Campaigners say that a 135km2 area inhabited by the highly endangered Iberian Lynx is being illegally cleared to make way for a Portuguese dam. Located on the Guadiana river at Alqueva, the US$1.43B project is being built by Empresa de Desenvolvimento e Infra-estruturas do Alqueva, (EDIA) and will be partly funded by the European Union.

The dam is facing new legal challenges filed by environmental groups opposed to the project. SOS LYNX, the conservation group which first alerted the international community to official documents showing confirmed Lynx sightings where the dam is being built, has filed official complaints with the European Commission demanding that work on the dam be suspended.

The group says the clearances given to EDIA contravene European Union legislation, including the Habitats Directive, and is demanding the Commission investigate why an official environmental impact assessment of the project – which warned that several species of animals, fish and plants could become extinct – failed to include the Iberian Lynx, which the European Union lists as one of the priority protected species. The group also points out that European Union laws prohibit development in areas which can interfere with Lynx habitats.

The water in the reservoir behind the dam is intended for irrigation of about 110,000ha in the Portuguese region of the Alentejo. A 240MW hydroelectric power station will also be installed.

Representatives of the European Commission recently visited the Alqueva dam site to inspect progress of the construction work.