoa dos Salgados? «Victory will be that the project is rethought, that it does not advance in its gigantism», said Helena Guimarães.

Frank McClintok, promoter of the petition that has already collected 17500 signatures and that in November it will be delivered to the Assembly of the Republic, summed up what is at stake: “this site needs protection and it doesn't have it. In addition, they intend to build from here to Armação de Pera and finish off the last unbuilt stretch of the Algarve coast».

«What you have to realize is that every day, throughout the year, dozens and dozens of people come here, from outside Portugal, to observe birds. These people leave their money here, not only in Silves or Albufeira, but in Algarve, Alentejo. This lagoon attracts a lot of money to Portugal. If people come to the Algarve and only have hotels and more hotels to see, then they go somewhere else», added Frank McClintok, who is also the owner of a nature tourism company.

João Ministro, owner of the Proactivetur company, highlighted the dozens of “companies and agencies that purposely come to this lake to see birds. The Lagoa dos Salgados, even without being classified as an SPA, is included in all international bird watching itineraries».

“These activities are important so that the hotels do not close during the winter, as is happening more and more”, said Domingos Leitão, from SPEA. "But it is necessary not to destroy, otherwise no one will come here, because there will be nothing to see."

In the background of this protest action, on the other side of the lagoon, in the municipality of Albufeira, was the Herdade dos Salgados resort, once promoted by the Carlos Saraiva Group, which went bankrupt and left many people unemployed and millions in debt unpaid. In addition to the abandoned buildings, “mete dó”, as one lady pointed out, to see the “dozens and dozens of palm trees planted there dying and drying up. That looks like a ghost town. If there on the other side, on the edge of the same lake, it went bankrupt and there is no demand, why do you want to insist on the same model on this side? For what? To destroy yet another slice of the Algarve and condemn it to pure real estate speculation? But don't you learn anything?».

Manuel Castelo Ramos, who was an opposition councilor in the Silves Chamber, when, in 2008, the Detailed Plan of the Operational Subunit for Planning and Management II of Praia Grande was approved, just two months before the approval of the new Protal (whose rules did not they would allow megaprojects like this one), he even defended that «the next protest should be at the door of Carlos Saraiva's projects on the other side, with the dry palm trees and the rotten water, to show that this is what we want to do here».

However, last week, and perhaps as a result of the pressure that the platform for the defense of Lagoa dos Salgados has been exerting, the Secretary of State for the Environment and Spatial Planning announced that the Government has asked the Portuguese Environment Agency for an opinion on the pertinence of subjecting the environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the tourism project planned for Praia Grande, next to Lagoa dos Salgados.

The fact is that, when the project was approved, the assessment of its environmental impact was not yet mandatory, in addition to the fact that, in order to escape other rules that forced this EIA, instead of presenting an 18-hole golf course, the promoters planned two courses of nine holes each.

Helena Guimarães, president of LPN/Algarve, said that “knowing that the Government is already admitting the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment is an excellent symptom that our struggle can lead somewhere”. But he underlined, the Government “cannot be limited to this request for an opinion. You really have to advance to the AIA».

Manuel Castelo Ramos also recalled that, last June, the Praia Grande project was presented as irreversible, «there is still a judicial case pending in the courts», of owners of areas within the Plan who felt they had been harmed. But he warned that "the promoters of this, who, by the way, are not even clear who they are, will soon go out into the field to start opening streets and placing infrastructure, so that it becomes, in the end, a fait accompli".

After the concentration in the Praia Grande car park, where there were people who arrived on foot, by bicycle, by car, in a wheelchair, carrying flags and posters with phrases such as «Save Salgados», «Protect the Lagoa dos Salgados» or «The Lagoa dos Salgados is of the Birds», followed by a walk in the late afternoon to observe the birds. The flamingos, there a few hundred meters from the birdwatchers' binoculars, were everyone's delight.

Veja here more pictures of popular action.