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Lagoa dos Salgados ("Pera Marsh") update

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  • Lagoa dos Salgados ("Pera Marsh") update

    The following update was sent out by email yesterday from Jose Tavares, RSPB Country Programmes Officer for Portugal. This update was first promised in May this year but was delayed for various reasons. Various email exchanges since then have sounded very optimistic and promising, and hinted at some major breakthroughs in the campaign to save this site. In particular, I was expecting some positive news on the move to confer SPA status on this site and also on the supply of water to the lagoon from "Aguas Algarve", the regional waterboard who are shortly due to bring the new ETAR (sewage treatment works) into commission.

    Personally, I find this update very disappointing; it says nothing really new, is little more than a "work in progress" report, and as far as I am concerned means we are no further forward than we were a year or more ago.


    Lagoa dos Salgados – Situation Update (September 2008)

    This briefing follows the one from last March, 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.

    The last few months have witnessed a roller coaster of events and advocacy actions – unfortunately the wetland opened to the sea three times in the last few months (April, July and August), and almost every other week there were actions, news, and rumours on the efforts being undertaken to secure the legal protection of the site

    Protection of the site as a Special Protected Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive

    As you all know, the first and immediate objective of our advocacy campaign is to protect the Salgados wetland as a SPA. During the last few months both SPEA and the RSPB have been rather active to try to secure this designation - the first step, albeit a significant one, on the effective protection and management of the lagoon. Here is the chronology of events and actions that happened in the last few months:

    During March-April, SPEA and RSPB staff heavily lobbied the Portuguese ministry of environment for the designation of the site as an SPA. Meetings were held, documents submitted, lots of emails exchanged. We finally secured from the deputy minister of environment a positive opinion, and indeed a request on these lines was sent from the ministry to ICNB (the statutory conservation agency) to start the process.
    On the 14th of May a SPEA staff member guided one staff member from DG Environment (the EU Commission Environmental Directorate) around the site and lobbied for EU authorities to act. The DG Environment has written to the Portuguese government enquiring about progress with the designation of Salgados. SPEA and the RSPB have been providing information to DG Env. on Salgados for some time.
    Later in July 10th SPEA Director and staff member attended a meeting in Lisboa with the European Commission’s director of the Division of Infringements and again the issue was raised. There was clear indication that the EC will increase their pressure on Portuguese government for a quick designation of a SPA.
    Unexpectedly, in May technical staff from ICNB gave a negative opinion on the request from the ministry to designate the area as an SPA, because the site allegedly “did not fulfil SPA criteria or even the IBA criteria”. This is completely baseless, as Salgados is recognised as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International – therefore fulfilling SPA criteria. This technical reasoned opinion came at a time when ICNB appointed a new director (Eng. Tito Rosa), and he upheld his staff opinion.
    When SPEA and the RSPB got to know this (end of May), we then moved to meet the new president of ICNB to explain our position and show him the site. A careful briefing was prepared (document in Portuguese available upon request), meetings were held in Lisbon (in June) with the new ICNB director, and eventually a visit to the site organized by SPEA (held on the 17 July). The briefing that was delivered included an update of the IBA Data Form and technical justification for the designation of a SPA. After these meetings and visit, the new director of ICNB confirmed to us he was convinced about the designation of the site as an SPA, and promised he would start the process.
    This is the stage we are in – in the meantime Summer set in, so SPEA and the RSPB are now trying to ascertain progress. SPEA will start the writing of the Natura 2000 Data Form in order to assist ICNB and the Portuguese authorities in designating the site and speeding up the process.

    Drainage of the wetland

    In 2005 SPEA and the RSPB have produced a technical report suggesting that a proper water management system should be installed in Salgados - a sluice that would allow for any overflow into the sea but would maintain a critical amount of water within the marsh at all times. This is a perfectly tested and practical system that could solve most of the chronic water level problems (the water level periodically peaks up and floods the nearby Herdade dos Salgados golf course, built a few years ago at a low level). This report has been widely distributed among all Salgados stakeholders, and SPEA and the RSPB have many times insisted this would need to be installed to avert further water level problems, but to date no competent authority, government agency or organisation showed any interest to pay for its construction.

    As a temporary measure, and to avoid the drainage of the wetland during the breeding season, a basic agreement had been made with CCDR-A (the land planning agency, who has competence about any operation to open the wetland to the sea), that allowed for regular drainages of the wetland when needed during the fall-winter, up until the end of March, but prohibited the opening of the lagoon to the sea during the critical spring months when waders and terns breed on the islands in the middle of the lagoon. During those few months, if the water level went up, the nearby Golf course should pump out any excess water with an electrical pump, rather than breach the sand bar and open the wetland to the sea. Last year (2007) this plan was upheld and things worked well.

    Unfortunately in the last few months we recorded three openings of the lagoon during the critical breeding season, which had dramatic consequences for the breeding birds

    first, on 12 April 2008, a bulldozer from the Salgados golf course opened the sand barrier, under a permit from CCDRA. SPEA and the RSPB acted immediately and stirred quite a lot of media attention, and this issue made the national news for a couple of days, and eventually culminated in a parliamentary question directed at the ministry of environment. Basically, there was a comedy of errors that unfortunately resulted in this event, which had dramatic consequences for the breeding birds. Here’s the chronology of events

    Salgados wetland was indeed quite full in early April, and was starting to flood the greens of the Herdade dos Salgados golf, as it always does when the water level goes up, as this golf course is constructed at a lower level than it should be.
    The golf course asked for a permit from CCDRA to open the wetland
    The relevant staff member in CCDR was on holiday, and another staff member gave the permit without any consultation with other stakeholders.
    The wetland was opened on the 12th April.
    SPEA and the RSPB complained publicly about this gross negligence, that put in jeopardy the breeding season in Salgados (see enclosed press release, press release I). The media response was tremendous – the draining of Salgados made first page in Público (Portugal best daily – see enclosed file - Publico), and was featured in the main news on all TV channels, dozens of newspapers and websites. Most news items picked up SPEA’s press release and interviewed SPEA staff. The whole event was reported as “an environmental disaster”.
    CCDR claimed this was natural and necessary, a “lesser evil”.
    Opposition MPs questioned the government on the issue.
    The Portuguese ministry of environment finally admitted there had been “a mistake”.
    The wetland drained to the sea for several days, and became very dry (see enclosed photo – Lagoa vazia Abril 2008). In the meantime, local people were seen to drive cars on the dry lake bed (see enclosed photo Car Abril 2008), and some went to search for nests in the dry reedbeds.
    Inspectors from the ministry have visited the site and took information with them to evaluate the possibility to open a file.
    Finally, SPEA sent a file to the Portuguese chief justice office, following their contact, and their suggestion that there may be sufficient material to start a criminal case. In spite of several tries to see what progress has been made on this front, no news have been forwarded.

    The only positive thing that came out of this tragedy was that Salgados jumped to the first page of the newspapers, and became a hot political issue.

    Following this drainage, the water level recovered quickly due to the unusual wet spring (May was the wettest May on record in Portugal), and soon (end of May) the wetland was full again – in fact several egg clutches were lost due to flooding (see enclosed photo – Lagoa cheia May 2008). Inevitably, mosquitoes and stagnant water became a problem, so in early June visitors reported a tractor spraying insecticide around the margins of the lagoon. Some dead birds were also detected.

    iii) Then, around the 25th June, the sand bar separating the wetland from the sea was again breached. This time, however, and following all the public outcry after the April opening, the culprits were much smarter and slicker in their actions
    a. The sand bar was breached during the night
    b. Two tractors were then working on the beach the day after, supposedly re-establishing the sand bar – the area was fenced off and all evidence quickly covered.
    c. The authorities claimed that the wetland was opened by a chance by a “mini-tsunami”, a casual wave that opened the sand channel, and the tractors were immediately called to close the sand bar again.
    d. SPEA put out another press release (see enclosed press release II), suggesting there was a cover-up, and the “mini-tsunami” happened during low tide and when the waves were weak. There was again extensive press coverage.

    iv) Finally, on the 31st August the lagoon was opened again, when the water level of the wetland was again quite high, this time due to the discharges of the sewage treatment plant. This time the authorities claimed it was again a natural event, caused by the (real) peak tides at the time. However, this is unlikely, as in the last few years the sea hasn’t opened the lagoon, even during the worst winter storms. It is also suspicious that the wetland is always open when it is really full (therefore flooding the Salgados golf course), and only then.

    So in short – a comedy of errors, cover-ups, excuses and ineptitude have caused the worst breeding season in years at Salgados – all this because no agency with legal competence on the site does want to commit to pay for the suggested water management system suggested more than 3 years ago by SPEA and the RSPB. We are tired of broken promises and no action, so we are now costing in detail the system, and will launch a public campaign to fund the it’s instalment. We hope that the generosity of the public will help overcome what officials, laws and competences have so far failed to provide.
    3. Construction of the new tourism complex
    After securing all the permits to build a new tourism complex and golf course on the west side of the wetland, the land owners (Finalgarve) are now preparing the financial package to allow for the development of their project in the Western shore of the lagoon. We have been told that construction will not start soon, certainly not earlier than 2009, possibly even after that.

    4. Disturbance

    Over the last few months several people have reported that disturbance at the site seems to be increasing – from walkers, joggers, horse riders, camper vans, quad-bikers, etc. This is no doubt partly due to the rampant expansion of the development on the eastern side of the lagoon, and the recent ease of access due to the construction of the bridge over the south end of the wetland. Also, it was reported to us that a flock of sheep and cows grazing on the west of the wetland often caused substantial disturbance during the breeding season. We have contacted the owners of the land, and were told that grazing is not allowed there, and that measures had been taken in the past against it, and that they would take again charge of the matter.

    Last April SPEA sent a letter alerting to the problem of overflying small planes carrying commercial banners over the wetland. This letter was sent to all companies operating from the Aeródromo Municipal de Portimão, origin of most of the small aircraft that fly along the central Algarve coast (see and

    In May Rui Eufrasia, SPEA’s local IBA caretaker, has approached a team of people who were flying ultra light parachutes over the lagoon, and informed them about the importance of the site.

    I would like to encourage all members of the public that witness any disturbance episode or any illegal activity to report it to CCDR (CCDR Algarve (Ambiente e Ordenamento), Rua Dr. José Matos, 13, 8000-503 Faro, Telefone:*+351 289 889 000), and in particular SEPNA – the environmental police (808200520).

    5. RSPB sabbatical

    In May, Aidan Lonergan, the Director of RSPB Northern Ireland, spent one month at Salgados as part of his RSPB sabbatical, mostly working on two issues

    a) Development of a concept for the interpretation centre (target audiences, mains messages, types of exhibits, etc).

    b) Fundraising for Salgados Meeting with several company owners and wealthy individuals, mostly British expatriates, who are very committed to Salgados, and discuss and implement with them fundraising plans and strategies to get some money for SPEA to continue with this campaign.

    Aidan has met several of you. He is continuing to work on the issue, has made connections with Academics from UCC in Ireland who have agreed to provide the data from their field visits over many years and is currently working on getting more RSPB staff out to Salgados to help with the work.

    6. SPEA events

    On the 19th April SPEA organised a fieldtrip to Salgados, led by Rui Eufrasia (see details at

    Following the success of last year’s event, SPEA organised again a DONA event (similar to the RSPB’s own Aren’t Bird Brilliant project) at the Praia Grande car park on the 16th-17th August, to show beachgoers the spectacular birds that use this wetland.

    On the 13th September SPEA will again organise a fieldtrip to Lagoa dos Salgados (see*for more details).

    7. Articles on Salgados in the English press

    Last April Len Port published another article on Salgados on three English language magazines widely distributed in the Algarve: Algarve Property, Algarve Goodlife and Algarve Golf Guide. This describes very well some of the issues we are facing in the moment. The article is enclosed (Len Port Salgados)

    Last August an article on Salgados penned by Michael Benington was published in Birds Illustrated.

    8. Birds

    This year’s breeding season has been heavily affected by the April drainage of the wetland, and many nests have been lost. On the plus side, a colony of whiskered terns (6 pairs) attempted to breed in the wetland for the first time, but their efforts were hampered by the drainage of the wetland in late June. Five pairs of little terns also settled to breed in Salgados, but again failed. Two pairs of purple heron bred successfully though. The wader breeding success was also very low – only 3 or 4 pairs pf black-winged stilt fledged young (around 40 pairs last year), and no breeding avocets had any success this Spring (about 45 pairs bred there successfully last year). Ducks also suffered – shoveler did not breed there this year (there were 3 pairs in 2007), while only one pair of pochard raised young there this year (3-4 pairs in 2007).

    In spite of all the draining events, birds still flocked to the wetland, and at times Salgados showed us all its splendour (see enclosed photo Birds Abril 2008)

    In terms of rarities, a white winged black tern, a mute swan and a white-headed duck have been observed in May.

    9. Save Salgados Fund – Donations required

    In the last few months both SPEA and myself have been struggling with a problem of capacity – there is nobody who can work on Lagoa dos Salgados on a fulltime basis, not even on a half-time basis, despite the tremendous inputs and dedication of our IBA caretaker Rui Eufrásia.*Capacity is indeed a crucial point in the speed of progress in this Salgados policy campaign – if only we had a full time staff member dealing with this issue, things would progress more swiftly. Both SPEA and the RSPB fully recognize this. However, in the real world, this is simply not possible – there are no resources in SPEA for this. The RSPB has actually increased its financial support to SPEA this year in view of the excellent work and results that SPEA is achieving, and the huge challenges that SPEA faces in-country. Given the scale, scope and timing of the multiple threats affecting most of the 93 Portuguese Important Bird Areas, our support is clearly not enough, and unfortunately SPEA’s (growing but small) membership or corporate fundraising hasn’t been able to provide the core budget they need.
    We therefore are directly requesting you – friend of Salgados, regular visitor – for direct help.

    We need £20,000 to secure a one year salary and expenses for a fulltime Salgados officer – see enclosed draft Terms of Reference specifications. Can you please provide any help to fulfil this? This is the time to act. Please donate – we need you to get a full time Salgados officer, and secure swifter progress – eventually to save this site from further destruction.

    Please send your donation to the following SPEA bank account, and mark it “Salgados”. If each birdwatcher that regularly visits Salgados donated a few hundred pounds, we would reach the target soon.

    Bank: Millennium BCP
    Bank Address: Av. 5 de Outubro, 60-68 1050-059 Lisboa
    Account Number: 260345382
    Swift Code: BCOMPTPL
    IBAN Code: PT 5000330026034538205

    We have hold out until this late moment to ask you directly for money – we are now convinced this is the only way out to reach our objectives. It is your time to act - please donate generously. Also, if you have any fundraising idea, want to lead any fundraising activity or want to comment – please get in touch. I will keep you all posted on the level of donations – I am currently trying to set up as donations page on the Just Giving site.

    I also emphasize that SPEA needs members to grow its constituency and strength – most of you are not members yet. Please consider joining – it is only 22 € a year! You can receive a bi-monthly email newsletter in English with the latest news (some on Salgados), as well as the membership magazine, a weekly bird observations digest, and many other news. Please find enclosed an English membership form.

    10. Thanks

    A word of acknowledgement and encouragement to all that have helped us in the last few months.

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

  • #2
    There have been quite a few views of this post (long and tedious though it is!) now - I really would welcome some feedback from any of you who know this locality and are concerned about its future.

    If you have a "strong" view, either way, as to what is going on there then please PM me if you don't want to post in open forum.

    Many thanks,

    Last edited by Colin Key; September 10th, 2008, 08:43 PM.


    • #3
      It has been quite some time since we ("Amigos de Lagoa dos Salgados") have received any information on the situation at Salgados which has been "taken on" as a good cause by both RSPB and SPEA under the "BirdLife International" directive.

      After several requests José Tavares has at last responded with this email; this as an interim report and a fuller update will follow shortly which will also be posted on the SPEA website as a PDF under "IBA No 47". I will make further comments in the near future, but at the moment things do not look too promising:


      Dear Colin,

      Thank you for your email below – and apologies for the late reply. I have been traveling for business since late January (Greece, Lisbon, and most recently in Africa – Sao Tome and Principe, working on behalf of BirdLife - they needed experienced project mangers and workshop facilitators that could speak Portuguese to progress some priority work there), hence your email lingered in my inbox until now. I have also had many individual emails from lots of people about Salgados – now that I am the focal point of all things Salgados, I receive dozens of emails a month, asking for birding tips, news, etc. It is quite difficult to manage this heavy email traffic!

      I am now finishing another briefing with the recent progress on the Salgados campaign, so here I include the most relevant parts, that hopefully answer your several questions below.

      1. Water level management system

      Following my fundraising efforts (Istanbul marathon), that have achieved a reasonable amount of money, and surpassed my expectations, we started to work on the delivery of the badly needed water level management system. By mid November 2008, during one of my regular trips to work with SPEA, Luis Costa and I went to the Algarve and met with some stakeholders regarding the construction of such a system. We met with CCDR/ARH (the organism that have legal competences on the area), presented a draft project, and listened to their requirements and opinions. They told us they were not confident that the simple solutions presented by us (based on RSPB experience in our nature reserves) would work, and required the submission of a full engineering project, by a engineering company, that would cover all issues raised (sediments, quality of sea water at the Praia Grande beach, etc). We have then contacted an engineering company to do such a project with us (Consulmar – specialist in engineering projects on the coastal zone), and are still dealing with them on this matter. Among other things we had to get a detailed topographic study of the south end of the Salgados wetland for the engineers. We hope to submit the engineering project to CCDR-ARH next month. As you can see, nothing is easy and simple – but you should know that as you live in Portugal and are surely used to the complicated convolutions of Portuguese bureaucracy! I have been waiting for a definite resolution of this new episode to give the good news to all the sponsors and interested parties, but this has dragged along for quite a while, so I will send them this interim report now (by the way, the funds were received in our (RSPB) account only recently)

      2. High water levels in the lagoon.

      As you know, during 2008 the wetland opened to the sea at least 4 times, and it breached the dunes again last month. Even though CCDR and others kept saying that in most of these cases the water had breached the dunes naturally, we were always quite suspicious, as precipitation levels had not been extraordinary, and according to our sources the old sewage treatment plant had not released any extra amounts of water to the ribeira. For months we had pressed CCDR to check this. But we should know better, Salgados holds more secrets and puzzles than we can expect, and indeed in October 2008 CCDR found out the real cause of all these events. It turns out that the company that is building a huge hotel at the entrance of the Golfe dos Salgados, and that had dug a huge crater for the building foundations, has been dumping vast amounts of water into the wetland, thus creating crest flooding peaks that did breach the dunes. This also explains why did the wetland fill so rapidly after drainage. CCDR has opened an infringement procedure, and applied a fine, but until the foundations are completely built, it is likely the workers will still drain the hole into the wetland when needed. I was surprised to find out that the water table is so high there – and have already informed the people from Finalgarve that they will have the same problem when they do start the constructions on the western side of the wetland.

      3. Management plan

      Most of our work in the last few months has been going to the management plan of the Salgados wetland. CCDR had contracted a consultancy company to do a management plan of Salgados and 3 other coastal lagoons, as part of the new POOC (Plano de Ordenamento da Orla Costeira), the new generation land planning master document they had to do for the whole of the Algarve coast. SPEA and the RSPB strived to make sure that our management recommendations should be included there, so we had to submit documents, and held meetings to make sure these were understood, and were incorporated. We have had meetings with both the consulting company and the CCDR (twice), and have now the draft management plan (I can send it to you if interested – it is in Portuguese). I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised as this is quite good, much better than expected, and does include ALL our recommendations (bunking, construction of islands, deepening of parts, establishment of vegetation screens, paths and other infrastructure, interpretation centre, etc), except one, the only and major difference of opinion – the plan continues to advocate regular openings of the wetland as a way to control water level, while we defend that the water level management system would control that effectively, and we would only need to empty the lagoon less frequently to wash out the sediments. In the last meeting, convened by CCDR with all the stakeholders (January 2009 – Luis Costa and I could not be there, but SPEA was represented), we managed to block the final approval of the management plan as it was, pending the resolution of the water level management system. Once our engineering project is submitted, a final decision on the water level management option will be taken. But it is clear that CCDR and others favour the regular opening of the dunes as a management tool.

      4. Interpretation centre

      We have progressed on this, and have submitted to the Finalgarve architects a project concept for the house they have verbally given to SPEA to become the future interpretation centre. We also had a meeting with them in November 2008. The architects are now preparing the first phase of the Finalgarve project (streets, water and sewage network, etc), and have not started to work on any of the buildings (villas, hotel, etc). Only when they will do house projects for Finalgarve they can work on our project too – so not very soon.

      5. New sewage treatment plant

      In November 2008 and January 2009 SPEA met also with Aguas do Algarve to continue to exchange information on issues concerning Salgados. We were informed that there have been severe delays in parts of the tenders for infrastructure related to the construction of the new sewage treatment plant, so it is likely that this will only be in a position to release water to the wetland from 2010, at the earliest. So in 2009 nothing will change. We have also learnt that the submarine emissary will be constructed under the wetland, but without the need for any surface work, using an undersurface tunnel technology. Finally, Aguas do Algarve have recognized that it is their legal obligation to send water with tertiary treatment to the wetland, but they have now informed all stakeholders that according to their supply-demand studies (which we have not seen yet) they will not have enough water during two months of the year (May-June).

      6. Other

      Our local contacts (co0nfirmed by your email below) have been reporting regularly significantly higher levels of disturbance by dog walkers, now that the walkway on the south side is completed. SPEA has written to the relevant stakeholders to ask for signs banning dogs on the most sensitive part of the walkway to be erected (can send you copies of the letters if needed). The local contacts have also detected high levels of illegal passerine killing through “armadilhas” in the environs of Salgados – indeed, this is a growing problem in the whole of the Algarve. I have prepared a briefing about it, which SPEA used to contact SEPNA to promote better vigilance, and to do some press work with National Geographic. More will be done on this soon.

      So as you can see, lots of work and things happening. Please do understand that I can not send weekly or monthly updates to all the people that write to me on Salgados – I would otherwise be solely tied up to replying to emails. I hope the regular briefings fulfill that need. The next one will be sent in the next few days.

      Our immediate priority now is to finish and submit the water level control system engineering project. With that, and the management plan, we will then press for SPA status at the government level.

      All the best – thanks for your continued support.


      Jose Tavares

      Country Programmes Officer for Turkey, Portugal and Greece
      European Programmes
      International Division
      The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
      The Lodge
      Bedfordshire SG19 2DL


      • #4
        The situation is going from bad to worse at this locality - this is my recent email to José Tavares (RSPB Country Programmes Officer with responsibility for Portugal):

        Dear José,

        I hope you are well and enjoying the summer, whichever part of the world you are in.

        I cannot remember when we were last in contact (regarding developments at Salgados), but I do recall you referring to "delicate" negotiations at the time and that we might expect to hear some news in the form of an update "sometime in March" - that is now four months ago.

        I, and a few other people who I have met recently, are very curious as to what has happened to the intention to construct a controlled outflow sluice to regulate the water level of the lagoon, a project to which a number of people gave quite generously in sponsoring your Intercontinental Marathon run last October. If that had been put in place early this year it would have averted what has been the most disastrous breeding season that I can remember at Salgados. I was there this morning and have to say, apart from a flock of Greater Flamingo, the lagoon was almost totally devoid of birds. The water level is much too high (it has recently been impossible to get to the "viewing platform/hide") and the frequent and rapid variations of water level has meant that species such as Black-winged Stilt, Avocet and Little Tern have attempted to breed but had their nests flooded. The only evidence I have seen of breeding this year is of Mallard.

        The human disturbance continues and is increasing at an alarming rate. I was there during the recent Portuguese holiday period (10th and 11th June and the subsequent weekend) and really could not believe my eyes - apart from the sheer volume of visitors there were horse riders, para-planers (the new scourge of the Algarve), one jetski, two kite surfers and two boats with outboard motors on or over the lagoon.

        There seems to be no sign of any work starting on the proposed development on the western side of the lagoon. I have heard rumours (and they are nothing but rumours) that Finalgarve is in financial difficulty and that the project may not go ahead. The current financial crisis is certainly having an effect and many developments which were in full bloom last year are beginning to wither now due to lack of funds and the projected lack of customers. It is ironic that the development which many of us fought against is now seen as the only saviour of Lagoa dos Salgados - if the curtailment of access to this site by the building of the proposed "golf academy" does not go ahead, then the exponential increase of non-birding tourists is going to kill it off. I have stated my views on the "Ecovia" walkway before - the worst thing ever to happen to this locality in terms of the number of people it conveys across from the eastern side of the lagoon where apartments and hotels are being built at a mind-boggling rate.

        If you have any further news, or are able to say when more information is likely to be forthcoming, than I would be pleased to hear it.

        My very best wishes,



        • #5
          And now this:



          • #6
            My reaction:

            Dear José,

            This article has just appeared today in "The Algarve Resident":


            I have been to Salgados to have a look and see that a large area of trees, shrubs and other vegetation close to the western edge of the lagoon has been bulldozed and cleared. I have no further information, but reading between the lines of the article I assume that "they" are going to construct a stage and an area for a temporary all-night outdoor disco/nightclub type of venue during the summer.

            This is totally disgusting. Do you have any more information on this?



            • #7
              And José's response yesterday (9th July):

              Thank you Colin. Yes, I know about this, we have actually been working on this for the last two weeks.

              Don't know why, but seems that Salgados is the most coveted area on the whole of the Algarve coast, and basically everybody has a vested interest on this poor patch. Virtually every other week we have been fighting things, be it discos, bulldozers, microflights or insect eradication!

              Last week some bulldozers appeared and started to clear an area near the wetland. Fortunately our local site caretaker (Rui Eufrasia) continues to be very engaged and supporting us, and informed us immediately. Two days of frantic phone calls and letters have ensued, and finally the work was stopped and the bulldozers have withdrew - unfortunately some damage was already done.

              The bulldozers were sent there illegally by some promoters of the the so-called "SaltBeach club", a disco-nightclub promoter that had no license, no authorisation and no permit to build or organise anything at the site. Unfortunately it looks like the laws are not that important in Portugal anylonger, and whoever owns the Saltbeach club decided to go ahead - they had even announced a big inauguration party in a social networking site for the end of the month!

              The story started some months ago, when these people sought permission to install a beach disco at the beach to the east of the wetland, in front of the Herdade dos Salgados. This was strongly resisted by the Herdade owners, who also informed us. We have then sent a number of letters (and made lots of phone calls) to all the authorities and stakeholders, alerting about this interest by "Saltbeach club" and asking all to uphold the natural values of the site in consideration and refuse any such development in the area. As a result, we did get some pledges along the lines.

              After a few weeks of calm about this, the bulldozers did come in last week and started to clear the ground, even tough the "Saltbeach club" had not permit at all, not even from the owners of the land (Finalgarve). SPEA quickly informed and asked for a quick reaction from all (Finalgarve, ARH, CCDR, SEPNA, etc). The police was called and came to the site the same afternoon, and the next day the bulldozers left.

              We are now considering what legal action to take re. the damage done. Please let me know if you - or anyone else - wants to see the several letters written and exchanged on this matter.

              I am preparing an update in the situation in Salgados - this was only one of the several actions and issues that we had to deal with in the last 6 months, which will be sent to you all next week.


              Jose Tavares
              Country Programmes Officer for Turkey, Portugal and Greece
              European Programmes
              International Division
              The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
              The Lodge
              Bedfordshire SG19 2DL

              I am eagerly awaiting the promised official update on the situation next week.

              I (and most of my colleagues and accolytes) think that there is little chance of survival now for this fabulous birding locality - but we hope and pray.



              • #8
                The "Salt Beach Club" which was due to open this weekend at Lagoa dos Salgados (catering for up to 5,000 revelers at an all-night disco/night club during July and August virtually on the shore of the lagoon) has now been cancelled. This article appeared in "The Algarve Resident" today:


                Well done to RSPB, SPEA, Almargem and all other bodies involved for stamping this one out.

                Last edited by Colin Key; July 16th, 2009, 06:44 PM.


                • #9
                  A positive outcome, well done and thanks to all those who acted to prevent this.


                  • #10
                    Salgados is doomed?

                    I am attaching some email correspondence (circulated to all on my "birders" address list) regarding the lack of action by the RSPB and SPEA in the Lagoa dos Salgados campaign. I find the desultory attitude by both institutions to be totally unacceptable.

                    Hello All,

                    I emailed José Tavares in early July to ask what progress, if any, had been made with the Lagoa dos Salgados situation and when would another formal "update" be published. He responded by saying that a lot of work had been going on behind the scenes and that the update was written and would be sent out very soon. On 22nd July I received another reply (see below) saying that the update was being sent to Luís Costa and Domingos Leitão (Domingos has recently taken over from Iván Ramirez as co-ordinator of IBAs) at SPEA for final editing and that "it should be out by the weekend" - that was ten weeks ago! I sent José a 'reminder' (see below) on 20th September but to date have not had a response or even an acknowledgment.

                    Lagoa dos Salgados ("Pêra Marsh") continues to degrade and I am rather concerned about this total lack of information dissemination from RSPB and SPEA. It is now a year since José Tavares ran the "Intercontinental Marathon" with the sole aim of raising funds through sponsorship to install an outflow sluice to control the lagoon's water level; the money raised was more than the target amount but as yet nothing has been done about the installation. The extremes of fluctuating water level in the early part of the year were responsible for the worst breeding season I can remember. Any of you who have visited the lagoon during the summer months (especially July and August) will appreciate just how much the human (?) disturbance has increased in recent years, the construction of the "Eco-Via" walkway being one of the main culprits.

                    I am not quite sure how to proceed, or indeed if to proceed, from here. I know of one ex-RSPB Council Member who has resigned from the RSPB over this issue, and I am considering doing likewise. Of the people who sponsored José's marathon appeal, some of us contributed a significant amount of money - I am on the verge of asking for a reimbursement. I have put much time and effort into publicising this issue and gaining support for it but I feel that the time has come to say "enough is enough" and forget the whole thing.

                    Any comments would be welcome.

                    Best wishes,


                    Begin forwarded message:

                    From: Colin Key <>
                    Date: 20 September 2009 18:00:32 BDT
                    To: Jose Pedro Tavares <>
                    Subject: Re: About to send salgados briefing to SPEA for Luis and Domingos to edit

                    Dear José,

                    You sent me this email on 22nd July saying that the update on Salgados should be out "by the end of the week" - that is now eight weeks ago!

                    Being peak migration time this is the busiest period here for visiting birders of which I meet a great many at Salgados and Ria de Alvor. Everyone is asking the same questions: what is happening regarding the future of Salgados and, in particular, what became of the plan to install a controlled outflow system to regulate water level? It is now almost a year since you requested sponsorship for your marathon run to fund this outflow control.

                    At the moment the water level is so high that it is almost impossible to access the "viewing platform", the water is green and stinks from the sewage content, large numbers of small fish have died, and some birds are now suffering from avian botulism. I have been told by some visitors that the juncus and reedbeds have been sprayed with pesticide recently to control mosquitos (presumably by Salgados Golfe?). Needless to say that the human impact during the August holiday period was horrendous - we actually had motor boats, jet-skis and wind-surfers on the lagoon.

                    Can you give me some indication of what is going on "behind the scenes" and what has happened to this latest update and the planned outflow control?

                    Best wishes,


                    On 22 Jul 2009, at 15:22, Jose Pedro Tavares wrote:

                    It should be out by the end of the week.

                    As always, plans do not quite work out as well as we would like them…


                    Jose Tavares
                    Country Programmes Officer for Turkey, Portugal and Greece
                    European Programmes
                    International Division
                    The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
                    The Lodge
                    Bedfordshire SG19 2DL

                    __________ Information from ESET NOD32 Antivirus, version of virus signature database 4267 (20090722) __________

                    The message was checked by ESET NOD32 Antivirus.



                    • #11
                      I have now given up on this cause after seven years of campaigning to save Lagoa dos Salgados. Yesterday I decided to “throw my rattle out of the pram” and my wife and I resigned our long-standing membership of the RSPB. I am still a member of SPEA but that could be open to review in the near future.

                      There are far too many individual bodies involved both for and against retaining this important birding locality. I know that dealing with Portuguese authorities (national as well as local government) and their ridiculous bureaucracy is VERY difficult, but I do not believe that the RSPB or SPEA have pursued this as vigorously as they might. Despite the owners of the land (who are about to begin development work on a “Golf Academy”) having agreed to preserve the lagoon as an asset to their development (in much the same way that Qta do Lago lagoon is an asset to the São Laurenço golfing development), and also donated a ruined farm adjacent to the lagoon as a Visitor/Information Centre, it is clear that there is no desire by the authorities to make this locality an SPA (Special Protection Area) which is what we have been striving for and which would have secured the future preservation of this precious place. The human, animal and mechanical disturbance together with the frequent and illegal draining of the lagoon means that it is now in a worse state than it was seven years ago when our campaign began.

                      The final straw, for me, came when a recent email from José Tavares (RSPB Country Programmes Officer for Portugal) informed me that the local authorities have rejected the plans to install an outflow sluice to precisely control the water level of the lagoon rather than have the “all or nothing” method employed at the moment where the retaining sandbar is bulldozed and the lagoon is completely emptied.

                      It is now one year since José set up a website ( ) to raise funds (through requesting sponsorhip for him running the Intercontinental Marathon from Istanbul) specifically for the installation of a controlled outflow sluice. The installation had been costed at €3,000 and the target figure for donations was £1,750 (the exchange rate was on a different planet then!). Many people donated, some of us quite generously, and the final figure achieved was £2,565.19.

                      No-one was ever thanked for their donation and to date nothing has been done with this money; I have been led to believe that it has been kept in a U.K. bank account (rather than being immediately converted to Euros) and has now lost approximately one-third of its value in Euros. The Portuguese local authorities have recently rejected the €3,000 installation (did no-one check this out beforehand?) and are saying that a more substantial outflow control will need to be installed at a cost of €3 Million!!!

                      This is where I step down from the platform and let them “get on with it”. I am currently taking steps to retrieve my £200 donation (fat chance, me thinks, although given the relevant details I have been advised that “obtaining money by deception” could be invoked). I am certainly not prepared to give one more centimo to the RSPB in order to sustain all these Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Chief Executives, Directors and all the other “men in suits” who are on inflated salaries and final-salary pension schemes (not to mention all the “back room” boys who are allegedly engaged in scientific research in order to “protect” our birds - all they are protecting is there “easy-peasy” jobs”).

                      I might add that I have had 100% support from the large number of people I have been in contact with about this situation. I have been very careful in what I have said in this post, but I will eventually say more on my blog when I really give vent to my anger and give my views on the RSPB - someone recently likened them to the BBC in that they were “top heavy”, very inefficient, and if the organisation was run as a business more than half of them would get the sack. At least the BBC is doing something to address their problem.



                      • #12

                        Having first visited this fabulous site c.20 years ago, it is a shame that the conservation bodies and the Portuguese authorities have failed to resolve such long-standing problems. It is also a shame that you feel so frustrated and let down by them. That there has been such protracted negotiations/wranglings, would seem to suggest that actually the local authorities are being deliberately difficult. One can only guess as to why, but it does not reflect well on them.

                        I cannot believe that the RSPB/SPEA want the issue to end badly, but ultimately if they keep being 'dead-batted', what more can they do?

                        What do you think can be done now? Should it be that the development is more or less going to happen anyway, is the way ahead to keep the developers on board and get them to leave protected areas? I am a long way from this so you may think my ideas are rubbish or indeed being done, so I apologise if they seem simplistic.

                        I will not forget bringing birding groups and watching the close waders in the evening light on the water's edge, whilst marsh terns and Black-necked Grebes feed over or on the lagoon.

                        Brian S


                        • #13

                          Thank you for your sensitive response. It is ironic that the great threat (the building of the golf academy by the Cavaco brothers, owners of the Finalgarve Company) which we began to fight all those years ago is now seen to be the saving grace of this locality. Finalgarve have taken on board the unique importance and attraction of this site and have shown a willingness to incorporate it into their proposed development (which now has been given the "green light", but which might be in jeopardy due to the current financial climate according to rumours I have heard). If the golf complex with hotel, villas and apartments is built it will put an end to the ever-increasing human disturbance by restricting vehicular access and also stopping dog walkers, jet skiers, kite surfers, etc. all of which have invaded the lagoon during the spring and summer of this year.

                          The installation of a controlled outflow was of paramount importance. The existing Herdade de Salgados Golfe on the eastern side has persistently organized the complete draining of the lagoon even though there was an agreement arrived at some years ago that it would not be done after 1st March (i.e. during the breeding season) - this year it was done three times after that date with the result that breeding was virtually zero.

                          I really do not know what is going to happen here, but I do know that a very large number of resident and visiting birders are extremely unhappy at the way in which the whole process has been mishandled.

                          I could say a lot more, and quote names and events, but as I said in my previous post I am treading carefully at the moment.




                          • #14
                            I visited Lagoa dos Salgados yesterday (Saturday) morning and, as I predicted, the Herdade de Salgados Golfe Club have had the lagoon completely drained the previous day.

                            Photo #1 shows the retaining sand-bar which was bulldozed at low tide to allow the water to escape into the sea. Once breached the flow pressure erodes a huge channel in a short space of time and the water flows out to sea at a tremendous rate. This is the location where it was intended to install an outflow sluice which could control the level in the lagoon more precisely.

                            Photo #2 is a view to the north from the same location showing the almost dry lagoon with reed beds left "high and dry". It was heartbreaking watching the suddenly stranded birds crowding into the few remaining pools, and especially a group of 48 Spoonbills (my biggest count ever for this site) looking totally bewildered.

                            Photo #3 is from the western shore (normally the best viewing position despite being against the light in the morning) showing just glistening mud with gulls and a few waders picking about for food before it becomes completely dessicated (the temperature was 30℃ yesterday and with no rain forecast in the foreseeable future this will soon become a dust bowl). There are already footprints and tyre tracks across the mud and whilst I was there these two hunting dogs were having a great time chasing anything that moved. The owner of the dogs has been traced on a previous occasion and been warned by the police that he was committing a crime and to keep them contained, but he takes no notice. The police were actually there yesterday but do not give a damn.

                            All this makes me both very sad and very angry.



                            • #15
                              That is a very depressing post, despite knowing it to be a regular occurance I still feel angry whenever it happens. The cultural differences between here and Portugal both pleases me and angers me. Rui Eufrasia must be feeling very low right now.