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ClientEarth Communications

4th June 2020

Wildlife & habitats
Defending habitats

Portugal’s proposed new airport would threaten thousands of protected birds

The Portuguese government is gearing up to build a new airport on the country’s most important wetland – the Tagus Estuary.

The area is on the path of hundreds of thousands of migratory wetland birds that congregate there for the winter or on their journey between Northern Europe and Africa. It is also protected under numerous international treaties due to its importance for these protected species.

So we’ve stepped in. Working with Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), and supported by seven national NGOs, we have filed a court action against the government, aiming to annul Montijo Airport’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

An incomplete environmental assessment

The Portuguese authorities have failed to consider that this project would adversely affect the integrity of this irreplaceable nature reserve. Persevering despite the unnecessary risk it poses to nature is a blatant breach of EU and national nature laws and cannot go unchallenged.

The EIS is an important document which should consider the impacts of any development on the environment. The law requires that a series of tests be carried out before a development can go ahead which affects a protected site. The Portuguese authorities failed to carry out those tests and have simply proposed to ‘relocate’ the habitats and birds that will be affected by the airport.

Protected migratory birds and habitats in the Tagus will be permanently disturbed if the airport is constructed, and failure to fully assess the project’s environmental impact, and suggesting that birds can and will simply inhabit nearby salt flats, is a clear breach of EU and national laws.

Our wildlife lawyer Soledad Gallego said: “The Portuguese government is bound by law to protect the birds and habitats that depend on this unique natural area for survival. Approving this airport threatens this important wetland and the wildlife it supports.”

Damage to sites beyond Portugal

The potential consequences also extend beyond damage to the Tagus Estuary.  Because of its importance for migratory birds, damage or disturbance to the Tagus Estuary will also have an effect on sites all along the migration route to northern Europe. Gallego added: “Montijo Airport could have far-reaching consequences felt well beyond Portuguese borders. Failure to consider this will cause irreversible damage to nature, people and the climate.”

The project has been heavily criticised both at national and international level. In Portugal, it has been met by public and political outcry. Environmental groups in Portugal have also expressed their disapproval, with experts citing the construction as a “crime against nature”.

In the Netherlands, thousands of people have signed a petition against the construction, as it would seriously threaten the migratory Black-tailed Godwit, the Dutch national bird.

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