Introduction

Vale das Lobas is a Rural Regeneration Project, with the mission of: Biodiversity, Health and Education. We are in a partnership with Fornos de Algodres Municipality, with the focus on economic and ecological regeneration and, to this end, we have established  Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Zones. This newly coined concept holds as its guiding principle that the outcome of all interventions should always include an enhancement of ecological well-being. The Biodiversity Zone protocol for regeneration currently has three components: 

  1. The re-establishment of naturally self-regulating forests
  2. Re-hydration of the land by creating lakes, and the proper maintainence of aquafers.
  3. Farmers and land-carers, living in harmony with the environment, with a co-ordinated local development plan.

By focusing on Trees, Water, and the creation of harmonised living environments for land users, soil composition will improve, biodiversity will be enhanced and the escalating impingements of climate instability may be averted locally.

Why Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is a key concept, around which our whole future seems to pivot. It is the most reliable common indicator for ecological stability. The loss of biodiversity can be seen almost everywhere. The reversal of this trend is a holy grail for ecological regeneration.

As Agro-business advances the impoverishment of seed diversity through patenting, aggressive marketing and government lobbying; as governments continue to give subsidies based mainly on productivity, and only pay lip service to the issues of climate change, species extinctions, and the collapse of eco-systems; as populations continue to be herded into cities, leaving only corporate farming in control of the lands; as subsistence and traditional farming practices continue to become excluded and made obsolete, by the use of land classifications that tacitly undermine the basic human right to live upon and derive a living from the soil –  then we are witnessing the increasingly wide-scale sterilisation of the natural world, and the decline of biodiversity is the obvious, tragic and most telling symptom.

Nature relies upon biodiversity. It is not a luxury, it is at the heart of the process of health and evolution. The collapsing of healthy eco-systems for short term gains has complex causes, and is tied in with a range of other problems that also need to be remedied. But just because a problem is large, wide-scale and complex does not mean that it is unsolvable. The collective agreement on the fact that we have this problem to solve represents, in itself, a milestone achievement.

Regenerative Farming

Regeneration requires conscious land management. The next generation of horticulturalists and farmers are not limited in their scope to food production, but encompass an holistic awareness and care of the land, including water management, seeking remedies to the destructive practices of the recent past, and supporting the recovery of biodiversity. Their concerns include improving soil fertility, mycelia and micro-organisms, mixed planting, organic soil enhancement, and an understanding of the limitations and detrimental implications of monoculture planting.

Over the past decades the original populations of this region have dwindled through mass migration. At the same time, there has been an increasing flow of land buyers from post-industrial societies moving south in search of subsistence farming as a lifestyle. These include new farmers, ecologists and small business practitioners, who wish to support the goals of regeneration, with skills that include organic farming, horticulture, arboriculture, renewable energy generation, artisan crafts, and natural building. Our business model is that by making land available within the biodiversity zones, ecological and economic regeneration becomes gradually more realised.

Reforestation

Reforestation is a key component to land regeneration in general, but it is particularly important in the rural south of Europe for a number of reasons. In Iberia, indigenous hardwood forests have been almost entirely replaced with monoculture plantations of pine and eucalyptus for cash crops. Desertification is a result of a complex range of conditions. Rainfall is governed by ocean precipitation, wind and ground conditions. Deciduous forests transpire an enormous quantity of water vapour into the atmosphere, and deserts arise when the tree cover has diminished below a critical point. In Iberia, and many other regions at this latitude, this “tipping point” has already been reached.

Our mountainous region was once covered by forests of oaks, chestnuts, pines and many other species. It was a mixed forest landscape, with agriculture on the terraces and in river valleys, where the soil could support it, and the marginal lands were planted as vineyards. Monoculture plantations replaced the original forests, as they were a quick and lucrative crop, but the end result is an increase in forest fires, poor level of land management, and a critical loss of biodiversity habitats, with the obvious consequences.

Within the Vale das Lobas Biodiversity Zones, large areas are dedicated to agro-forestry and forest gardening, with the intention of reinstating self-regulating natural forest landscapes.

Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater harvesting in large lake areas will help to maintain water levels and provide security against summer fires, as well as creating many new habitats for flora and fauna, improving soil quality, and providing local amenity value to residents and visitors.

Biodiversity monitoring

The monitoring of flora and fauna within the biodiversity zone will involve the wider community, particularly young people. School children and college students will monitor and record plants, insects, and animals species. The local high school are extremely active in taking this initiative forward.

Economic regeneration

The creation of the Biodiversity Zone does not only make ecological good sense, but it will also produce economic rewards for the region and its inhabitants, firstly by the creation of a chain of micro-businesses offering services and goods, which will re-stimulate the local economy, and secondly, the Vale das Lobas Biodiversity Centre will be of interest to a wide range of visitors, and will help to establish a new position for Fornos de Algodres.

Since we began advancing the concept of the Biodiversity Zone as a new type of land classification, we have been met only by support and agreement. The council, the regional government, engineers, technicians, architects, topographers, academics and educators have all offered their support, and are clearly inspired by the vision. If you are working in this field, and would like to join our Biodiversity Team in the creation of Biodiversity Zones, and the development of the protocol for Rural Regeneration, then please get in touch. 

Humanity may have created the problem, but we are also the remedy. 

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