Wednesday, November 02, 2005

RSPB Report (Salgados)

Lagoa dos Salgados

Key Proposals for Management
This document was written by Matt Self
This is an SPEA-RSPB joint project
For more contacts: Or:

(Notes from site visit 29-31 March 2005)


Lagoa dos Salgados, one of few wetlands on the western Algarve coast, is highly important for birds and has been recognised as an IBA by SPEA. Unfortunately, the site has not been designated as a SPA (under the Birds Directive) by the Portuguese government, and lobbying continues at a high level. SPA designation is unpopular, as it is seen as a hindrance to development. There are elections in 2005 and 2006, it is unlikely that this situation will change.
There has been an outcry in recent years over a proposed development on the north and west sides of the lagoon, consisting of a golf course, two hotels and many villas, a total of some 10,500 beds. SPA designation would prevent the project from going ahead. So far, the only obstacle to the developers has been an old planning law that prevents building within the historical flood limits of rivers and other low lying areas. The regional land planning agency have told the developers to work above this elevation. SPEA has also requested flexibility in the project boundaries to work with the ecological sensitivities of the site. Recent meetings have resulted in a sincere compromise from the developers to adapt their project.
Another threat to the lagoon comes from the proposed construction of a new sewage treatment works. The old works currently supplies most of the water to the lagoon, but there is no plan for the new works to include a transfer to the lagoon.
It is clear that the development will go ahead, and that SPEA and the RSPB have to achieve the best outcome within this. The Lagoa de Salgados faces an uncertain future, but there are considerable opportunities to work with the developers, Aguas de Algarve and others to get enhancement and management work carried out.
The role of this report is to consider possibilities for creative management of the site within the constraints of the impending development and potentially restricted water supply.
Summary of constraints:Potentially far less water entering the siteProximity of disturbance in the form of golf, hotels, roads etc.A reduction in the open aspect of the site on the north and west sides
Limitations on the water supply to a site are common in wetlands throughout the world, but in this case the loss of the ETAR supply would be unusually significant, as there is very infrequent flow in the Ribeira de Espiche to compensate. The normal response to water supply issues at wetlands is to maximise usage of the water available throughout the year (particularly if supply is highly seasonal) by storage of winter surplus, and to use compartmentalisation (installation of bunds or banks, and water control structures) to create concentrated areas of ideally managed land.

Key proposals for management

Ensure a supply of water from the new ETAR

This is the most fundamental of the proposals, and cannot be understated. Natural flows in the Ribeira de Espiche (and the Ribeira de Vale Rabelho) are highly intermittent and limited to winter flood events. They are unable to maintain a reasonable area of surface flooding in key periods such as the breeding season. Ideally, a flow could be routed to one of the proposed water storage areas (see below) so that it can be stored and distributed as necessary.
Presumably the new development would use considerable amounts of water, and their should be the potential to direct their discharged golf course water into the lagoon. Ideally this would go into a tertiary treatment reedbed first (see below).

Create a water storage area

A bunded area just to the north of the lagoon could be used to store water from winter rainfall and flood events. The bunds should be relatively low (eg.1.5m high) with gently shelving sides to avoid reducing sight lines, which can deter bird usage. Locating the bunded area (or indeed areas, as there could be more than one compartment) in the dry grassland area to the immediate north of the lagoon would make use of the gentle fall in land levels. Water could gravity feed into the lagoon in winter from the channels running north-south through the grassland, linked into the Ribeira de Espiche by a cross ditch at the north end (where the old farmhouse is). The storage area could also be filled or topped up by pumping from the lagoon. Soils are less sandy farther away from the dunes, and more able to retain surface water there.
Material for the bunds can come from excavation within the bunded area, to increase capacity, and also from excavation work in the core lagoon area (see below) as part of work to enhance features there.

It would not be possible for a water storage area to maintain a large area of surface water without supplementation from the new ETAR. However, the tens of thousands of cubic metres of water stored can be trickle fed to offset evaporational losses in spring, and because of the non-ETAR source, can improve water quality. The value of the water would be maximised if enhancement work was undertaken in the core lagoon area (see below).
The bunded water storage area has the potential to be a rich area for wildlife in itself. Some of the area could be planted as a reedbed, ideally if this was in a separate unit. This would be valuable marginal cover, as well as providing some screening from the new development. If suitably engineered, the reedbed would have the potential to improve water quality and be an attractive edge for the new golf course and hotel development. There could be opportunities here for the developers to create this as part of their work, to the benefit of both their project and wildlife. If the bunded area is a reasonable size (more than 2ha), it would be attractive to wildfowl when full, and to waders when the water level recedes leaving areas of newly exposed mud. The slope from the north down to the lagoon would be ideal for this, ensuring some open water and mud at a wide range of water levels. Ditch enhancement and some low ridges (c 0.5m high) would further increase the interest at a wide range of water levels.
In an ideal situation, a pipe from the new ETAR could be installed directly into the reedbed compartment for final treatment (‘polishing’), before feeding it into the main water storage area.

A valve or sluice would allow water to be gravity fed into the main lagoon, using ditches that are still present from the old rice fields. The sluice can be a very simple structure. Ideally the flows would be concentrated into a core area with enhanced features.
Enhance water features within the lagoon area
This would consist largely of enhancement of former ditches from the old rice fields, both by deepening and also reprofiling to ensure gently-shelving sides. Low bunding (less than 0.5m) would ensure that water is retained for longer, and would provide a place for the excavated spoil. Bunds of this size are almost imperceptible when viewed, and are a standard feature in many created and restored wetlands.
Water levels were high (4.00m) at the time of my visit, so it was not possible to examine features within the core lagoon area. However, the most suitable area is likely to be relatively low in the system and not adjacent to tracks and paths.

Install a pipe through the sand bar, linking lagoon and sea
At present the management of the outlet is ‘all or nothing’, based on sporadic opening of a channel using an excavator. This will still need to be done, to allow flushing of accumulated silt and debris, and to ensure an adequate discharge capacity for very large, infrequent flood events. The ingress of sea water also maintains brackish conditions in the lower lagoon, and increases overall water quality when the majority comes directly from the old, poorly-functioning ETAR.
However, a pipe will allow a more steady, small scale ingress and egress through the sand bar. This will maintain more stability of salinity, avoiding sudden changes from fresh to sea-water. It will allow outflow of small floods, a far more regular occurrence than large flood events, and a valve on the end will allow some degree of control. This is important in the current situation where the golf course people are not allowed to open the sand bar outside winter, and should be welcomed by them (and hopefully installed by them).
The water quality at the time of the visit was very poor, with a strong odour and noticeable algal growth.
Further work needed
A detailed topographical survey of the core lagoon area will be needed, to ensure suitable placement of the bunds and sluices. This will need to be done when the lagoon is drained down, and related to local datum.

Matt Self 5.5.05

Proposals for a water management system at Lagoa dos Salgados
SummaryThe area of the lagoon declines greatly when water levels fall from 4.0m to 3.75m - reinstatement of field ditches and some pool creation would maintain the interest of this area into spring and summerStorage of winter surplus rainfall would reduce dependence on water from the ETAR, improve water quality and permit larger areas to be kept wet through the springA shallow storage area with a low bund (<1m high) in the northern part of the area would increase wet habitat and allow gravity feed into lower areasA 2ha area in the northern half flooded to a maximum depth of 0.50m (mean depth 0.25m) would be able to retain lagoon levels at 3.75m into July in a typical year.
Currently, water levels in the Lagoa vary from around 4.2m in winter, down to 3.6m in mid summer. However, within these periods the levels can change rapidly due to opening of the sand bar at the lowest point, or storm events in the catchment. The effects of these water level changes are magnified by the very flat ground between the elevations of 3.75 to 4.0m. At present, when water levels drop from 4.0m to 3.75m, around 5.4ha of wetland dries out. The benefit of this area would be maintained if the current derelict ditches were reinstated (fig.1), to a bed depth of about 2.6m (above the existing gauge board), with gently shelving margins (a slope of around 30%). In addition, the junctions of ditches could be opened up into shallow pools. As water levels recede in spring, these features would retain approximately 1 metre depth of open water, and muddy edges.
There is very little water available in the Espiche catchment, and a high dependence on water from the water treatment plant nearby. This has led to some water quality problems. A solution to this is to make more use of surplus winter rainfall, which tends to be concentrated in relatively few days, leading to flash flooding of the catchment and lagoon area. Rapid rises in water levels tend to lead to the outlet channel being opened, and much of this water being lost to sea.

Storage of some winter surplus rainfall would reduce the severity of flood events and may result in less necessity to open the outlet channel. However, the primary benefit of the water would be to offset the evapotranspiration losses in and around the lagoon by a controlled gravity feed during the spring, and on into the summer if feasible. This would maintain more water in and around the lagoon in the breeding season than would otherwise be the case. The quality of the water will also be considerably better than that from the ETAR.

A water storage area would increase the wetness of the slightly higher northern part of the lagoon area during the spring, and create additional areas of wet habitat. Enhancement of ditches would not only improve water distribution (especially during low water periods), but also increase the availability of wet areas in the northern part of the lagoon area. The water storage area would not have the appearance of a reservoir (figure 1). A low bund would follow the approximate line of the 4.0m contour. The bund would only be 1.0m high, with a broad crest and gently sloping sides (less than 30%). The 400m length indicated would retain up to 50,000m3 if held to a depth of 0.5m at the bund, allowing a freeboard of 0.5m to avoid wave damage to the bund crest.

The additional features between the lagoon and the bund would create an additional 1.20ha of open water on top of the 0.93ha of the lagoon (at 3.75m). The area faces a severe water deficit for much of the year, starting in late February and increasing cululatively to 560mm by the end of June in a typical year. The 2.13ha of open water would lose 11,900m3 of water by the end of June. The bunded water storage body would lose a similar quantity over the same period. So given a full storage area in February, the water levels could be maintained at 3.75m in the lagoon and new features to the end of June using the stored water, whilst leaving 25,000m3 available for further supplementation into July and August, or as a contingency for an unusually dry year. Some of this will be lost to seepage, both to groundwater and to the sea.
The storage water calculations assume no contribution from the ETAR. Small quantities would be able to supplement the lagoon, and any quality problems would be diluted by the storage water. There is also the potential for sea water contribution through the outlet channel when it is opened in winter. 

Saturday, October 22, 2005

SALGADOS (October 2005 Update)

The following update arrived via email to all interested parties in mid October. It is lengthy, but well worth reading. The retraction of the submission of Lagoa dos Salgados as a proposed RAMSAR site is unfortunate, but probably not critical. The final part of this document (highlighted in red text) is significant. Apart from the developers having reduced the scale of their proposal by almost 50% (in terms of volume of new accomodation), they have shown a willingness to collaborate with SPEA and the RSPB in maintaining the viability of the lagoon as a natural resource. The overall situation is much more complex than any of us thought just over one year ago and both the RSPB and SPEA must be congratulated for clarifying this, disseminating the information and doing a splendid job in bringing together, and negotiating with, all interested parties; given the obscure way in which the "Portuguese machinery" works, this is no small triumph! There is some way to go yet before we have any sign of victory, but I think that we have some cause for optimism.

Lagoa dos Salgados – Situation Update (October 2005)

This briefing follows the one from last April, and aims to summarise the latest developments with the efforts being undertaken by Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA – BirdLife in Portugal) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB – BirdLife in the UK) to secure the long-term conservation of the Lagoa dos Salgados, an unprotected Important Bird Area (IBA) in the Algarve Coast.

This briefing was due to be sent during the summer, but the many recent developments (see below) have turned the situation rather volatile, with information coming in and follow-up meetings set up throughout the summer, so we have waited until the situation became clearer before sending you all the present up-date

Summary of the situation in April 2005 (see previous briefings for further detail)

+ We were facing a big tourism development project (10,000 beds, 18-hole golf course) planned for the area immediately to the west and north of the lagoon, that would occupy significant parts of the western and northern margins of the wetland. This project did not have planning permission due to a negative evaluation by the local land planning agency (CCDR), but there was intensive pressure to deconstruct and reverse this binding opinion.
+ We were facing the impending construction of a new sewage treatment plant that will substitute the current one, and therefore remove the main current source of water feeding the wetland. The original plans for the new sewage treatment plant did not include any outflow to the wetland.
+ The site was not protected, and the Portuguese government was unwilling to declare it as an Special Protected Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive.

Actions by SPEA and the RSPB between April and September 2005

New sewage treatment plant – definition of the remit of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and development of the EIA proper

The new sewage treatment plan had, by law, to be subjected to an EIA. A critical step in the EIA process was to define and agree on the terms of reference (TOR) of the EIA proper. This is done by an EIA evaluation commission that is established for each project under EIA obligations. The EIA commission has representatives from the land planning and local and central statutory agencies, including the Portuguese government nature conservation agency (ICN), CCDR, etc.

It was clear that the first step would be to make sure that the EIA remit would cover the needs of the lagoon. There was the clear danger that the TOR for this EIA would exclude anything to do with the wetland, as the new sewage treatment plant is several kilometres away from the wetland. It was therefore crucial to lobby and inform all the stakeholders in the EIA commission to introduce the needs of the lagoon in the specific TOR of this EIA. SPEA and the RSPB organised meetings with both ICN and CCDR last April, to convey this point. We are happy to report that we were successful here. This means that the EIA had to consider the needs of the lagoon.

The EIA process then started in earnest, and was contracted out to a environmental impact assessment consultancy (IPA, Inovação de Projectos em Ambiente, lda). Our next steps here were to provide this company with our data and priorities for the lagoon: In early May SPEA and the RSPB met with the directors from this company and exchanged views and data, including Joao Ministro’s general evaluation of the biodiversity importance of the lagoon (see below).

IPA’s team were suggesting that the wetland should be maintained at the 2 metres asl (above sea level), a value far below the average current dimensions of the wetland. We have conveyed to them the need to change that in the final EIA report, and also discussed with them the relevance to propose the establishment of a system and process that would allow for an integrated management of the wetland water requirements.

We can also report that the submarine emissary (600 m long at sea) that will be built as part of the new sewage treatment plant – and that will serve an area with 300,000 summer residents - will cross the southern part of the lagoon from northeast to southwest. The emissary will cross the existing golf-course on the eats side of the lagoon (Golfe dos Salgados).

We conveys to the IPA’s team our concerns and suggestions regarding the issue of minimizing disturbance to the birds and the habitats from the work to install the emissary, namely seasonal restrictions to the construction work, etc.

More, the new sewage treatment plant will produce a substantial amount of water with tertiary treatment that will be provided, at a cost, to the existing and future golf-courses in the area. It is not yet clear where all the infrastructure to transport this water from the plant to the golf courses will be laid. Again, the location of these may have an impact on the wetland, and we conveyed our concerns to the IPA team.

The EIA study has been finished, and has been sent to the customer, but hasn’t been released to the public yet, and we haven’t seen the final draft – usually it takes about 6-9 months in between delivery to the customer and public disclosure for comment. SPEA is waiting for the compulsory public scrutiny window in order to evaluate and comment on this study.

Studies and suggestions on the hydrology and management options for the lagoon, as well as general characterization of the biodiversity importance of the lagoon

It is clear that during 2005-2006 several important decisions regarding the long-term future of the Salgados wetland will be taken (EIA, new sewage treatment plan, planning permission for the tourism development, etc). In the beginning of this year SPEA and the RSPB have thus decided to develop some quick assessment of the biodiversity importance of the lagoon, and about several aspects related to the water management of the site, to inform all these processes and decisions. Two studies were developed:

b.1 – a general study on the biodiversity importance of the lagoon, including some mapping of areas important for birds. This was the responsibility of Joao Ministro, the local IBA caretaker, with abundant local knowledge and many years of experience in monitoring the lagoon

b.2 – some practical considerations about the water management of the lagoon, including some recommendations for future water level management (as one of the main issues affecting the biodiversity of the lagoon had to do with water quality and the regular emptying-out of the lagoon, see previous briefings). This was the responsibility of Matt Self, an RSPB senior ecologist.

Matt Self visited the site in the end of March, and these reports were produced over the following 3 months. Drafts of the reports were in the meantime sent to the company developing the EIA. These reports have also been shared with the main stakeholders (the developers, CCDR, etc).

Both these reports are available to all interested individuals. They are big files (total 4MB), so please contact me if you want to receive them in your e-mail inbox.

Advocacy strategy to protect the site

As mentioned, SPEA and the RSPB feel that the site should be protected as an Special Protected Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive. However, the Portuguese government had clearly told us that they were not willing to declare new SPAs in the near future, for a number of reasons:
SPAs are still seen a negative hindrance to development by all local and regional bodies, so the central government suffers a political cost in declaring new SPAs
Locals elections (just held last weekend – 9th October) meant mayors were not available to discuss and take forward any “controversial” issue, worried about their re-election prospocts
The Portuguese government is under pressure from the EU Commission to progress on a infringement case following a formal complaint regarding poor implementation of the Birds Directive, in particular regarding the protection of steppe habitats, so they will not dedicate time and effort to any initiative related to SPAs before solving that complaint.

After discussing the issue internally and with several policy and advocacy experts, and given the position of the Portuguese government, SPEA and the RSPB have then developed an alternative advocacy strategy to secure some form of legal protection for this site. The alternative solution devised was to aim for Ramsar designation (under the Ramsar convention) as a first step that would eventually lead to further designation later on. Main reason for this solution:

The site fulfils Ramsar criteria
Ramsar is less politically charged than SPAs
In November there will be a Conference of the Parties of the Ramsar Convention (in Uganda), and the Portuguese Government had announced it would like to declare a few new Ramsar sites for that meeting, so there would be a window of chance here.

Please note that the final aim would always be to declare the site as an SPA, but this would be an interim solution offering us some political leverage and funding opportunities.

SPEA and the RSPB have then developed an advocacy campaign to lobby for this. In April SPEA and the RSPB have formally suggested to the Portuguese Ministry of Environment, in a formal meeting, these intentions. In several follow-up meetings with key staff from the ministry in April and May, the issue was always analysed. SPEA and the RSPB has also done technical preparatory work needed for the designation of the site, including filling in the Ramsar form for the site (available upon request). All this resulted in the inclusion of Salgados in the internal ministry documents being prepared for the designation of new Ramsar sites. SPEA had also started to contact with the other stakeholders regarding their views on this designation, and the response was positive (including from the developers).

In early September, SPEA and the RSPB met again formally with the Portuguese ministry of environment to secure a final decision on the matter – please see enclosed briefing produced for that meeting (in Portuguese). It was then that we were told of new and unexpected developments that changed completely the picture.

Unknown to us, in September 2004 a British citizen sent a petition to the European Parliament (EP) about Salgados. This petition was accepted by the EP and triggered some correspondence between the EP, the EU Commission and the Portuguese Government. Last March the EU Commission wrote to the Portuguese government asking why the area was not classified as an SPA, as was identified as an IBA by SPEA (please see enclosed petition and correspondence).

Faced with a contentious case with the Commission about steppe SPAs, and afraid that Brussels would start infringement procedures again if indeed the Portuguese authorities recognised now that Salgados was important, the Portuguese government then decided to freeze any form of protection of the site. In that meeting in September SPEA and the RSPB were then told that Salgados would be taken out of the candidate new Ramsar sites list that the Portuguese government will announce November.

So the situation now is that we have an all-or-nothing situation regarding the protection of the site. Either we can convince the Portuguese government and the local authorities to protect it as an SPA, or nothing at all. Obviously, that is what SPEA and the RSPB are now going to try. The local mayors (the wetlands borders both Silves and Albufeira councils) were both re-elected on Sunday, so SPEA and the RSPB will now address this issue with them, taking in consideration the new developments with the tourism development reported below.

The petition to the EP also illustrates how a well-meaning action by a concerned citizen has spoiled the legal protection of the site as a Ramsar site, and the advocacy strategy being developed by SPEA and the RSPB.

Meetings with developers (Irmaos Cavaco)

In the meantime, very positive developments have occurred in this area. In August SPEA and the RSPB have been sent a new plan for the tourism development, which considerably reduces the area it occupies. Faced with the negative evaluation by CCDR, and also with the pressure and lobbying that both SPEA and the RSPB have been doing over the last year, the developers have halved the number of beds (from 10,000 to 5,500) and have consequently “pulled” their golf course a few metres higher, so that it now is above the 4,5 metre asl line in the west of the lagoon, thus complying with the CCDRs technical opinion. In the north of the wetland the golf academy goes beyond the 4,5 m asl contour, but they the developers are not intending to do any alteration of the soil profile there, just plant a golfing green for a golf academy. Further, in the new plan the developers leave an area of original habitat (abandoned farm fields and maquis) of around 15ha in the centre of their property, in between the two streams.

SPEA and the RSPB studied carefully the new plan for the area, and eventually met the developers in mid September to discuss it further. The Cavaco brothers have then offered SPEA and the RSPB the possibility of active collaboration in the landscaping of the area around their development, to enhance biodiversity. They have also offered SPEA and the RSPB the old farmhouse located to the north of the wetland to establish an eventual interpretation and visitor centre, and were open to negotiate technical details about the work to be done. In the meantime, the Cavaco brothers have resubmitted their new plan to the CCDR, which is now evaluating it. SPEA and the RSPB are in close contact with CCDR: their first, informal reaction was positive, since the new plan complies with the main reason for the initial negative opinion (overlap between the golf-course and the historical flood limit)

SPEA then sought endorsement from their board about this new development – the possibility of engaging with the developers in an active collaboration. The response was positive.

Next steps:

SPEA and the RSPB will meet with CCDR in the end of October to follow this up, and get information about any planning permission, as well as the designation of the site as an SPA, etc.
SPEA and the RSPB will submit to the developers a proposal regarding further actions that can happen to enhance the habitat and biodiversity value of the site, taking in consideration the new development plan.
SPEA and the RSPB will meet with Aguas do Algarve in the end of October to evaluate latest developments with the EIA and the construction of the new sewage treatment plant. Please note that even if the authorities require a compulsory outflow from the new sewage treatment plan to the lagoon, the important issue of who will pay for this water (that needs to have tertiary treatment according to EU legislation) is still outstanding.
SPEA and the RSPB will meet with the local councils in the end of October to discuss their approach towards declaration the site as an SPA

The next briefing is planned for the beginning of 2006, give or take one or two months to accommodate new developments.

If any of these points require clarification, please contact us directly.

Yours sincerely,

José Pedro Tavares
Country Programmes Officer for Portugal, Turkey and Greece
International Division
The Lodge
Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK

Luis Costa
Rua da Vitória, 53 -3º Esq
1100-618 Lisboa, Portugal

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Everyone who has ever met me on my twice-daily tour of the Ria da Alvor will also have met my dog "BODI". She was found as a stray puppy, together with her sister, on the beach at Alvor apparently (we understand) having been abandoned by her owner, a local fisherman, who's bitch had had a litter of seven - five dogs and two bitches. It is common for Portuguese peasants to abandon female puppies because they do not want more pups and thay cannot afford to have them spayed. Bodi was originally christened "Boadicea" and her sister "Cleopatra" by my friend Gail who found them. Gail re-named Cleopatra as "Petal" (no comment!!) and we decided that Boadicea, being a bit of a mouthfull, should become "Bodi".


She was eight years old this September and during those years this dog has become my next-but-one best friend and constant companion. As she grew it became apparent that a large portion of her genetic make-up was Border Collie, and she shows many of the characteristics typical of that breed: super intelligent, very active, extremely good-natured with other dogs, cats (we have seven who all think that Bodi is a very large, friendly cat) and children and just about anybody else but particularly birders - to Bodi human being plus binoculars and/or telescope = friend.


Bodi takes me out for walkies twice a day for a total of about four hours; in mid-summer it is a 5.30 am start as I am pulled out of bed and told it is "time to go". When she was younger I would walk a total of about 12km a day with her, and for every kilometre I walked she would run (chasing rabbits, hares and foxes) at least 4 km. I once calculated that we had walked to Johannesburgh and back (twice)!!


She loves people, and is not at all choosy as to whom she speaks, so if you see her before you see me please say "HELLO", and if by chance you have a doggie biscuit (or any sort of biscuit) in your pocket, you will have made a friend for life.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Garden Breeders 2005

This year the list of birds breeding in the garden is:

Common Quail
Littel Owl
Eurasian Collared Dove
Crested Lark
*Red-rumped Swallow
Eurasian Blackbird
Garden Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Great Tit
Woodchat Shrike
House Sparrow
European Serin
European Greenfinch
European Goldfinch

For the past two years the passageway between the house and the garage/workshop has been "investigated" by Barn Swallows which we hoped might nest. This year, in the last week of June, the beginnings of a nest appeared just above the door to my officina (workshop) but the first attempts ended in small piles of dried mud on the floor. When I realised that the "builders" were not Barn, but Red-rumped, Swallows I immediately created a mud-bath in a corner of the garden to provide them with raw material. After ten days the nest was completed.

The birds were very active and furnishing the nest with feathers of chickens and Helmeted Guineafowl (very posh!) from the small farm along the track. After four days the birds disappeared and I feared that they had deserted because of disturbance (we have seven cats) or had just found an alternative site. One morning, a close inspection of the nest revealed a Greater Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolphpus ferrumequinum) roosting attached to the outside of the nest. After careful removal (and rehoming) of the bat the swallows returned within a few hours and, to cut a long story short, proceeded to rear a brood of four young. Most interesting was that at one point four adults were feeding the young - perhaps Aunt and Uncle, or just an immature pair which had not bred?

Adults and young continued to use the nest as a roost but after two weeks it became apparent that a second brood had been produced and by the end of August another two (possibly three) fledgelings appeared. At the time of writing (11th September) the birds have left the nest, one or two occasionally returning at night, but they are clearly preparing for a long journey south. I feel very privileged to have had these swallows nesting in "my back passage" and look forward, hopefully, to their return next spring.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


My home is on the Quinta da Rocha peninsula which is bordered by the Ribeira (River) Alvor and Ribeira Odeaxere and is adjacent to the tidal lagoon of the Ria da Alvor. The great mixture of habitats in a relatively small area results in a large and varied list of resident birds and the location near the southwestern-most point of mainland Europe also produces large numbers of migrants. The bird observatory and field study centre (Cruzinha, the home of the now worldwide A Rocha organization - close by have recorded, in their trapping and ringing programme, a large number of scarcities and rarities.

My own "garden list" includes all species observed either perched within my land (an area of 4,000 square metres) or species of which I can be confidently certain have flown over my "air space" since March 1997; it does not include species just seen from my garden:

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus)
Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
Eurasian Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix)
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)
European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsi)
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)
Rock Dove (Columba livia)
European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis)
Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba)
Common Swift (Apus apus)
Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
European Bee-eater (Merops apiasterUpupa epops)
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae)
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
Eurasian Crag-martin (Hirundo rupestris)
Eurasian Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica rufula)
House Martin (Delichon urbica)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Spanish Yellow-wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae)
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
Common Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica)
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis)
Western Olivaceous Warbler (Hippolais opaca)
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta)
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus)
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)
Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)
Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyana)
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
European Serin (Serinus serinus)
European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Eurasian Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)
Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra)

Total Species on list 114

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Salgados Update

Lagoa dos Salgados – Situation Update (April 2005)

SPEA / RSPB Algarve visit – March 2005

From 29 March - 1 April a joint delegation from SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and the RSPB (BirdLife International in the UK) visited the Algarve. The joint delegation undertook a series of meetings with the President and other technical staff of Comissão de Coordenação de Desenvolvimento Regional (CCDR Algarve, the land planning agency) and with the CEO and technical staff from Águas do Algarve SA (the regional water company). The delegation was comprised of Luis Costa (Executive Director, SPEA) and Jose Tavares (RSPB Country Programmes Officer for Portugal, Greece and Turkey), João Ministro (local IBA Caretaker), and Matt Self (senior RSPB Reserves Ecologist).

SPEA / RSPB study on the land-use zonation & hydrology of the lagoon

As confirmed to all stakeholders late last year, SPEA and the RSPB are now jointly undertaking this study. The resulting report will be made available in May, and will inform the debate and decisions being taken on Lagoa dos Salgados. João Ministro is currently writing up the zonation analysis that will map in detail the relevance of the margins of the lagoon for the various wintering and breeding bird species. Matt Self undertook fieldwork over a period of several days at the site last week to complete the site hydrological assessment. This will cover issues including the annual cycle of flooding and drying, water volume and quality, water budget to determine supply requirements, and water inputs and outputs.

Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Water treatment plant

At the meetings held in October 2004 with key stakeholders, one of the main concerns identified regarding this site was that the new water treatment plant, to be constructed a few miles away, would not provide any water to the lagoon. The wetland is currently extensively fed by water from an old treatment plant close to the lagoon that will be decommissioned once the new one is ready. The original plans for the new treatment plant, drawn up many years ago, did not include any outflow to the wetland. Therefore, in recent months SPEA / RSPB have written and lobbied both the CCDR and Águas do Algarve to ensure that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the new plant would consider the water needs of the lagoon. A crucial step in this procedure is the establishment of the terms of reference for the EIA study, which are set by an EIA Follow-up Commission that is established for each specific EIA. It is encouraging that because of the recent discussions both the CCDR and Águas do Algarve have confirmed that in the Water Treatment Plant EIA Follow-up Commission defined that the EIA must analyze the water needs of Lagoa dos Salgados. A private consultancy company is currently undertaking the EIA study, so the results are not yet public. The study currently being completed by SPEA and the RSPB aims to inform and contribute to this EIA. As soon as the EIA report is released to the public SPEA and the RSPB will jointly analyze its findings.

CCDR position on proposed development

CCDR confirmed to SPEA / RSPB that they are maintaining their previous binding opinion that the proposed golf course and large-scale tourism resort planned for the west of the lagoon can only be built above the 4 m above sea level height contour (deemed to be the historical flooding height). They have maintained their position in spite of the recent legal, but non-binding opinions from the Instituto da Agua, and the Camara Municipal de Silves, dismissing the 4m criteria. This is good news as it means at present the development still has not been approved. The emphasis is now on the developers, who will have to resubmit a counter-proposal to CCDR.

December 2004 Lagoon opening

It has been confirmed that the most recent opening of the lagoon to the sea in December 2004, was legal and officially sanctioned. As mentioned previously, the CCDR can give permission for the dunes to be breached between December and February (inclusive). The existing golf course company on the east side of the marsh is usually the company that request authorization, because their facility is periodically flooded by high water during the winter. It was confirmed that late in 2004, the golf course company applied, and received permission to open the wetland to the sea. The marsh dried out considerably because of creating the channel to the sea. However, barely two months later, the water levels had recovered to the initial level. A good range of bird species were seen in good numbers, including hundreds of flamingos. However, the water quality was extremely poor as winter 2004/5 has been very dry, with almost no rain throughout. As a result, the wetland’s water predominantly originates from the current sewage treatment plant that is not working effectively. It is highly probable that this coming summer will witness another botulism eruption that would be expected to cause the now familiar summer mortality of birds.

Lagoa de Salgados – Siltation problem identified

In the lengthy technical discussions held with engineers and technicians from both CCDR and Águas do Algarve different alternatives to correctly manage the water level and quality of this wetland have been analyzed and discussed. These alternatives will be listed in the SPEA / RSPB report. A new issue regarding the water management at this site has also been identified. The opening of the lagoon to the sea during the winter months is currently necessary for two reasons. Firstly, this releases the polluted water, but additionally to purge the considerable volume of silt that accumulates rapidly in the wetland. This siltation comes in part from the vast amounts of treated sludge emanating from the old water treatment plant. It is clear that without regularly opening the lagoon to the sea, Lagoa dos Salgados would rapidly then silt up.

Kite-surfing problem emerges

Finally, a local SPEA member has recently informed SPEA of a new threat to Lagoa dos Salgados from people kite-surfing on the lagoon. It is inconceivable that anyone would want to pursue this sport in such polluted waters, especially as such good conditions for this sport exist out at sea in Praia Grande nearby, but this has happened on more than one occasion. Each time this has caused an enormous amount of disturbance to the birds foraging in the area. SPEA have already alerted CCDR and the local police force about this problem, and asked what can be done to prevent this being repeated, especially through any legal instrument, taking into consideration the Birds Directive.

SPEA to meet Ministry of Environment

SPEA will be meeting the new Deputy Environment Minister of the new Portuguese government in April. Among a number of national and site-based issues on the agenda, SPEA will raise the plight of the Lagoa dos Salgados, and the need for some legal protection of the lagoon as a Special Protected Area under the Birds Directive.

If any of these points require clarification, please contact me directly. I will circulate a further update on developments in July 2005.

Yours sincerely,

José Pedro Tavares
Country Programmes Officer for Portugal, Turkey and Greece
International Division
The Lodge
Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK

Luis Costa
Rua da Vitória, 53 -3º Esq
1100-618 Lisboa, Portugal

This update, produced jointly by the RSPB and SPEA, was circulated on 7th April 2005. It has some very positive points and in repsonse to this I wrote (via email on 10th April) directly to Jose Tavares (RSPB Country Operations Officer for Portugal).

This was my response:

Dear Jose,

Thank you for your email of 7th April and the update on the situation with Lagoa dos Salgados. I am sure I speak on behalf of many people, in addition to those to whom the update was copied, in saying that I am very pleased with the progress that has been made to date and I congratulate you and your colleagues at SPEA and Almargem for your hard work. I am pleased not just because there are now some concrete results and some cause for optimism, but also because you have made the debate public. This was the cause of much frustration, if not anger, in the past - no-one actually knew what the situation was. The very large number of birdwatchers visiting this site each year, many of them having done so for several years, could only base their opinions on what they saw for themselves: constantly encroaching development, badly polluted water and periodic draining of the lagoon at apparently inappropriate times when birds were nesting. I myself was totally unaware of most of the information which you have released over the past six months regarding the large number of interested parties involved and the overall complexity of the situation.

The two most positive notes are that the EIA Follow-up Commission is requiring the Environmental Impact Assessment to include the water needs of Lagoa dos Salgados, and that the CCDR are maintaining their stance that development to the west of Salgados should be above the 4 metre sea height flooding contour. I do not yet see victory in these matters; I have lived in the Algarve long enough to know that the Portuguese "machinery" moves in mysterious ways and where developers and local government politics are concerned there is no such thing as "an insurmountable hurdle". Let us hope that things proceed for the benefit of the lagoon and its birdlife.

Regarding your statement on the December 2004 Lagoon opening being legal and officially sanctioned, I remain unconvinced about some aspects of this. Clearly the Salgados Golf Club is the prime activator in this, but I am not sure about their motives. I have never seen (or heard) any evidence of the golf course being flooded, even when the water level in the lagoon was very high two winters ago. The water level certainly was not high enough to be a flooding risk when the lagoon was drained in December last year. I happened to meet four golfers recently at Salgados who were regular players on this course. They told me that when the water in the lagoon becomes unpleasantly smelly, and players complain to the club, they arrange to have the lagoon drained regardless of timing and deleterious effect on the birds. We must accept the necessity for period draining until such time as (hopefully) a cleaner source of water feeds the lagoon, but I think that in the past it has been done (e.g. in late March 2004) at an inappropriate time. Also, I do not accept the golf club's denial that they are taking water from the lagoon (or at least the stream which feeds the lagoon); I, and others, have witnessed this first hand.

The kite-surfing problem which you mention is worrying. This is not something I have witnessed at Salgados but it is becoming a very popular nuisance across the Algarve and I see the effect it has on the thousands of roosting birds in the Ria da Alvor, where I live. I am not sure whether the local police are the people to cope with this; they have been alerted to the illegal shooting of ducks, etc (from the birdwatching hide!) and equally illegal mist-netting to trap birds coming in to roost in the evening, but have failed to take any action. I have a contact (Capt. Rui Moreira) within the SEPNA (Equipa de Proteccao da Natureza) branch of the GNR in Portimao who could be more effective. [contactable on Tel: 282 420750 TM: 96 1193296 Linha Azul: 808200520] They are over-worked and under-staffed but are very keen to tackle any "crime against nature" - I will try to contact them about this but it might be useful if a more "official" approach could be made by SPEA and Almargem. Otherwise, let us hope that the lagoon becomes strewn with the half-commatose bodies of people in wetsuits suffering from surfer's botulism.

The forthcoming meeting of SPEA with the new Portuguese Deputy Environment Minister sounds encouraging. If, at the end of the day, Lagoa dos Salgados can be elevated from an IBA to an SPA then I think that the future of this very special site might become more secure. It really is worth preserving; it might rank lower than other deserving Portuguese sites in terms of total area and actual numbers of birds, but for its size it has an incredible number of birds and variety of species, including many rarities, and it also has the very special quality of easy accessabilty, and that is of prime importance in terms of educating Portuguese schoolchildren (and possibly even their parents) and at the same time attracting eco-tourism.

I look forward to hearing news, hopefully good news, of further developments.

My very best wishes,

Colin Key

I did not receive either an acknowledgement or reply, and we are now awaiting the promised further update due this month (July).

Here are some photographic reminders of some of the threats which we are fighting against:

A view to the east of Lagoa dos Salgados where five 5-star hotels and accompanying recreational support is being constructed - this will complete the development of the coastal strip between Albufeira (the "Blackpool" of the Algarve) and the Lagoa dos Slagados golf course. At the moment there are proposals to continue development on the west side of the Lagoa as far as Armacao da Pera and current plans indicate that this development will touch the western edge of the flood - the consequences of this are probably that the current expanse of water will cease to exist (together with the supported population of birds).

This is the pump-house which both SPEA and the RSPB deny exists - it is taking water from the stream which supplies the Lagoa to provide irrigation for the Salgados golf course.

The beach at Praia Grande, the south-east corner of the Lagoa, where the dunes are periodically breached by bulldozer to allow the heavily polluted water to escape to the sea. RSPB and SPEA claim that this is done to "simulate natural processes" and that it is done "sensitively" so as not to disturb the birds. I have evidence that this is done indiscriminately at the bequest of the golf club, not (as has been said) to prevent flooding of the greens, but because the smell of the sewage-polluted water is offensive to the golfers. Last year draining took place in late March when most birds had already nested and were sitting on eggs.


In recent weeks there has been an attempt to revive the lagoon as an environmetal asset. The local Camara Municipal (District Council) of Silves had erected a birdwatching hide, nature trail and numerous information boards. The hide went into disrepair, part of the trail was closed off and all the information boards were removed eighteen months ago in what many thought was a prelude to obliterating the lagoon completely. In recent weeks the hide has been repaired and several new, informative boards in both English and Portuguese have been erected.

We are still a long way from achieving a victory but the actions of the RSPB and SPEA are now more positive, there is an information-flow, and an attempt is being made to co-ordinate the views and wishes of all parties involved. I have heard recently that an application is being made to have Lagoa dos Salgados given the status of a RAMSAR Site which might be another step in raising the site's level of protection from IBA (Important Bird Area) to SPA (Special Protection Area); the latter would almost certainly guarantee the site's future preservation. I would like to thank everyone who has written to the RSPB and/or SPEA to express their concerns and offer support for this crusade and to especially thank Derek Honnor, without who's initial protestations to the RSPB at their headquarters in Sandy, the progress seen in recent months would not have taken place.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)

A single sub-adult male bird found by C H Key at Ria da Alvor, Quinta da Rocha, on 22nd April 2005

Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei)

Single bird found by Les and Margaret Jamieson at Ria da Alvor, Quinta da Rocha, on 9th March 2005

Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

One of a group of four birds (probably all juveniles) found by Roger Skan at Vale Santos, Cape St. Vincent, on 22nd August 2004.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Lagoa dos Salgados

(Pera Marsh)
Lagoa dos Salgados (meaning “salty lake”) is inaptly named since it is one of the few areas of fresh water within the Algarve area. However, the adjective “fresh” must be qualified; during the rainy season the lagoon is fed by a small stream which flows in from the north but this is supplemented by discharge from the local ETAR, a sewage treatment works which is unable to cope with the volume of waste, especially during the tourist season, and is now contaminating the lagoon to such an extent that avian botulism is killing many hundreds of birds annually. A new, higher capacity, ETAR is planned to cope with the increasing number of hotels, houses and apartments being built immediately adjacent to the lagoon but at this time no-one knows what effect this will have; it might result in the release of cleaner water into the lagoon but it might also mean the release of no water at all. The adjacent Salgados Golf course might pose an additional threat. They claim that they are not drawing water from the lagoon for irrigation but this has been challenged by other observers. It is also possible that any run-off from the golf course will add nitrates (derived from fertilizers) and other toxins to the water as has happened near other courses in the Algarve.
In recent years there has been a practice of breaching the natural retaining dam (I.e. bulldozing away the sand-dunes) at the south-east corner of the lagoon to allow the polluted water to escape. This would be commendable if done at the appropriate time but there is evidence that it has recently been done when the water was not seriously polluted or when birds were just about to start breeding. The most recent occurrence was in December 2004 when the water quality was relatively clean, the water level was just about perfect, but apparently the Salgados Golf course requested this draining (carried out by the local council) in order to prevent flooding of their greens. The effect on the birdlife of this very rapid drop in water level is devastating.
Anyone who has visited this site recently (or, like many, is a regular visitor) will realise that the threats to its future existence are immense. Massive development to the east is well under way and there are proposals for even greater development on the western side which could result in building up to the present edge of the lagoon. The lagoon straddles the boundary between two councils or municipalities (Camara Municipal), C.M. Silves and C.M. Albufeira. Both of these municipalities are supportive of any development which will increase tourism and hence jobs within their domains, irrespective of cost to the environment.
There is a fight to preserve Lagoa dos Salgados but it is very much David v Goliath. The site has no national or international protection status; it is not an SPA (Special Protection Area), RAMSAR Site or part of the Nature 2000 network. It is an IBA (Important Bird Area) but this is notional and has no legal status. Portugal is being urged (by the EU) to create more SPA’s but is defiant because such legislation would severely impede tourist development, construction of dams, etc.
SPEA (Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves) is Portugal’s BirdLife International partner working with, and receiving funding from, the RSPB. Compared to the RSPB it has a tiny membership (just over 1,000) and very few staff. In a country with such a rich diversity of habitats and so many environmental and ecological problems it simply cannot cope.
The RSPB has an International Operations Director and also a Country Programmes Officer; the latter has responsibility not just for Portugal but also for Greece and Turkey.
There is a Portuguese Governmental body, the ICN (Instituto da Conservacao da Natureza), which appears to be both impotent and totally uninterested in matters such as this. The present dire state of the Castro Marim Nature Reserve, one of Portugal’s prime RAMSAR Sites which has received a large amount of EU funding for its new Interpretation Centre, bears witness to this.
ALMARGEM (The Association for the Protection of the Environments of the Algarve) is an NGO based in Loule which has a staff member appointed as “caretaker” for the Lagoa dos Salgados IBA; his brief, we believe, is to observe the progress (or otherwise) of events at this site and report back to interested parties.
Over the past few months we have had dialogue with the RSPB and SPEA expressing our concerns over the future of this site. The situation is extremely complex because so many different parties, with different objectives, are involved and in Portugal the administrative and legal machinery moves very slowly and in very mysterious ways. Our concern is that Lagoa dos Salgados seems to be a very low priority in the Portuguese scheme of conservation (a fact admitted by the RSPB). We are not sure whether SPEA and the RSPB realise just how important this site is. It does not have the large area or sheer numbers of birds of, for example, the Ria Formosa or Castro Marim but Lagoa dos Salgados does, square metre for square metre, have an incredible number and variety of birds (over 160 species recorded, including many scarcities and rarities). Moreover, it is very easily accessible to the large number of visiting birdwatchers from overseas many of whom come here year after year. In short, it is a unique gem which the Algarve cannot afford to lose. Hotels can be demolished and replaced with bigger and better ones, but this is not so with this Lagoa; if or when it is lost it will be irretrievable - it cannot be rebuilt and the birds will not return.
So, the purpose of this missive is two-fold: firstly, we have tried to explain and simplify a complex situation; we meet many visitors at this site who want information as to what is happening and ask how they might help. Secondly, we urge you to contact any or all of the organisations involved to let them know the strength of feeling about what is happening at Pera so that they can see the level of concern. Please write, telephone, email or even visit them in person, but please do something - or it may soon be too late.
RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL Tel: 01767 680551
Alistair Gammell, Director, International Operations
Mark Day, International Office
Jose Tavares, Country Programmes Officer for Portugal
Professor Ian Newton, Chairman of RSPB Council c/o
SPEA, Rua da Vitoria, 53 - 3.° Esq., 1100-618 Lisboa, PORTUGAL
Ivan Ramirez, IBA Co-ordinator for Portugal
ALMARGEM, Apartado 251, 8100 Loule, PORTUGAL
Joao Ministro, IBA “Caretaker” for Lagoa dos Salgados
Some useful links: * in Portuguese, but has a link to an informative document in English

The officers and employees of these organisations are, inevitably, severely overworked and may not welcome an inundation of letters, emails and telephone calls. This, however, is no excuse for not making your voices heard and opinions known; there will not be a second chance, and time is running out very quickly.
If you are a member of the RSPB you should be aware that part of your subscription is going towards financing BirdLife International partnerships (in this case SPEA), and you have the right to have a say in what is to be done.
If you are a regular or even just an occasional visitor to Portugal and your passion is for the wonderful but ever-diminishing natural environment and its fabulous wealth of resident and migratory birds then please consider supporting SPEA by becoming a member; €22 per year is a very small price to pay to help protect Portugal’s birdlife.

Amigos da Lagoa dos Salgados

“The Friends of Pera Marsh”

The following statement was issued jointly by the RSPB and SPEA

Brief Introduction about the Lagoa IBA

The Lagoa dos Salgados is a well-known coastal lagoon, one of the few wetlands in the western Algarve coast. This site is extremely important for birdlife, including breeding little bittern (4-6 pairs), purple heron (3 to 7 pairs) and ferruginous duck (1-2 pairs, the only breeding site for this species in Portugal), while black-winged stilts and purple gallinule are common (6-10 pairs breeding, up to 85 in winter). In total more than 150 bird species have been seen there. Accordingly, the site as been recognised by SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) as an Important Bird Area (IBA). However, the lagoa lacks of any legal protection status.
In the last couple of years Lagoa dos Salgados has received a lot of attention in both the Portuguese, the UK and the international press.

Existing Golf Course:

The east side the lagoon is already limited by a golf course, and behind it a massive development (Heredade dos Salgados) is under construction. Contrary to what many people believe, this golf course is not taking it's water from the lagoon. The lake (and incidentally this golf course) receives most of it’s water from a sewage treatment plant upstream - without this plant, the wetland would not exist today as we know it.
West side of the Lagoon
On the west side of the lagoon there is still a vast (> 200 Ha) , idyllic expanse of fields and shrubs, just behind the protected coastal dunes, rich in bird life, particularly migrant and wintering passerines. It is on this greenfield site that a company wants to build a rather big tourism project, comprising 2 hotels, dozens of villas, and a surrounding new golf course. They had bought this land 4 years ago, and are thus seeking to cash on their investment. The planned development totals 10,500 beds – as a comparison, the Silves council has a total of 30,000 inhabitants! This new development would not destroy the lagoon, but would reach right to its edge, and does not plan to include any buffer zone between the open water and the projected golf course.

A planned development threats the site

Plans to build in this pristine site have led to a big outcry in Portugal and elsewhere. Many British birdwatchers, who regularly birdwatch around this site while on holiday in the Algarve, have written to us and to others about the impending threat. Press articles have been written, and regularly we are contacted about this issue.

Our work

During the last 12 months, both SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) have been very active on the case. Most of this work has involved policy and advocacy actions to try to find a solution that will secure the conservation of all the natural values that make this site so special. Recently SPEA, the RSPB and a local NGO called Almargem have held a series of meetings with all the relevant stakeholders in the Algarve, to get the latest round of information and emphasize SPEA’s and the RSPB’s concerns and position regarding the future of the site. This briefing serves to update and circulate information to all that have expressed in the past some interest about this issue in the past.

Lack of legal protection status

As far as SPEA and the RSPB are concerned, the ideal solution would be to declare and manage the area as a Special Protected Area, under the Birds Directive – the site does not have any dedicated legal protection status now. BirdLife considers that all IBAs qualify as potential SPAs. SPEA has tried to lobby for the protection of this site under the Birds Directive. However, the Portuguese Government has publicly announced they’ve no intention to add new SPAs to the existing network. In Portugal (and elsewhere) SPAs are strongly disliked by mayors, local councils and politicians as they are seen to limit development and progress. Portugal will go through a long and complex electoral period, including three major elections in 2005 and 2006, so there is no political will to take this unpopular measure. We believe this is bad news for nature in Portugal, so we continue to lobby in order to shift this situation.

What do other institutions think about the proposed development?

Silves Council,
They are fully supportive of the new development on the west side of Lagoa dos Salgados. Local council budgets are mostly dependent on taxes levied on construction.
SPEA and RSPB have repeatedly raised their concern on the impacts of the planned development on the biodiversity of the lagoon, and have requested from the developers some flexibility to adapt their project to the ecological needs of the site.
CCDR- Algarve
The main reason why this development is not yet under construction is because the regional land planning agency (CCDR- Algarve) has formally rejected the planned development, not only because there was a problem with an excessive number of beds, but mainly because the new golf course would be below the historical flooding level of the lagoon. CCDR- Algarve has therefore requested the developers to plan the boundaries of the new golf course above this water level, which would reduce considerably the area available for construction, and would secure the survival of important marshland and farmland habitat around the lagoon.
Aguas do Algarve and the new Sewage treatment plant
Another major threat to the site comes from local water politics: the current sewage treatment plant that is feeding the lagoon will soon be substituted by a higher capacity plant already under construction. The current plant does not have capacity and technology to cope with the volume of water needed, and so the water reaching the lagoon is of very poor quality, which often result in severe episodes of botulism that have caused severe bird mortality, particularly in the summer. Also, with the spring rains, the existing golf course is sometimes partly flooded by foul-smelling water, and so for a few years the golf course owners took the initiative to open the lagoon to the sea by themselves. Often they did this in May and June, during the breeding season, with massive impacts on the breeding birds. In the last couple of years this situation was corrected, after many complaints about this state of affairs. The regional land planning agency (CCDR- Algarve) has stepped in and now opens the lagoon to the sea a couple of times every year, during the winter, to mimic a natural process and prevent the accumulation of badly-polluted water in the marsh - a perfectly sensible conservation management action. SPEA and RSPB receive every spring many letters claiming that the marsh is regularly drained - this is not the case!
The main problem is that the original project for the new water treatment plant does not include any structure to send treated water to the lagoon, even though the amount of water to be discharged by the new plant will be much higher – most of it will go to the sea through a submarine outflow, while the nearby golf courses will receive some water after tertiary treatment.
SPEA and the RSPB have met the directors of the company managing all waters in the Algarve (Algarve Waters), and evaluated all possible alternatives. The Environmental Impact Assessment for the new plant is also now starting, will run parallel to it’s construction. Both SPEA and the RSPB will make sure that the needs of the lagoon will be taken in consideration, thus imposing a major change to the original project, and securing that the lagoon will receive the needed water in the future.
Recent meetings with stakeholders
In November 2004 SPEA and RSPB staff have met with all stakeholders (Algarve Waters, Silves Council, CCDR and the developers). It was positive to see that virtually all recognised the ornithological importance of the site, and accepted SPEA’s capacity and position, and all confirmed they would like to see the continuing existence of the Lagoa dos Salgados, including the developers. More importantly, we have also obtained in the latest round of meetings a sincere compromise from the developers to analyse our proposals (see below) and eventually re-formulate their project.
Our next steps
The challenge is to find a compromise solution between differing expectations, since all stakeholders want different things: the Silves council just wants the whole thing to be finally approved, the developers want the lagoon (which they think will add value to their resort) but do not want to reduce the area for construction, the CCDR wants the flooding limit respected, while Aguas do Algarve can send water from the new water treatment plant as far as someone pays for it!
The RSPB and SPEA are now going to do a quick assessment of the biodiversity importance of the immediate surroundings of the lagoon, considering the local hydrological regime. This study will use the vast wealth of information collected so far about the site, as well as the data from a host of competent local Portuguese birdwatchers and scientists that have been studying the lagoon for years. The final report (due by Spring 2005) will be submitted to all stakeholders for consideration.
The future of the Lagoa dos Salgados rest on this complex, intricate and political mire. Both SPEA and the RSPB have got plenty of work ahead, but we hope that the current dialogue will bring a brighter future for the site.
Last, but not least, we would like to thank you again for your support. All the records so far collected about the site (many included in all the letters that British birdwatchers sent in response to the pleas and alerts published in several magazines) have been included in SPEA’s annual assessment of the Portuguese IBAs. Let us assure we are doing all we can on this issue, and please feel free to contact us with any other issues you may have.

Yours Sincerely,

José Pedro Tavares
Country programmes Officer for Portugal, Turkey and Greece
International Division
The Lodge
Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK

F. Iván Ramírez
IBAs Programme Coordinator
Rua da Vitória, 53 -3º Esq
1100-618 Lisboa, Portugal

Monday, July 04, 2005

Two views of how the "flood" at Pera (Lagoa dos Salgados) look with and without water. A recent trip (end of June 2005) revealed moderate water level for this time of year, considering the lack of rainfall last winter. The local ETAR (seage treatment works) is currently the only source of water into the lagoon and, surprisingly, the the water quality is fairly good; there is no sign yet of extreme (raw sewage) contamination and the resultant avian botulism. Success rate of breeding birds also appears to have been good with most water birds rearing at least two broods. As of now (3rd July) there are still Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and LittleTerns sitting on eggs.
On an unhappier note, on my last two visits, I have witnessed stray dogs (reportedly from the fishermens' beach at Armacao de Pera) running amok over the flood and reed-beds and killing stilt chicks, and quad-bikes driving over the dried-out parts of the lagoon and disturbing large flocks of waders and gulls (the latter including a recent count of 35 Slender-billed Gulls).

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Alpine Accentor

Roger, Colin and Jim (in "first-sighting" order), the founder members of the Algarve Alpine Accentor Appreciation Society (AAAAS - pronounced "ARSE").

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Lagoa dos Salgados

Anyone with news of progress (or otherwise!!) at this site at Pera please post here or send me an email. Also, details of sightings of rarities would be welcome,