How the fate of Madrid’s trees hinges on voters

In Madrid, where summer temperatures are becoming increasingly unbearable due to climate change, the fate of the city's trees has become a hot-button topic ahead of Spain's local and regional elections.

How the fate of Madrid's trees hinges on voters
No trees have been planted during the renovation of Madrid's Puerta del Sol. Photo: Korng Sok / Unsplash

On the eve of Sunday’s vote, the right-wing Popular Party (PP), which governs both the capital and the Madrid region, has come under attack for its renovation of Puerta del Sol square without planting a single tree.

In a city whose emblem features a wild bear nuzzling a strawberry tree – a statue of which graces the square – critics say a major opportunity was missed to introduce vegetation to the sweeping plaza.

Faced with the backlash, city hall has paused controversial plans to fell more than 1,000 trees next to the Manzanares River to extend a metro line.

“All scientists say ‘you must plant trees’… and add more greenery” to fight climate change, which is causing abnormal heat in Madrid, said Susana de la Higuera, spokeswoman for Pasillo Verde, the association behind the protests that have been key in halting the tree-felling plans.

“But Madrid’s regional government is trying to destroy (the trees) here, and city hall is also involved,” she told AFP.

READ ALSO: How to vote in person in Spain’s municipal elections

Experts say climate change is causing earlier and more intense heatwaves in Madrid and the rest of Spain.
Trees play an important role in countering the “urban heat island effect” that causes cities to be several degrees warmer than nearby rural areas.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Madrid which lost nearly 20 percent of its mature trees over the past four years, mostly due to the historic snowfall which blanketed the Spanish capital in January 2021, municipal figures show.

Javier Padilla, spokesman for the leftist Más Madrid, said city hall had “done nothing to replant the trees” after the storm, and also accused the region’s hardline right-wing Isabel Díaz Ayuso of climate change denial.

READ ALSO: Madrid’s Díaz Ayuso, a right-wing thorn in Spanish PM’s side

She came under fire in November for saying measures to fight global warming were “a big scam” and claiming that the climate has been continuously changing “for as long as Earth has existed”.

Meanwhile, Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida hit back at his left-wing critics by accusing them of a mass culling of the city’s trees when they were in city hall between 2015 and 2019.

If re-elected on Sunday, he has pledged to plant 500,000 trees.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Strawberry boycott leaves Spain’s farmers in a jam

A German-led campaign to boycott Spanish strawberries over environmental concerns has enraged farmers and Spain's right wing, forcing a German parliamentary delegation to suspend its work Monday.

Strawberry boycott leaves Spain's farmers in a jam

The issue touches on increasingly-scarce water resources in the strawberry-growing heartlands of southern Spain where a regional government plan to legalise illegal berry farms has angered environmentalists and worried Brussels.

Spearheaded by German consumer group Campact, the campaign urges top German supermarkets like Lidl and Edeka not to stock strawberries grown in Huelva, a province in the southern Andalusia region which is Spain’s biggest exporter of red fruits.

So far, its online petition has garnered more than 163,000 signatures.

READ ALSO – IN FOCUS: How strawberry farms are threatening Spain’s wetlands

This is “a harsh and unjustified attack on our agricultural sector” said the ASAJA farmers union, denouncing the boycott as an “attack on thousands of producers and their families who work hard all year round”.

“This campaign is insidious and harmful to the entire strawberry and berry industry and its workers,” said Interfresa, an association representing the Spanish strawberry industry.

“It shares false information and accuses the sector of serious misconduct and committing illegal actions.”

READ ALSO: Spain vows to block farming near threatened wetlands

Campact’s campaign singles out a draft law introduced by the region’s right-wing government to legalise illegal berry farms near Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s largest and fauna-rich wetlands.

If the bill passes, environmental groups say it could legitimise 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of crops, most of which are irrigated by illegal wells, which could jeopardise the future of this UNESCO-listed nature reserve that is currently threatened by desertification.

“If the Andalusian regional government has its way, even more water will now be used for strawberry cultivation,” the campaign says, warning such a move would “destroy this fragile ecosystem” and urging consumers to stop buying “drought strawberries”.

‘Intolerable interference’

The campaign drew an angry response from the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) which runs the region, which said the bill sought to update a 2014 law that regularised 9,000 hectares of illegal crops but left out several hundred farmers.

Strawberries from Huelva are facing “unfair attacks driven by ideological reasons”, said the region’s agriculture minister, accusing the left-wing central government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of backing the German campaign.

On Monday, the controversy escalated with the arrival of a cross-party delegation of nine German lawmakers to discuss the implications of the ongoing drought in Spain and of the “illegal water extraction” in the Doñana region.

This visit by German lawmakers who are “seeking to inspect our farmers’ produce, notably of Spanish strawberries, is totally unacceptable,” said Santiago Abascal, head of the far-right Vox which supports the legislation.

“It is interference that no decent government should tolerate.”

Climate change denial

Sánchez, who is resolutely opposed to regularising the illegal farms, has constantly accused the PP and Vox of climate change denial and warned the Andalusian government about possible European sanctions if it pushes ahead.

With tensions high, the German delegation on Monday morning said it was suspending the visit, which had been due to end on Friday, in light of “the considerable political significance” that such topics had assumed “in recent days in light of the upcoming Spanish election”.

The trip’s purpose had been “to exchange expertise and gather information” on climate change and its consequences, with the delegation expressing hope to “continue this exchange in the future”.

Interfresa figures show Huelva produces an annual 300,000 tonnes of strawberries, accounting for more than 90 percent of Spain’s strawberry production, with the industry generating 100,000 direct jobs.

Germany is Spain’s main export market for strawberries, with annual sales of an estimated €186 million.

In early 2022, some 20 European supermarkets, among them Lidl, Aldi and Sainsbury’s, called on the Andalusian government to shelve the controversial berry bill.