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La Ricarda, the last piece of the Llobregat delta?

20 de September 2021

If the Llobregat delta were a plane, the protected area of la Ricarda would be a very important part (who knows if the last one) that supports the complex operation of the delta. An impossible space to remove without shaking the rest of the ecosystem and the environmental services it provides to the entire population. Want to know why?

Joan Pino explaining the environmental value of la Ricarda

Joan Pino explaining the environmental value of la Ricarda. Image: Ara newspaper.

You get up, have a coffee, some toast and get to work. On the way, you pass as every day in front of a river or a pond and it turns out that today hundreds of dead fish have accumulated. Between alarm clock and alarm clock it looks like an ecosystem is dead. How can it be? So fast? Ecosystems are made up of several pieces and they stop working as these pieces are lost, imperceptibly. Precisely, la Ricarda is this for the Llobregat delta: a very important piece (who knows if the last one) that supports the complex functioning of the delta. Impossible to remove without shaking the rest of the ecosystem and the environmental services it provides to the population.

"Ecosystems are like a plane and our alteration of them is taking the screws out of that plane. It could be that la Ricarda was one of the last snails in the delta", Joan Pino.

“Delta habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented and this is causing all the functioning of the delta to begin to falter. We have to imagine that ecosystems are like a plane and our alteration of them is taking the screws out of that plane. If we remove the last screw it ends up falling. In fact, this is the story we’ve seen recently in other aquatic ecosystems like the Mar Menor (in Spain). In this sense, it could be that la Ricarda was one of the last snails of the delta”, according to Joan Pino. On the other hand, creating new gaps in other places as compensation for this environmental cost can be ineffective, as has already been shown in the actions carried out in La Roberta, the Illa or Cal Tet.

In the same vein, Annelies Broekman, a CREAF researcher specializing in water and global change, relates this to an inaccurate calculation of the costs and benefits needed to maintain these “planes” that natural spaces entail: “the Ricarda space is irreplaceable, and at no time have the costs of losing all the functions provided by the wetlands of the delta been calculated. We have not stopped to think that the expected benefits of new jobs or air traffic should be deducted from the cost of, for example, an increase in the salinization of aquifers. Over time, the supply of drinking, industrial and agricultural water would be compromised. The expansion of the airport is definitely a very bad deal for the territory”, she warns.

As the director points out, “there is no expansion of El Prat airport with zero environmental cost”,but there are several alternatives to expanding the airport. If we do not rethink the way we take care of our territory, putting the conservation of ecosystems at the center, we could find that between this week’s alarm clock and alarm clock, another place so valuable to our country is being lost again.

An oasis of biodiversity in the middle of the metropolis

“The Llobregat delta concentrates a great diversity of flora and fauna and is special for its location in the middle of Barcelona metropolitan area that concentrates millions of people. In fact, in the Ricarda lake there are natural places that host a unique biodiversity in all of Catalonia”, according to Joan Pino. The balance between the fresh water of the ponds and the river and the salt that enters from the sea forms a mosaic landscape with pine groves and reedbeds. There are species of plants and birds with a very restricted distribution in our territory and the pine forests are home to many of the orchids known in Catalonia, among others. The fauna is also worthy of study and protection: it is home to native turtles and up to 43 species of birds included in European directives.

The agricultural and natural space of the Llobregat delta has been undergoing successive cuts to accommodate the urban growth of the municipalities and locate some of the most important ports and airports in the state. This has caused it to progressively lose some of its biodiversity and environmental quality.

34 years ago, the first figure for the protection of the delta’s natural space was approved, under Decree 226/1987, which declared the sections of the Ricarda-Ca l’Arana and Remolar-Philippines lagoons as partial natural reserves. More recently, and following a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, it was also included in the Natura 2000 Network for its interest as a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPAs) and Proposed Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) for his contribution to restoring Europe’s natural habitats. However, the agricultural and natural space has undergone successive cuts to accommodate the urban growth of the municipalities it hosts and to house some of the most important ports and airports in the state. This has caused it to gradually lose some of its biodiversity and environmental quality.

The water that the nearby municipalities drink

The Ricarda and Remolar lagoons, and the delta ecosystem in general, not only play a key role as a biodiversity hotspot, but also offer a variety of environmental services to the entire population, such as leisure – which is so important has been in these times of pandemic- and water regulation. Both lagoons evacuate large floods and maintain hydraulic barriers to marine intrusion, allowing the maintenance of the delta’s freshwater aquifers.

“Given the situation of climate change that is expected in Catalonia, floods and sea storms will be more frequent and will cause the airport, the port, urban areas and the fields of the Llobregat delta to be flooded regularly. It is precisely wetlands such as the Ricarda that have the function of absorbing these waters, because they encourage them to infiltrate the subsoil. So rather than expanding the airport, one has to think that in a very few years it could no longer be where it is now, let alone if we make the natural space that protects it disappear. The water is currently being pumped to prevent it with an artificial drainage system that is not sustainable over time”, says the CREAF ecologist.

Broekman is also part of the ‘Taula del Llobregat’, a network of entities created in collaboration with CREAF that works to show how various aspects of the complex system that is the Llobregat basin are interrelated, including the economic and social part. “We cannot forget that the Delta is the final stretch of a whole river that rises in the Berguedà and that must be valued as a whole: this specific place receives the impacts of upstream, and determines the quality that will have the sea ​​water where it arrives, the dynamics of the sand on the shoreline and the state of the aquifers. Water bodies can never be looked at in a way that is detached from the territory, as confirmed by European water legislation”, adds the expert.

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SciComm at CREAF since 2016. Nature and outreach lover. Biologist (University of Barcelona) and Science Communication master (Barcelona School of Management - UPF).
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