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David versus Goliath: the fight against environmental crimes

IMAGE: Some cases are described in the book as it they were a fight like David and Goliath’s. view more 

“What? The river looks like milk?” is the hard-hitting sentence that opens one of the chapters in the book Andanzas y desventuras de un ecólogo en los juzgados del “Reyno”, a new publication by Narcís Prat, professor of Ecology at the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona, who narrates his experience as expert witness in the High Court of Justice of Catalonia in a hundred trials related to ecological crimes.

In the new book, published by Milenio publishing house, Narcís Prat describes his participation as ecologist in trials on environmental crimes -particularly, river water pollution- from 1989 to 2001.

The author will present his new book on Wednesday, February 27, in an ecocafé (12.15 noon), a place for debate and reflection on environmental topics, in the Section of Ecology of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the UB.

By chance: an ecologist in the world of environmental justice

With a communicative style -with many personal anecdotes and sense of humor- the author combines explanations on the internal functioning of the legal field with the scientific knowledge on factors caused by pollution episodes in rivers and its impact on the environment.

In particular, Narcís Prat remembers his beginnings in the world of trials on environmental topics -“a ser perito llegué por pura casualidad” (I got here by chance)- in a moment in which all sentences were based on an only article from the Penal Code, 347 bis, and social awareness was low. At that time, a great tolerance towards industrial activity and a lack of technic and professional means were at the core of environmental justice. As a result, fines to the business sector were mere anecdotes and mostly ended up in agreements (a program called plan on gradual de-pollution).

“No one knew what to do, neither the judges nor the fiscal or the attorneys, and knowledge on environmental topics were as broad as mine in law”, notes Narcís Prat, professor at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Biology, and one of the most distinguished experts in the field of freshwater ecology in Spain.

“When I asked the fiscal -he continues- how to write the reports and on what means I could count, he told me to write them as I thought and that I should get those resources myself”.

Dr Prat and the “Reyno”

For more than a decade, the author participated in many different legal cases -spills, detergents, solvents, slaughterhouses, laboratories, waste waters- which are described in the book as it they were a fight like David and Goliath’s. “According to them, I was an enemy of the progress for the demanding and restrictive interpretation of the norm on ecological crime. What I did was to force companies close their plants”.

In other chapters, Prat remembers the importance of teamwork with other environmental experts, and judiciary representatives -Dr. Prat did not talk about ammonium today- who contributed with their professional activity “to make rivers from the “Reyno” cleaner than before”.

Narcís Prat is one of the founding members of the Nova Cultura de l’Aigua Foundation and has contributed actively to define a new model on water management in Spain. Director of several research projects, he was the first director of the Freshwater Ecology, Hydrology and Management research group (FEHM) -affiliated at the Water Research Institute (IdRA) of the UB- and advisor at the Catalan Water Agency, among other positions. He was the coordinator of the European project LIFE TRivers, on the study of the ecological state of temporary rivers according to the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive.

Now, his research lines continue within the FEHM research group, led by lecturer Núria Bonada, from the mentioned Department and the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio).


Prat is head of the citizen science project Riu.Net, an interactive tool to understand water ecosystems, which received the Environment Prize 2017 by the Catalan Government in the category of best initiative and Antoni Caparrós Prize to the best project on knowledge transfer, technology and innovation.

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