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The right tree, in the right place

Pure Portugal’s natural resource consultant, Micheal Steed, shares his overview to forest management.

The recent devastating forest fires have turned lives, livelihoods, the landscape and forestry management upside down in central Portugal. As awful as it has been, often in the midst of such chaos and trauma is presented opportunities. Opportunities for change. Changing the way things are viewed, perceived, valued and done.

In central Portugal the percentage of actively managed forest is quite low. This is now recognized as a contributing factor towards the magnitude of the recent fires due to a build- up of high density fuel. Therefore, it is critical that existing forests are managed (thinned) to reduce fuel loading as an integrated approach to fire management along-side other techniques such as creating and maintaining fire-breaks.

So, what does this mean for forestry in Portugal?

Already the Portuguese Government together with leading scientists at various Universities and other non-governmental organisations around the country (and neighbouring countries including Spain) have been getting together to explore how forest and land management can be done differently in future to avoid such catastrophic consequences. There is clearly a need for a re-think.

However, it is also likely that the fibre mills that depend on the high volumes of easily processed Eucalyptus are resistant to such change. Jobs and livelihoods may well feel threatened by such movement for change. But in my view, change it must.

Opportunities are now presented for a review of species choice and silvicultural systems. However, there are many questions that need to be asked and carefully considered decisions taken.

What do we want from our land or forest? Income from timber or rich wildlife habitats or recreation (it is possible to integrate all three of course).

What species shall we plant? Pine or native broadleaves such as oak and chestnut.

What silvicultural system shall we adopt? Clear-felling or continuous cover (near-to-nature forestry). Or perhaps consider conversion from pine and eucalyptus plantation to montado the traditional wood-pasture system with Cork oaks and olives and grazing animals. This would be favoured where wildlife conservation was the primary objective.

There is currently funding support available under the EU Rural Development Programme via Caule Florestal in central Portugal for restocking areas affected by the fires. Please check their website for details.

The links below provides timely and accurate information regarding the legal obligations under new fire management regulations:

So, as the old tree-mans’ saying goes…. ‘the right tree in the right place’ couldn’t be more apt in Portugal during these times of change and opportunity.

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