It can be painful to visit the nature reserve of El Remolar-Filipines. This sliver of coastline on the Delta de Llobregat just southwest of Barcelona is so strikingly beautiful, its wild beach and wetlands dotted with myriad waterfowl species, its air scented with pine forest, that you can’t help but imagine what the place must have once been like on a larger scale. Before the surrounding area, some of the most fertile land in Catalunya, was parcelled up and covered by motorways, residences, industrial infrastructures, airport, port and crops (albeit, fewer and fewer of these last remain).
A small piece of the delta’s once rich, vital ecosystem is now preserved within a patchwork of nature spaces, most prominently the Reserva Natural del Remolar-Filipines in the municipality of Viladecans. The reserve has two small lagoons that are visited by some 164 species of birds a year, as well as by over 30,000 people in 2009. The reserve also includes 2.7 kilometres of beach, the Platja de Viladecans, one of the last stretches of wild beach left on the Catalan coast. The protected beach is lined with wild grasses and is home to the endangered Spanish Psammodromus lizard and the snowy plover, among other rare species. Given that human visitors must park their cars about three kilometres inland from this beach, relatively few people actually make it out there in the summer.
As rare and remarkable as this natural jewel may be, however, it is still not safe from the ever-encroaching human world. None other than FC Barcelona has recently announced plans to build a huge sporting and leisure complex, the ‘Barça Parc’, on some 30 hectares of undeveloped land immediately adjacent to the reserve. The area for the planned complex has long been the subject of dispute. “In the Thirties, during the Second Republic, there was a plan to build a holiday-leisure town here,” explained Ricard Caba, a resident of Viladecans and member of SOS Delta-Salvem Oliveretes, a group that is attempting to halt development of the land. “Then in 1972, plans were made for swimming, rowing and nautical facilities, in 1987 for a hippodrome, in 1992 for an aquatic leisure park and in 1997 for a golf course. But none of these projects were ever realised.”
The proposed earlier projects were halted for different reasons. There was a lack of investors for some, others met stiff resistance from community groups, while still others were stopped by new European Union legislation and court sentences. The growth of the airport of El Prat, Catalunya’s biggest airport, has also considerably conditioned any further development in the area.