About Vale das Lobas
Vale das Lobas is a Rural Regeneration Project in the Beira Alta region of Portugal, with the mission of: Biodiversity, Health and Education. We are an Association, integrating within the local community, and working in close collaboration with local organisations, including the Municipal government, the high school and local business, with a focus on ecological and economic regeneration.
In recent decades the native populations of this region have dwindled through mass migration, leaving behind abandoned farms, unused wells and water resources, and an increasing risk of forest fires. In the lands that we now care for, we have established Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Zones. By zoning the area, we can establish a plan of interventions, which we call the protocol for regeneration. The purpose of any interventions is to enhance and support ecological well being through the application of an holistic model of regeneration or healing. These remedies are applied in the following form: 1. Planting trees to re-establish self-regulating forests 2. Creating lakes, and related water systems. 3. Facilitating farmers and land-carers to return to the land.
Many worthy systems have been developed to support the return to healthy agriculture. We support Regenerative Organic Agriculture (ROA), Natural Farming (Masanobu Fukuoka style), Permaculture, Biodynamic Farming, Forest Gardening, and Agro-Ecology. We are interested in regenerating soil composition, and encouraging land use that enhances biodiversity. We believe that farmers who practice regenerative farming should have the right to live on the land they take care of, and we endorse the return to subsistence farming lifestyles.
In Iberia, indigenous hardwood forests have been mainly replaced with monoculture plantations for cash crops. Forests become deserts when the tree cover has diminished below a critical point. In Iberia, this “tipping point” has already been reached. Our mountainous region was once covered by lush forests of oaks, chestnuts, pines and a wide variety of other species. It was a mixed forest landscape, with agriculture on the terraces and in river valleys, and the marginal lands were planted as vineyards. Monoculture plantations of pine and eucalyptus are resulting in an increase in forest fires, poor level of land management, and a critical loss of biodiversity habitats. 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 in large lake areas provides security against summer fires, creates new habitats for flora and fauna, improves soil quality, and provides a valuable resource to all. Using the contours of the land for transporting water in swales and channels, lakes can be sited to maximise the quantity of water retained, and to keep it moving and aerated.
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 staff and pupils of our local high school are extremely active in taking this initiative forward. They are currently designing the programme for monitoring the baseline study that will commence in Autumn 2015, and involve monitoring visits to a range of habitats from students of each age group.
The Biodiversity Centre
In the heart of our biodiversity zone is a 17th century manor house, once a Seminario, that we plan to convert into a Biodiversity Centre. It will house a restaurant and outdoor eating area, a natural medicine centre, training and conference facilities, medicine gardens and an apothecary and facilities for visitors. The themes of the conferences and courses will be Natural Medicine, Natural Building, Regenerative Farming, Spiritual Ecology and more. The centre will provide an inspirational focus, and attract visitors to the project.
Besides the obvious ecological benefits of the Biodiversity Zone, it will also produce economic benefits for the region and its inhabitants. As the populations have dissipated away from this region, it has lost its sense of value. Many people asked us in the first years why we would want to come to this area, when everyone else is leaving for more “exciting” locations. Yet the region has a myriad of wonderful resources, including ancient Neolithic temples and dolmens, and a subsistence farming tradition, including cheese making and olive and wine production that has hardly changed in a thousand years. In partnership with our local government, we aim to support the re-evaluation of these indigenous resources, and help to establish a new position for our region to attract visitors as nature lovers.
Becoming Earth Physicians
In the natural world, soil is full of biodiversity, and nutrient rich, organically active soil provides a foundation for healthy environments. Food production should become part of that natural healthy environment, not apart from it. The Biodiversity Zones is helping to frame this purpose. It provides a focus for partnerships of intent. Regeneration programs like ours could be widespread; as the saying goes, we must: Think globally, Act locally.
We can become “Earth Physicians” by studying our landscape, learning its habitats, and discovering the biodiversity. This process can involve a whole community, including school students and the elderly. Through this study, we can apply the remedy that fits locally; not heroic interventions, like major surgery, but homeopathic doses that stimulate a return to health. We can be allies, supporters and helpers in the process of regenerating our local environment. And then we will be on the way to healing the most characteristic symptom of the planetary disease: the disconnection between humanity and nature. Before its too late….