The neighbours of Godella want to protect the Torre del Pirata and its Mediterranean forest

In the municipality of Godella – in the metropolitan area of Valencia – local citizens have mobilized to preserve its remaining green areas.

Biodiversity in Spain is in serious threat. Of the 85,000 known species, 14% are endangered, according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). For this reason, the preservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity is one of the eight priority axes of the European Green Pact, with the aim of halting and reversing the loss of this natural heritage, which constituted a central element of the EU’s recovery plan. However, the reality is that in Spain this objective is not being prioritized in the political decisions of many municipalities, which continues to prioritise grey over green infrastructure.

Aerial view of the area of sector 31/32 Godella, Valencia. Picture: NATURAL GODELLA

Just as towns have built a grey infrastructure of roads, sewers, and utilities, they also have parks, gardens, trees, ravines, waterways, and other open spaces that help preserve essential ecological functions, and that can be used as a tool for flood control, stormwater management, carbon sequestration, climate adaptation, biodiversity maintenance, air quality improvement, water filtration, and soil conservation, among other benefits.

In the case of Godella – a municipality in the metropolitan area of Valencia – the preservation of one of its last green areas has inspired and mobilised residents of the town and surrounding areas. Concerned about the threat of a loss of forest mass and the construction of 447 houses in this area, representatives of eight village associations have collected more than 3,500 signatures – of which 1,991 are from residents of the municipality – representing over 20% of the local electorate. With these signatures, protesters request that the local government fulfils the commitment made to its citizens, unanimously approved in plenary over two years ago: to draft a new general urban plan that complies with current environmental regulations, and that would protect the surrounding environment.

“Godella has become a Mediterranean forest due to the proliferation of plant species inhabited by native fauna, and is a shelter for birds.”

The Torre del Pirata (Pirate Tower) is an area of almost 150,000 m2, that was formerly used as farmland for almond, olive, and carob trees. Located on one of the region’s highest points, it offers and best views of Godella. Today, it has become a Mediterranean forest due to the proliferation of plant species inhabited by native fauna, and is a shelter for birds, constituting an area of great environmental quality, as it also contributes to flood control and the reduction of CO2 emissions at the same low cost such as trees, hedges or plant coverings to reduce environmental damage.

The social cooperation surrounding the campaign for the preservation of Godella is just one example of an increasingly widespread collective awareness of the need to preserve and restore the land at the local scale, as presented in the United Nations’ Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).

There is an urgent need to convince mayors and economic powers that the fight against climate change from the municipal level is unavoidable and of the utmost importance, especially in a region like Valencia, where extreme droughts and floods are increasing in frequency. Residents also insist on the importance of this environment for physical and mental health, highlighting that it also increases their quality of life, and offers recreational opportunities that enhance the well-being of the residents of Godella, and even of its surrounding towns.

Currently, Godella’s communications and services frequently collapse, as it has one of the roads with the highest number of vehicles per day, of those managed by the Diputación de Valencia, and the highest concentration of schools in the province. Growth without limits – which is what the City Council is proposing for Godella – will only deteriorate the environment, the landscape, and, in short, the quality of life of the local citizens.

At a time when this Mediterranean forest should be protected for its high ecological value, and be considered necessary green infrastructure for the municipality, the city council has reactivated an expired PAI to urbanise the area, without ensuring the protection and restoration of the region’s habitats and ecosystems, but rather deteriorating and replacing it with buildings and yet more grey infrastructure.

Unfortunately, despite the unanimous rejection of the associations that requested to open a new expiration file with all the guarantees, and the public demonstrations of rejection to the project, the city council has chosen to approve the project without passing it through the plenary, and without considering the will of its citizens. Therefore, the neighbours are now demanding a referendum that will allow them to choose the future of the Torre del Pirata, and declare it a protected natural area. It is urgent to protect the natural environment, and establish criteria for the control of building, in accordance with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and national climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.

This article was originally published in Spanish in El País the 16th of March in the section Seres Urbanos.

Patricia Carbonell is Project Manager at REVOLVE.