Environmental Impact of a New Dual Carriageway, Variante del Alhaurin el Grande
Suzanne Bennett;( BSc. M.Phil. P.G.C.E)
The news of a proposal by the Junta de Andalucia to construct a new four-lane road across countryside to join the Marbella – Coin A355 with the Alhaurin de la Torre A404 is a cause for great environmental concern. The plan shows that approximately 347,967m2 of land containing a number of habitats is to be aggressively excavated in order to create the15m high, elevated highway putting many endangered and protected species of plants and animals at even greater threat than they are already. To conserve habitats for wild species and prevent their reduction in number and in range is a priority and the arguments in favour are now found at every level from local mayors and religious figures to National Government and even United Nations agencies.
There are new directives from the EU this year with regards to conservation of habitats with stronger laws created for the protection of European Protected Species and their habitats. Any activity resulting in a contravention of the new legislation will require a licence to avoid committing an offence.
The geomorphology immediately surrounding Alhaurin el Grande with the pine covered Sierra de Mijas sloping towards the orchards and gardens in the valley north of the town offers an unusual combination of habitats in the locality and is surprisingly green even throughout the hot dry Mediterranean summer. The area in which this road is to pass through has been described as ‘unique’ by Malaga University, and indeed to find an area with the following habitats: mountainous, pine forest, fresh water throughout the year, meadow, fruit orchards, olive groves, market gardens and hedgerow, all in close proximity is a rarity and is most certainly the reason that the area is inhabited by an extensive range of wildlife, both flora and fauna.
Many species of animal, including wild cat, mongoose, genet, weasel, beech marten and pine marten, require the freedom to travel quite some distance in order to search for their food and the construction and existence afterwards of a high speed dual carriageway would most certainly restrict their path and also pose a real life threat. Other species, such as owls and bats are also vulnerable where disturbance of their habitat will lead to their failure to breed.
The list in Appendix 1, states the animal species known to exist in the area and also listed on the Spanish Protected Species List (Real Decreto 439/1990 BOE núm 82) many of which are also listed on the EU Council Directive COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC, of 21 May 1992, updated in July 2007, on the conservation of natural habitats, in Annex II and IV. To imply that a construction of such magnitude that uses such a large area of land is going to have no environmental impact can only mean that a qualified ecologist has not been consulted. A licence for development of land should be given only if a consultant ecologist agrees that there is no satisfactory alternative (Article 16, EU Directive). Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the most important cause of species extinction worldwide. The destruction of a number of the habitats will inevitably have an effect on all surrounding areas since all living things within an ecosystem are inter-dependant and due to the complexity of food webs and food chains will cause an increased threat to those species already at risk of reduction in population number or even extinction. Habitat fragmentation is a product of habitat destruction but is also considered to be seriously dangerous, since it leaves some habitat intact and this is then used as justification for construction programmes. As destruction continues the fragments becomes increasingly isolated, and therefore so do the populations. As the overall population declines so does the number of breeding individuals and therefore the effective population size.
The fact that this project will also interfere with the natural and artificial waterways as well as irrigation channels leads to even further concern. Without sufficient water in the orchards a large number of habitats will no longer be viable. These habitats are essential to maintain biodiversity as they consist of a variety of microhabitats within providing food, nesting and camouflage for insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. With the current view that Spain is heading for desertification in the coming decade, and with the latest figures reporting an increase in average temperature of 1ºC over the last three decades, it seems simply inconceivable that the Junta is proposing to speed up the process by unnecessary construction when viable alternatives already exist.
Land-use done wisely and with care can meet inter-dependent conservation and development needs. There are three possible routes that can be taken to travel from afore mentioned A355 to Alhaurin de la Torre. An alternative route has already been proposed by the mayor of Alhaurin el Grande to widen, improve and update the existing roads suitable for increased heavy traffic, which would require 20,000m2. That would mean only 5.7% of habitat destruction, the majority of which would tend to be roadside scrub rather than the many other varied types of habitat, and so in real terms the environmental loss would be even lower than this percentage. In addition, this alternative route would not interfere with the existing natural waterways or irrigation channels, nor create yet another tarmac surface upon which one or another animal will be killed.
Alhaurin el Grande has a natural resource and asset, which could be developed as a special conservation site and used for education and scientific research. The benefits of schemes, which are currently widespread in Northern Europe, have proven to increase the interest and awareness in primary and secondary students of which the importance should not be underestimated in this era of global change.
The true cost of building a new road in the proposed location would not only amount to a total value of z Million Euros but also an irreversible loss of a very rich ecosystem.
Spanish Strategy for the Conservation and sustainability use of Biodiversity
Ministerio de MedioAmbiente
Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora
Annex II -Animal and plant species of community interest whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation
Annex IV -Animal and plant species of community interest in need of strict protection
List of Animal Species Endangered by New Road Proposal
(Not including Invertebrates)
Erinaceus algirus algirus
Rhinolophus hipposideros minimus