Leiria is a city in central Portugal that is quite close to the coast and this extensive pine forest was planted to provide a barrier to stop the advance and degradation of the dunes, as well as protecting the castle and the agricultural land fromsand storms.
The trees were also used for firewood and housing material, as well as becoming extremely important for building ships, and the pine resin was used as a ‘flux’ (purifying agent) in metallurgy. However, through the centuries whenever trees were cut down they were soon replanted, and thus the king's pine forest stayed intact.
Well, mostly… Regal and replanted or not, the forest was still subjected to various natural disasters. There have been many fires over the years, not to mention the famous cyclone that hit Portugal in 1941 and took out a lot of the trees. But nothing was ever as bad as the huge fire that tragically burnt down an estimated 80% of the forest in 2017.
As sad as this is there’s nothing to be done now except to rise phoenix-like from the ashes. To that end, one of the good things that did happen in 2020 is that the non-profit organisation called ‘Assistência Médica International’ (AMI) used their ongoing project called ‘Ecoética’ (set up in 2011 to reforest burnt down areas in Portugal) to raise funds to, as one of their main campaigners, Portuguese presenter Rui Unas put it: “bring back the much missed green that Leiria deserves”.
The petition for funds and volunteers was launched (fittingly) on ‘World Environment Day’ (5 June) and it was called ‘VAMOS TODOS SER DINIS’, or in English, ‘LET'S ALL BE DINIS’. The idea being that we can all be like King D.Dinis and use our divine foresight to look to the future and start replanting the forest, not only for the same reasons that the King originally did - but also to help with the pressing issues of today, such as climate change and providing places for wildlife to live, as well as, of course, the never to be out-dated reason (that surely D. Dinis had in mind too), which is simply to make it a beautiful place to be.
The plan was to re-plant 10,000 native trees along the coast, but because of these strange times that we are living in there was a limit to the amount of volunteers allowed to take part. Despite this, on the 20 November, they did manage to replant an impressive 7,000 trees.
They were all the native Pinheiro Bravo (Pinus Pinaster) and they were all planted with a little handful of ‘adubo’ (fertilizer) which should hopefully give these little trees a fighting start over the next few months.
It is of course a far more involved operation than just a day of planting. The land had to be cleared of all the burnt trunks and debris first, and over the next few months (and years) AMI will be doing regular checks to see how this new patch of forest is faring.
The project was sponsored by various National companies including the bank Millennium BCP that donated €50,000 to the Ecoética project, and Fapil (a Portuguese family business that makes sustainable house cleaning equipment) that planted a tree for every member of their 163 staff.
There’s a long way to go but this is all a positive step to bringing back the green forest that His Majesty would be proud of. As the ancient Chinese proverb has it: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now”. But AMI hasn’t let time slip by - they’ve planted now, and since pine trees grow relatively quickly, in 20 years they should be able to look back and be proud of what they’ve done.