Only good for firewood

LAST UPDATED: 12 Feb, 2010 @ 11:51
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Only good for firewood

WHAT tragedy has befallen them.

Once standing proud and tall, today these hundred-year-old centenario oaks are worth little more than firewood.

Part of the so-called ‘lungs of Malaga’, more than 1000 of them were “carefully transplanted” at Los Merinos golf, near Ronda, just over two years ago.

But – as the Olive Press had warned back then – the vast majority have died.

Scattered across a hillside of UNESCO-protected land beside the Sierra de las Nieves natural park, they are now to suffer the most undignified of demises.

“We have watched numerous tractors loaded with wood leave Los Merinos over the last few months.”

For, according to ex-employees of the controversial development of 800 homes and three luxury hotels, the supposedly protected trees are now being sold as firewood to raise cash.

“We have watched numerous tractors loaded with wood leave Los Merinos over the last few months,” revealed the group No merinos Norte in a press release.

The group have also denounced a series of “illegal” wells the developers have dug on the 1000 hectare estate, despite not having permission from the authorities.

And they exposed the practice of Los Merinos boss Juan Rueda Orgaz, who they claim spent large amounts of time ‘entertaining’ local mayors.

The report has, in particular, angered environmentalists and biologists who always insisted that the trees would die.

It has emerged that the developers had already been fined for the illegal cutting down of hundreds of trees a year before.

“There have been so many lies,” claimed Juan Antonio Garcia, of the farmers’ union COAG. “We have deliberately been kept in the dark, while the Junta and environment department has looked the other way.”

Green group Ecologistas en Accion also criticised the “lack of vigilance and control” over the project.

“We have repeatedly highlighted the serious offences carried out in Los Merinos,” explained a group spokesman.

“For example, we made an official police report when they ripped up hundreds of oaks, but nobody acted.

“We have asked Ronda mayor Antonio Maria Marin Lara many times to order a site inspection but this is yet to happen.”

Tree surgeon Kit Hoggs, from Gaucin, was appalled at the “predictability” of the situation.

He had warned that the majority of trees would die two years ago: “I never thought they would recover,” he said.

“To transplant trees as they did is tantamount to killing them unless they are properly looked after.

“Why aren’t the Junta or Seprona getting involved? The buck stops with the authorities.”

Photos taken around the 1000 hectare finca this week show clearly the damage that has been done BEFORE the developers even got final clearance for the project.

Despite being currently mired in legal problems, as well as being ‘paralysed’ by the economy, dozens of roads have been carved around the once-virgin estate.

Thousands of protected oak trees were either cut down or removed without permission, despite environment group SEO Birdlife claiming there are 116 species of birds, 17 of them endangered species living there.

The PP party listed the works as among the top 50 biggest environmental scandals in Spain, while the European Union has begun investigating the matter.

The project has failed a number of environmental reports and has been turned down numerous times by the water authorities.

This has not stopped developers however, from boring ‘illegal’ wells on the land, as photos by ex-employees appear to show this week.

Despite work having been halted for two years, the photos show how law-breaking development has continued unabated.

Half a dozen nearby towns have already voiced their concerns over the impact that such a big development will have on their own water supplies.
“It is finally coming into the open, the tragedy of the last two years,” explained COAG boss Garcia.

“At least the truth is out. Exposing what has happened is the only thing we can do to save the land and the environment.”

Ronda town hall, Junta environment bosses and Los Merinos developers have so far remained tight-lipped over the new claims.

Meanwhile, promoters have also reportedly attained permission for the hunting of birds on the controversial site.

The former employees have produced a letter with an official Ronda Golf stamp, allegedly signed by boss Orgaz authorising partridge hunting to happen.

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