ADENEX, founded in 1978, is among the pioneers of nature conservation in Spain. What sets it apart, says its current President, Jorge Vega, is “the cross-cutting nature” of its campaigns. In its over forty-year existence, this association, which currently boasts some 3,000 members, has worked on the conservation of areas, habitats and species, with a particular emphasis on the dehesa ecosystem so widespread in the Extremadura region. ADENEX was behind some of the first nesting platform initiatives for populations of the cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), as well as carrying out censuses of species like the common crane (Grus grus), the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni), Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus) and the black stork (Ciconia nigra).
The association was also to the fore in what was a milestone achievement for conservation in Extremadura: the creation of Monfragüe National Park. The campaign began as a push-back against a scheme to plant eucalyptus woods to supply the paper-making industry planned for the region, in the late 1970s: “The area was home to the country’s highest densities of birds of prey, and the world’s largest colony of cinereous vultures,” explained ADENEX in its submission. So “after making countless representations to the Spanish authorities and international organizations, [we launched] an extensive media campaign and a fund-raising drive, and by this means were able to take a lease on two of the area’s biggest estates, which had been earmarked for forestry crops.” Shortly afterwards, in 1979, Monfragüe received the designation of National Park.
The creation and upkeep of biological reserves was another of its initiatives. In the mid-1980s, when Extremadura still lacked any official body charged with protecting its natural heritage, the association purchased a series of estates of high ecological value for conservation purposes. This was the start of the ADENEX Network of Biological Reserves, which today covers more than 367 hectares spread throughout the region. It also promoted the establishment of an Environment Agency in Extremadura, to manage this extensive natural territory and liaise between landowners and the administration.
ADENEX is also active in environmental education in the region, through activities like bird ringing, repopulation, the clean-up of natural spaces and school camps, which help connect local communities to their environment and promote volunteering. One example is Plantabosques, a voluntary reforestation scheme launched in 2003 in the wake of the wildfires that had ravaged the region. In its 17 editions, Plantabosques has annually mobilized around a thousand volunteers of every age, who have planted 360,000 trees in all of Extremadura.
“We see environmental education as vital,” says Vega. “Today’s Extremadura might look very different if we hadn’t spent forty years promoting these values. And they are values that remain: the association is older than I am! When it came into being, democracy was only just starting, and associations to defend nature were practically unknown. Now citizens are far more involved and there are more associations, many of them offshoots of ADENEX.”
But there is much still to do, he adds: “We have this constant tension between the conservationist movement and the prevailing model of industrial development, the ‘anything goes’ of economic growth.”
“We believe conservation should come first, but it has to be paid for. To date conservation has only been funded through tourism, the visitors who come to enjoy nature. But our natural heritage should be valued just as highly as the industrialized environment. We are the lungs of Spain and of Europe, and that has an economic value. In Spain, formulas to financially encourage the conservation of our natural heritage have yet to be developed, but models do exist.” In effect, working groups within ADENEX are drafting proposals to ensure that policies like the European CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and forest management in Extremadura make conservation a priority.