Spain’s Sea of Olives UNESCO Application Moves Forward

Nearly 140,000 hectares of privately- owned land will be excluded in a catalog, which was a sticking point for environmental lawyers and agricultural unions.

Sea of Olives, Jaén
By Daniel Dawson
Feb. 15, 2023 18:33 UTC
Sea of Olives, Jaén

After eight years of work from large parts of the Andalusian olive sec­tor and pub­lic insti­tu­tions, the appli­ca­tion for UNESCO World Heritage List sta­tus for the autonomous com­mu­ni­ty’s 1.3‑million-hectare Sea of Olives has been final­ized.

Now, the mas­sive olive grove land­scape will be among the con­tenders to receive pro­tected sta­tus from the United Nations at UNESCO’s July 2024 meet­ing. If the appli­ca­tion is suc­cess­ful, the Sea of Olives will become Spain’s 49th or 50th World Heritage site, depend­ing on the suc­cess of its 2023 sub­mis­sion.

The final stick­ing point in the appli­ca­tion revolved around whether a 139,000-hectare sec­tion of pri­vately-owned land included in the land­scape first needed to be reg­is­tered in the Andalusian Historical Heritage cat­a­log before it could be included in the UNESCO appli­ca­tion.

See Also:From Andalusia to Madrid, Spain Shocked at Wave of Olive Thefts

A promi­nent Spanish envi­ron­men­tal lawyer and three of the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful agri­cul­tural unions argued that includ­ing the 139,000 hectares of pri­vate land would vio­late the prop­erty rights of the landown­ers and ham­per their abil­ity to grow olives prof­itably.

The olive grove is the liveli­hood of many Andalusian fam­i­lies in rural envi­ron­ments where depop­u­la­tion can become a real prob­lem,” said Pilar Martínez Abogados, a law firm. And a pro­ce­dure like the one being con­sid­ered can put your liveli­hood at risk.”

It is evi­dent that the first cost of con­ser­va­tion is to com­pen­sate and indem­nify those who, for the ben­e­fit of the whole of soci­ety and to con­tribute to the defense of the pub­lic inter­est in the pro­tec­tion of nature, see the use of nat­ural resources restricted to unimag­in­able lim­its their prop­er­ties and their rights as own­ers,” the firm added.

However, a spokesper­son for Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sport told Olive Oil Times that other UNESCO World Heritage sites – includ­ing the Champagne area in France and the Prosecco area in Italy – still boast func­tion­ing vine­yards, where pro­duc­ers prof­itably meet the cri­te­ria required of them by UNESCO while mak­ing wine.

Jaén’s Sea of Olives

The Sea of Olives is a nick­name for the region of Jaén, Spain known for its vast expanses of olive groves. Jaén is the largest pro­ducer of olive oil in the world, and the olive tree has been a sym­bol of the region for cen­turies. The sea of olive trees in Jaén cov­ers an area of approx­i­mately 600,000 hectares, and the land­scape is dom­i­nated by the sil­ver-green foliage of the olive trees, which stretch as far as the eye can see. The beauty of the Sea of Olives has been cel­e­brated in lit­er­a­ture and poetry, and it is a major tourist attrac­tion in the region.

The spokesper­son added that no com­pen­sa­tion would be paid to farm­ers whose land was included in the pro­posed UNESCO site.

It is not expected that this reg­is­tra­tion could inter­fere with their pro­duc­tive activ­ity since this is part of the val­ues that are to be pro­tected,” the spokesper­son said. For this rea­son, there would be no room for com­pen­sa­tion.”

Despite some lin­ger­ing protests, the min­istry, the Andalusian regional gov­ern­ment and three agri­cul­tural unions reached a deal to exclude the pri­vately-held olive groves, which spanned five provinces in Andalusia, from the cat­a­log.

Francisco Reyes Martínez, the pres­i­dent of the province of Jaén and one of the most adamant sup­port­ers of the appli­ca­tion, cel­e­brated the agree­ment.

The doubts that arose in the last meet­ing we held have been clar­i­fied thanks to the response from both the gov­ern­ment of Spain and the Junta de Andalucía [the regional gov­ern­ment] con­cern­ing the com­pul­sory nature of reg­is­tra­tion in the cat­a­log of Andalusian Historical Heritage,” he added.

The min­istry and regional gov­ern­ment jus­ti­fied the deci­sion not to include the land in the cat­a­log, stat­ing that much of it is already located in pro­tected areas and other sim­i­lar schemes to pre­serve the cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal value of the groves and mills.

The objec­tive of the con­ven­tion is the pat­ri­mo­nial pro­tec­tion of the declared places, but always tak­ing into account not only the ben­e­fit, but also the active par­tic­i­pa­tion of its pop­u­la­tion and its local com­mu­ni­ties, for whom this inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion must be pos­i­tive, and never be harm­ful,” the min­istry spokesper­son said.


The legal pro­tec­tion that is applied will be aimed at safe­guard­ing the pat­ri­mo­nial val­ues of the place, among which is the phys­i­cal main­te­nance of the land­scape, but also the safe­guard­ing of the intan­gi­ble val­ues linked to the tra­di­tion of the exploita­tion of the olive grove by human beings for cen­turies, mil­len­nia, tech­niques that have con­tributed to its per­pet­u­a­tion until today,” the spokesper­son added.

The Sea of Olives, also known as the Andalusian Olive Landscape, stretches 200 kilo­me­ters from Jaén to Estepa, a town near Seville, and includes more than 180 mil­lion trees.

There will be no impair­ment to the agri­cul­tural use of the olive farms,” con­firmed Cristóbal Cano, the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Spain’s Union of Small Farmers (UPA).

Along with the Association of Young Farmers and Ranchers (Asaja) and the Coordinator of Agriculture and Livestock Organizations (Coag), UPA was among the unions that pre­vi­ously opposed the appli­ca­tion.

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