ReNature Monchique – Tree future is shady

By Jake Cleaver, in Renature · 16-10-2020 01:00:00 · 0 Comments
ReNature Monchique – Tree future is shady

Unfortunately, due to warming temperatures and our influences in general, forest fires have become increasingly common here in Portugal.

In this millennium alone we’ve had big fires in 2003, 2004, 2016, 2017 and in 2018 we had the worst fire in Europe that year. In the Serra de Monchique 28,000 hectares were burnt down, which had a devastating effect on the natural habitats and the species that live there.

However, thanks to a project called ‘ReNature Monchique’, over 62,000 native trees have been re-planted, and there’s plans to plant another 75,000.

That’s a whole lot of holes to dig! How is this possible? The Portugal News went to talk to João Fernandes, the President of the Região de Turismo do Algarve, to find out.

The President explained that it was all a matter of bringing the right partners together. Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair was here in the Algarve during the fires in 2018 and, witnessing the devastation, wanted to see how he could help. He contacted the Região de Turismo do Algarve, and President Fernandes said they were quick to get in touch with the ICNF (Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas) who told them that a group called GEOTA (Grupos de Estudos de Ordenamento do Território e Ambiente) was, with the help of the Municipality of Monchique, already developing this ReNature project, but even though they had the necessary expertise - they were in desperate need of a cash injection.

Ryanair run a ‘Carbon Offset Initiative Programme’ in which they offer all their customers the option of donating to the project that promises to use the money to plant trees that will not only help diminish their carbon footprint, but will also serve to help to restore local ecosystems and keep the beautiful places they enjoy visiting so much, well... beautiful. Ryanair offered to use this money to invest in the project, and the whole thing got off the ground, or more literally, trees got ‘in the ground’, in record time.

In 2019 they donated €250,000 which, as I said before, helped in the production and plantation of 62,000 trees, over 291 hectares and helped 90 landowners, and it’s estimated that in the future these trees will be responsible for catching and storing over 500 tonnes of carbon per year.

However, just last month on 29 September, Ryanair, who were very pleased with the results of the past year, donated another €250,000 to the project. President João Fernandes stressed how, “in the globally adverse context for the travel and tourism sector in general, and for air travel in particular, Ryanair and their passengers continuing commitment to the renaturalisation of the Serra de Monchique is remarkable. Ryanair clearly believes in the Algarve and deserves the greatest gratitude and recognition in the region”.

You may have noticed that the project is concentrating on the renaturalisation of Monchique, rather than the reforestation. Although the words are synonymous, reforestation is what’s known as silvicultural, which means it concentrates more on developing the forests for timber production.

Renaturalisation also involves planting plenty of trees, but it concentrates on restoring the ecosystem in general, and uses trees as a vital means of doing that.
This is not an easy thing to do and requires considerable expertise.

That’s why it’s great that the money went to GEOTA who are experts in the field and who know the area well since they have been on the ground, and indeed ‘in the fields’ of Monchique since 2015 working on another project called ‘Terraseixe’. There’s a high mortality rate in the trees planted, and it’s important to know the land well, and know what works best where, in order to give the trees a fighting start.

It’s also important to know what to plant. In the past you wouldn’t see any Eucalyptus, or Pine trees in Monchique. They are an invasive species, and however beautiful they may be (particularly the Eucalyptus), they are highly flammable, and are not meant to be there. The Renature project has therefore taken the opportunity to re-plant trees that are native to the area, and are also on the ‘Natura 2000’ list of species that are most threatened in Europe. Namely Chestnut, Cork and Medronho trees, which they grow locally at the Viveiro Dinis, and it’s only the Monchique Oak, whose production isn’t very profitable, that comes from the ICNF nurseries. These trees will take 15 years to grow and, of course, not all the trees that are planted will make it, but in 2045 we should all be able to enjoy the Serra in all its old glory.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the collaboration and support of the local community. 98 percent of the forest around Monchique is privately owned and most landowners do not have the ability or the resources to recover from such disasters. But not only that, deciding not to plant Eucalyptus trees that grow quickly and can be used as pulp for making paper, and also in the construction industry (and so can soon be monetised) but are however highly flammable and make it more likely that such a disaster will happen again. And instead, deciding to plant a barely visible Cork Oak sapling that will only reach a reasonable size in 20 years, and only then start to give an income to the landowner, requires great forethought and ability to see beyond themselves and look to what’s best for the ecology and the future of the region.

As the Ancient Greek proverb has it, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in’.

As President Fernandes sums it up “without the will of all parties involved, it would not be possible to promote the ecological restoration of the land and forests in Monchique, keeping them in harmony with the rest of the Algarve, which as a whole remains the main holiday destination in Portugal”.


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