LPN stands for the Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (League for the Protection of Nature) and they are the oldest environmental NGO in the Iberian Peninsula, created in 1948. Their mission is to defend the environment, conserve natural heritage and biodiversity through intensive fieldwork and landscape management, research training and awareness.

Today I’m going to tell you about one of their projects they have in Castro Verde in the Campo Branco region of the Alentejo. Since 1993 they have been trying to protect the steppe avifauna in the region. But, first off, what are steppe birds? I don’t mean to be presumptuous, I mean maybe you know, but I didn’t. Steppe birds are terrestrial birds that live in open plains. In this case, LPN is working to protect the great bustard (Otis tarda), the little bustard (Tetrax tetrax), the kestrel (Falco naumanni), the crane (Grus grus), the black-bellied cortiçol (Pterocles orientalis), the Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus), as well as others. All of these are endangered species. The steppes are recognized nationally and internationally for their importance, but unfortunately they are under threat due to many human activities, including their destruction/modification by afforestation, intensive agriculture practices and irrigation farming, and even the construction of large solar power generation plants.

To combat all this, LPN has been setting up several projects aimed at preserving sustainable agricultural systems used to grow crops on arable dryland; conserving soil and water; improving agricultural technologies; as well as providing education and environmental awareness and supporting the rural socio-economy. They work with farmers to ensure that agricultural practices remain the same and also ensure that they stop farming in the reproductive season to give any ‘love birds’ time to find a place to nest and safely raise a family.

LPN has acquired in this region nearly 2000 hectares of land important for steppe birds, which makes it the biggest private area dedicated to biodiversity conservation in Portugal. They have also erected artificial nest boxes, developed courses focused on environmental education and ecotourism in its Vale Gonçalinho Centre, and created trails to allow tourists to visit the place without disturbing the birds or the hard-working farmers.

They have won prizes for this program: European Ford Conservation Award / Mediterranean Honorific Award / Best LIFE-Nature Projects 2013 European Award. However, their greatest accomplishment was the classification of the region as Castro Verde Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO’s Man & The Biosphere program.

The Campo Branco region is well known for bird watching and LPN even has an educational centre (Centro de Educação Ambiental de Vale Gonçalinho) where they provide information about the various species, where best to spot them, etc. (However, during the pandemic unfortunately this has not been possible).

If you are interested in finding out more about this project, or any of their various others throughout Portugal, then visit their website www.lpn.pt