5 June 1998 (World Environment Day)

Rt Hon John Prescott MP Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Environment,

Transport and the Regions and President of the EU Environment Council

(While visiting Donana National Park in Spain which was devastated by toxic sludge from a mine. The area was flooded on 25 April 1998 when a reservoir storing acidic sludge from a mine burst its banks and flowed into the nearby Agrio and Guadiana rivers. It cut a large swathe of destruction outside the park damaging crops and killing wildlife.)

Disaster can strike at any time and I was a recent witness to the destructive force of water when I visited the area in the UK hit by flooding. The Spanish authorities built dykes to protect the reserve from the worst of the sludge which was diverted into nearby rivers.

This has meant a massive clean-up campaign saving and restoring damage wetlands and habitats. The reserve covers more than 50,000 hectares and is a temporary haven for migratory birds and is home to many threatened Spanish species including the imperial eagle and the lynx. More than 10,000 hectares of farmland have been affected damaging rice, cotton, fruit and vegetable crops.

Today is World Environment Day and looking at this disaster will be a salutary reminder to us all of the impact of man on the environment. There are lessons for us all in any disaster. What we must ensure is that they are learnt so that we can use that knowledge to help prevent this type of thing happening.

We must not underestimate the significance of the Donana disaster. This area is not just important in Spanish national terms, it is a major European asset and we need to view it as such.

The Spanish authorities have told me they will be raising Donana at the Environmental Council in Luxembourg later this month. The UK will make the point that there is a Europe wide dimension to solving Donana’s problems.

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