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Algarve golf courses occasionally attract Northern Bald Ibises from the Spanish re-introduction scheme, and with 400 or more to choose from, it's hard to imagine that they need another. Photo: Valter Jacinto (
Algarve golf courses occasionally attract Northern Bald Ibises from the Spanish re-introduction scheme, and with 400 or more to choose from, it's hard to imagine that they need another. Photo: Valter Jacinto ( image

A golf course too far?

Birdwatch news team
Posted on: 27 Jun 2012

A huge development directly next to one of Portugal's most important bird reserves has been given the go-ahead by the local government, causing international concern.

The project, proposed and run by Finalgarve-Sociedade de Promoção Imobiliaria Turistica S.A. (FSPIT) will result in two five-star and one four-star hotels, five 'holiday villages', an 18-hole golf course, and retail outlets and a significant amount of road building being constructed right next door to the renowned Lagoa dos Salgados, a lagoon area both popular for birding and important ecologically. Many regular visitors to the site have already raised concerns over the site's gradual degradation over the last two decades. The project is being aimed at 'upper-class' holiday makers in a region usually populated by users of budget package deals and low-cost airlines.

The council – or câmara – of the municipality of Silves on the Algarve stands to make €35 million over 10 years from licences, stamp duty and rates, while the actual investment into the scheme by FSPIT will top €232 million. The company and council claim that the scheme will provide 1,516 jobs in what is Portugal's region with the most unemployment, and that the developers will mitigate for its effects by upgrading facilities at the nature reserve.

Opposition to the development is growing rapidly both locally and internationally, with the local government's perceived neglect of existing tourist infrastructure and attractions underlined by the low occupancy of the area's hotels this year (55.2 per cent) – the worst for 216 years – and the presence of at least 40 golf courses already. The council and developer clearly view rich holidaymakers as a more secure investment in harsh financial times.

The Algarve Daily News reported that "the developers said that the construction will respect the fundamental principle of the preservation of nature, reflected in the fact that all buildings will have a maximum of three floors, which will not exceed 15 metres in height ... While acknowledging that the consortium responsible for the project does not actually have the €234 million to complete the project’s first phase, [FSPIT] said that the money is guaranteed and that all the funding will come 'in two or three years, when this crisis is over'."

The finished project will cover 359 ha, and construction will continue over a period of at least eight years until its planned completion in 2023. The developers are trumpeting its proximity to the nature reserve as key to the project's concept, but details of mitigation measures are sketchy at present and the unprotected area around the reserve and its core lagoon is well known for its wildlife and acts as an essential buffer zone. They say that funding will be made available for site management, hides and screens, boardwalks and a visitor centre, as well as habitat improvement.

Many locals fear that these measures will be swept aside in an unsustainable development 'gold rush', as has been seen in many southern Portuguese and Spanish schemes before. The veracity of the developers statements have also been called into doubt as its holding company, Grupo Galilei, is currently under investigation for corruption and does not possess the funds to pay fines already levied on it by the Portuguese government, and is threatening to lay off almost the same number of employees as it claims will benefit from the proposed holiday scheme.

An official petition against the development has been started and can be signed here.

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