National and regional authorities in Spain signed an agreement Monday to invest 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in areas around the treasured national park of Donana in a bid to stop the park from drying up.
Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera said the plan was aimed at encouraging farmers to stop cultivating crops that rely heavily on water from underground aquifers that have been overexploited in recent years, damaging one of Europe's largest wetlands.
"This is an agreement with which we put an end to pressure on a natural treasure the likes of which there are few in the world," Ribera said.
Andalusia regional President Juan Moreno said farmers will receive financial incentives to stop cultivating and to reforest land in and around some 14 towns close to Donana. He said farmers who wish to continue cultivating will receive less money but must switch to farming dry crops ecologically.
As part of the agreement, Andalusia will cancel previously announced plans to expand irrigation near Donana, a decision that UNESCO, the central government and ecologists criticized for putting more pressure on the aquifer.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, Donana is a wintering site for half a million waterfowl and a stopover spot for millions more birds that migrate from Africa to northern Europe.
Ecologists working in and near the park have long warned that its ecosystem of marshes and lagoons is under severe strain because of agriculture and tourism. The situation has been made worse by climate change and a long drought, along with record high temperatures.
Andalusia recently announced a plan to allow the Donana park to annex some 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) by purchasing land from a private owner for 70 million euros.
Donana currently covers 74,000 hectares (182,000 acres) on an estuary where the Guadalquivir River meets the Atlantic Ocean on Spain's southern coast.