With the depopulation of the Portugal’s interior and climate change – which result in increasingly unpredictable weather phenomena, with the constant scourge of fires, associated with an increasing ignorance and disinterest in the potential of indigenous species, the type of forest we see all over Portugal is mainly monocultures of eucalyptus, or just land without trees, with mainly pioneer plants growing between recorrent fires.
Portugal is the country with the largest area planted in eucalyptus in Europe and ranks 5th worldwide. This is the result of an active strategy to promote eucalyptus plantations, implemented through a combination of forest policies and market instruments. It gave rise to the largest monoculture plantation of eucalyptus in Europe: more than 800,000 hectares covering a quarter of Portugal’s forest area and 9% of the continent’s territory (https://ejatlas.org/conflict/eucalyptus-monoculture-and-common-lands-portugal)
To add to the problem, many eucalyptus spontaneously appear and land owners do not practise any type of associated management (with all the risk this brings). There is an increase in the concentration of invasive species also appearing, such as mimosas, and the soils are increasingly poorer and water is less available. This is exactly the case in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, a park with a strong human presence, inhabited by a few thousand people, classified as World Biosphere Reserve.
Land owners are not able to design and implement attractive, multifunctional and profitable management models for their forest areas, due to
It is urgent to design multifunctional and dynamic models that combine the views of agriculture and the forest – true agroforestry – allowing for example to coexist trees grafted for fruit and others with a wooden vocation, as well as with many other species, such as aromatic herbs, succulents, mushrooms. Currently, legislation for agriculture and forestry do not allow the adoption of mixed, multi-purpose management, neither it allows models to consider the dynamic evolution of the ecosystem over time.
For these reasons, we were not allowed, since we applied for finantial support in the context of “Small investments in agricultural properties”, to plant oak trees in association with grafted chestnut trees in, nor in association with other species with the purpose of increasing generation of organic matter to feed the soil and give resilience to the ecosystem by promoting the presence of pioneer fungi. On the forest side, we were not allowed to plant grafted fruit trees together with trees with a vocation for wood, and they required extremely dense plantation, preferably of 1 or 2 species only. We chose to place ourselves under the agricultural “hat” and initially postponed some of the intended interventions. We hope to gradually make our vision and goals known and that the next financial support frameworks to be already in line with the strategic guidelines for sustainable agro-ecosystems in the medium and long term.
Older people still remember when they were young and the forest was a precious asset and was exploited in its multifunctions: generation of food, fibers and wood, plants for home medicine, material for animal beds, and leisure.
Thus, we understand that agriculture and forestry in Portugal should be looked over together, with attention to their complementarity, in a creative and dynamic way.
If not, what do we have left?
Abandoned land, increasingly fragile due to the recurrent occurrence of fires and irreversible loss of resilience of the Portuguese people.
Our reality in direct confrontation with the desire to implement a true agroforestry for Minho
In our project in the Valley (see article “Agroforestry of the Valley”), in October 2018, what we fear most happened: fire!
Only thanks to the firefighters (a word of thanks to the commander of Arcos, Filipe Guimarães), to the president of the Vale parish council, who accompanied the teams on the ground every minute and hour, and to a divine will, our chestnut-based agroforest plantation did not burn. We have no words to express our gratitude to these brave people who risk their lives to protect us from fires that start so often at night through unwary or criminal hands. As seen in the photos, the fire entered the land but stopped just beside the first tree in the planted area.
Soil is a finite resource, meaning its loss and degradation is not recoverable within a human lifespan. As a core component of land resources, agricultural development and ecological sustainability, it is the basis for food, feed, fuel and fibre production and for many critical ecosystem services. It is therefore a highly valuable natural resource, yet it is often overlooked.
As long as we do not see the soil as an invaluable resource, we will continue to let all our potential future resilience burn.
And if it is serious everywhere, it is even more serious in regions like this we inhabit, recognized as a World Biosphere Reserve. This means that here are rare values, important for the whole world, and that in order to conserve them, people need to be aware of their common future and their interaction with the planet and act collectively and responsibly to build prosperous societies in harmony with the Biosphere.
The Gerês-Xurés Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (RBTGX) was declared on May 27, 2009, by UNESCO, and is located in the Autonomous Community of Galicia (Spain) and the North Region (Portugal). With an area of 267,958 ha, of protected territory in two natural spaces divided by borders, but united by the characteristics of nature and culture. With a dense hydrographic network, ecosystems in a good state of conservation, fauna and flora species of exceptional interest for the conservation of nature and biosdiversity, the Geres Xurés Transfrontier Biosphere Reserve constitutes in many aspects the differences that enrich our natural heritage and cultural, a unique reality that requires permanent collaboration in defense and revaluation.
The different orientations of the relay, the sudden variations in altitude, and the influence of the Atlantic, Mediterranean and continental climates, give rise to a great diversity of microclimates in the RBTGX. These, associated with the essentially granite constitution of the soil, create particular characteristics, originating very special botanical aspects, which give it a place of preference in relation to the Iberian flora. In this region you can find species of flora that vary from those that are characteristic of Mediterranean and subtropical areas, to those that predominate in Euro-Siberian and alpine areas. as well as endemic species such as the Lirio do Xurés (Iris Boissieri), the timelea (Tymelea broterana) or the armeria (Armeria humillis Subs. Humillis).
The diversity of habitats, the varied flora, and the unique physiography of the RBTGX allow to gather in this territory favorable conditions for the maintenance of a great diversity of fauna. (Wolf, roe deer, bats, marten, vipers, garrano,).
In the territory, 147 species of birds are identified, many of which are migratory. They stand out, for their conservation status, or for their small area of distribution in the Iberian Peninsula, the Golden Eagle, the red-billed Chough, the Golden Owl, and the honey buzzard..
The territory defined by the Gerês-Xurés Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, particularly in the areas that form the two protected areas, is distinguished by the high value of its natural heritage, and by the existence of natural habitats that are not very fragmented, essentially comprising Sierra Gerês / Xurés, and integrate the core area of the RBTGX.
And we, the inhabitants of this privileged area, must be its first guardians. Attentive, sensitive and grateful.