Eucalyptus plantations are spreading in the south of Portugal. The NGO GEOTA works to preserve the biodiversity of the area, with a specific project ‘Terra Seixe’. META interviewed Justin Roborg-Söndergaard from GEOTA to find out more about the issue.
In Portugal, the Ribeira de Seixe River Basin (SRB) is a hotspot for Mediterranean biodiversity. The 254km2 area is located within the regions of Algarve and Alentejo, and covers three municipalities (Aljezur, Monchique and Odemira).
In a few years, eucalyptus plantations have grown to cover 45% of the area. This spread happened despite the risks for biodiversity – monocultures are known for their damaging effects on biodiversity.
Furthermore, the area includes three designated Natura 2000 areas (1,2,3), a Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and the site should be managed under the Birds and Habitats Directives, an EU system that aims to ensure the protection of these areas.
Under Natura 2000, it is common that most of the land remains privately owned. However management and protection of the area should be ensured.
Management is the major issue of the site or, to be precise, lack of management. The area should be managed by the Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) as indicated on the Natura 2000 website. However, the management plan has never been developed. The reason being that the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) is not funding the ICNF to carry on such work.
To fill in the implementation gaps, the NGO GEOTA developed a project called TerraSeixe focusing specifically on protecting the biodiversity in the area. The NGO regrets that eucalyptus plantations have developed so much in the area as this kind of monoculture is a threat to biodiversity. Furthermore, eucalyptus plants are prone to fires and the region is known for drought during summer months.
TerraSeixe forewarned about the potential damage from the eucalyptus monocultures. Some of their predictions are already happening: extensive soil erosion, deregulation of the water cycle, land abandonment and landscape degradation.
The exploitation of the area undermines the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy – which EU governments agreed on in 2011 and doesn’t respect the conditions of the Birds and Habitats Directives. This land use is incompatible with these EU rules.
GEOTA and the ICNF are working as partners on the TerraSeixe project. Now, TerraSeixe is focusing on the technical aspect, carrying out various scientific research to assess the best the situation.
TerraSeixe has notified the APA however no result has appeared from it. The European Commission that has been following the case and referred it to the EU Court of Justice. The NGO is now waiting for an outcome from the case.
In the summer 2018, the NGO reported that around 20% of the area had burnt during wildfires in August.