Our vision for the land here is to gradually return it to a state of abundance, with high biodiversity and healthy soils. This vision will financially thrive, with the abundance of the land being reflected in our own abundance, so that we are able to do our work in a healthy and balanced way. We also wish to make an impact beyond our boundaries, and so in order to encourage other land owners to manage their land in a regenerative way, we need to show that there can also be financial returns, and other benefits from managing the land like this.
Since becoming stewards of the land at Monte da Vida, we have taken a minimal intervention approach. We initially cleared a few areas of heavy brambles using a machine, but subsequently seeded them with a mixture of rich grasses, clovers and wild flowers. Otherwise we have cleared some of the land by hand using brushcutters and scythes, or by letting our neighbour graze his herd of animals (goats, sheep, cows and horses!) in areas where there are no young seedlings they can eat. We have also pruned many of the old fruit trees which were languishing and have now started to produce fruit again.
In 2014 we began working with a group called Eco-Interventions on a plan for ‘Accelerated Natural Regeneration’. At the end of 2014, Tobias Wolfert, the director of Eco-Interventions did a complete biodiversity study of the whole land. This included mapping wildlife corridors, and leaving a infrared camera by the waterhole in the far valley to capture footage of wildlife visiting by night.
Monte da Vida is mainly plantation cork oak forest of different ages. The older more established areas can be enriched and made more resilient by planting more varieties of oak tree (other than the cork oak), and by introducing more medronho, hawthorn and other small trees. The younger cork oak forests will benefit from the introduction of native understory plants which will crowd out the brambles and cistus that currently dominate.
The wildlife camera recorded many species of birds, as well as some interesting larger mammals such as mongoose and genet. The other wild mammal that is very evident in the area is the wild boar. We have one valley on the land that we are leaving as a wildlife conservation area that provides plenty of rich habitat for the animals and birds. Unfortunately the waterhole dries up in the summer, but our plans for a series of lakes will offer year round drinking water.
We are aligned with the Eco-Interventions approach, which is to make the minimal intervention for the maximum effect, by working with nature. For example, by focusing on the easiest areas first (the areas with the most water in the ground, where young trees are most likely to survive), the new vegetation can start to establish itself and gradually expand up the slopes; and by studying the land and seeing how the birds and the wildlife are already helping to spread seeds, we can make sure to preserve wildlife corridors, and to create more corridors connecting areas of denser vegetation.
From the biodiversity study it was possible to work out a plan for which plant species to introduce, and in which locations. Native tree and shrub seeds were collected from nearby areas, and seedlings brought from the Eco-Interventions plant nursery.
Over the course of the winter, work began in selected areas. Firstly the brambles and bracken were hand cleared and mulched. Wildlife refuges were created from pruned tree branches.
The cleared areas were seeded with lupins to help prevent the brambles from regrowing and enrich the soil, and young trees and understory shrubs were planted.
Our plan for the land includes several different zones, and each of these zones will play a role in a diverse and integrated mix of natural native forest and analog forest.
Conservation zone – comprising Meditteranean mixed oak forest and Riparian Forest
Minimum human presence and intervention.
Possible outputs: selective harvesting of cork, acorns, wild herbs, mushrooms.
Area for meditation/ contemplation, connecting deeply with nature.
Transition zone – Analog forest comprised of plantation oak, medronho, mixed amenity woodland for firewood, construction, coppicing, nuts, mushrooms, cork, wild herbs.
Dry Meditteranean Forest Zone Area of poor acidic soils, south facing.
Carob / Almond /Olive / Fig mixed with wild lavender and other wild herbs.
In the main valley – with chestnuts, walnuts, fruits, forest garden perennials
Areas in early stages of Regeneration
Cistus, Wild herbs, Broom, Heather, Brambles
We are currently working with Eco-Interventions on the details for this plan, whilst concurrently assessing various innovative options for forest-product businesses in alignment with a regenerative economy.
Our priority for the coming year is to raise funds for the creation of two lakes, and a water storage tank at the top of the property so we can massively increase our water security, and have abundant water for irrigating young trees. You can read more about the plans for the lakes here.
In the meantime we plan to focus our efforts in the coming winter on planting more fruit and nut trees in the main valley that is the dampest area of the land, and will require little or no irrigation.
We will also experiment with planting more carob and almond trees on the drier slopes, and will procure some Groasis Waterboxxes or Cocoon’s we can plant a number of trees in dry areas without needing to water them.