The paper industry loves this tree, it grows fast and produces good paper, a major industry in Portugal. But what harm is this tree doing to the environment?
Eucalyptus trees are a common sight in Portugal, and they have been a part of the country's landscape for many years. These trees are known for their unique physical characteristics, rapid growth rate, and numerous uses. However, the use of eucalyptus trees in Portugal has also raised concerns about their impact on the environment.
We planted eucalyptus trees around our villa some years ago and within a few days, neighbours were complaining and requesting we remove these trees as they would damage their grounds. They claimed they had a legal right to insist on the tree’s removal, we didn’t want a disagreement with them and respected their request. It shows how concerned many are about the invasive nature of this tree. It’s also a high fire risk, this tree burns rapidly.
Eucalyptus, friend of the paper industry
The paper industry in Portugal has a long history and relies heavily on the eucalyptus tree. The industry dates back to the early 16th century. Over the years, the industry has undergone significant changes in response to political, economic, and technological developments. Today, Portugal is home to several major players in the paper industry, producing a variety of paper products. However, the industry's impact on the environment has also been a cause for concern.
Currently, the paper industry in Portugal is dominated by a few major players, including The Navigator Company, Altri, and Renova. You see their products everywhere. Look at the last pack of A4 paper you bought, it’s very likely to be from Navigator, and it’s a high-quality and economical product. These companies produce a wide range of paper products, including printing paper, tissue paper, and packaging materials.
The Navigator Company is a major Portuguese industry. In addition to producing a variety of paper products with an impressive production capability and capacity. For example, The Navigator Company's pulp mill in Setúbal has a production capacity of 1.6 million tons per year. The industry also benefits from Portugal's abundant supply of renewable resources, such as eucalyptus and pine, which are used to produce pulp and paper.
Navigator is a major industry in Portugal and also Europe’s top manufacturer, the fifth worldwide, of bleached eucalyptus pulp (BEKP). With regards to the economy, the Navigator company accounts for approximately 1% of GDP, about 3% of all Portuguese exports of goods and near 6% of Portuguese containerised cargo.
The reality is that they won’t be planning to stop using and growing eucalyptus trees. As far as I can see, there is no practical alternative to this tree, its speed of growth is outstanding.
Portugal has the largest area of eucalyptus plantations of any country in the world proportionate to its size, with single species eucalyptus plantations stretching across a quarter of our ‘forested’ land. You can find greater detail here or search ‘Climate Home News’. They describe the eucalyptus tree as ‘Giant matchsticks.
“The eucalyptus is more dangerous than other trees,” said João Branco, president of Quercus, an environmental campaign group “The leaves and the bark are very flammable, strips of bark hang off the trunks and are carried by the wind, spreading the flames,” Branco, a forestry engineer, added. “Large parts of the centre and north of the country are almost completely covered by eucalyptus and it contributes to this type of fire.”
Eucalyptus trees are tall evergreen trees that can grow up to 70 meters in height. They have smooth bark that peels away in strips, revealing a colourful layer underneath. Eucalyptus trees are known for their rapid growth rate, with some species growing up to 3 meters per year. In Portugal, eucalyptus trees are commonly used for the production of paper, wood, and essential oils. The wood is also used for construction, and the leaves are used in traditional medicine.
Eucalyptus, love it or hate it, it’s here to stay
Eucalyptus trees were introduced to Portugal in the late 19th century, with the first plantations being established in the central region of the country. The trees quickly gained popularity due to their fast growth rate and the economic benefits they provided. Eucalyptus plantations became an important source of income for many rural communities in Portugal, and the trees were also used to combat soil erosion. However, the widespread planting of eucalyptus trees has had a significant impact on the environment, with concerns being raised about their impact on biodiversity and soil quality. Despite these concerns, eucalyptus trees remain an important part of Portuguese culture and traditions.
The use of eucalyptus trees in Portugal has raised concerns about their impact on the environment. Eucalyptus tree plantations have been shown to have a negative impact on biodiversity, as they provide little habitat for native species. The trees also consume large amounts of water, which can lead to soil drying out and reduced water availability for other plants. These concerns have led to calls for greater regulation of eucalyptus tree plantations in Portugal, with some advocates calling for a ban on their cultivation in certain areas.
In conclusion, eucalyptus trees have been an important part of Portugal's landscape and economy for hundreds of years. While they remain an important cultural symbol in Portugal, it is important that their cultivation is managed in a way that minimises their negative impact on the environment.
Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy.