A management strategy aimed at preserving biodiversity associated with cork oak forest in the Serra do Caldeirão has become a pressing need because the outstanding value of its natural heritage depends on the health of the forest ecosystems. This natural value is clearly illustrated by the presence of priority species and habitats as defined by the Habitat Directive.
Moreover, the mountainous regions of the Algarve have been designated by the WWF as priority areas in the Mediterranean zone. The WWF has launched a long-term conservation project entitled “The Green Belt in Southern Portugal”.
Numbered among the remarkable species of the region are threatened large predators such as the Iberian lynx and Bonelli’s eagle. Their presence represents a touchstone for the sustainability of the ecosystems: both species require a patchwork landscape featuring both oak forests and Mediterranean-type matorral woodlands (where they can find shelter as well as open spaces for hunting). Such a landscape can only be maintained through the wise management of woodland ecosystems.
Areas of open woodland made up of oak species, known as “montado”, also have major economic importance for the region, in particular for the production of high quality cork. Such areas constitute multi-purpose woodland ecosystems.
The aim of this project is to reinforce the Region’s decision-making ability in order to promote the suitable and sustainable management of its woodland resources and thus enhance the Region’s economic competitivity. To this end, strategies for the management of forest networks will be proposed based on data assembled thanks to an appropriate forest inventory and experimental plots.
Involvement of groups of local partners and stakeholders will continue to be favoured throughout the project’s life. Their technical personnel will help in identifying what information is required to ensure well-adapted management. They will also conduct a critical analysis of the development strategies. The project will also profit from collaboration with competent professionals coming from partner countries concerned by the management of natural resources. It can hardly be doubted that such exchanges of experience, allied to the perspectives of woodland management and planning at a local, regional and international level, will bear fruit.
RECOFORME constitutes a project complementary to others already under way, such as the Algarve Forest Management Plan and an Interreg IIIA project on the decline of the cork and holm oaks. The RECOFORME project will also bring to light aspects certain to be of interest to the current WWF project “The Green Belt in Southern Portugal”.
On site, the project includes five stages:
Definition of the area involved
A zone representative of «montado» systems will be circumscribed within the pilot area on the basis of criteria applied in the previously-mentioned projects already under way. Recent orthophotography will be used in delimiting the zone. 60 permanent plots chosen at random will serve as a data source for the zone.
Inventory of woodland resources
The inventory of woodland resources will be carried out on the permanent plots. The environmental variables reflecting the plant cover and parameters connected to habitat will also be measured so that at a later date a correlation can be established with the wildlife resource. Trees will be measured and their state of health recorded. Need for further information and for data gathering will be assessed in conjunction with stakeholders and other people involved locally. Plant growth will be monitored at each level of vegetation.
Inventory of biodiversity
The extent of wildlife resources will be assessed using locally relevant indicators, of which a sampling of birds will be one because their reactions to modifications tend to be reflected throughout the whole population. The integration of such information will provide insight into the relation between woodland management and the conservation of biodiversity.
The fieldwork carried out in tree stands will be based on fixed bird-counting dates in the plots. Counting will take place twice in the first year and once in the second. This will facilitate estimations of the wealth of species, overall abundance, the value of bird conservation as well as the relative abundance of selected species. Such parameters are heavily influenced by woodland make-up and structure. Thus they can be used to anticipate how the management of stands will influence biodiversity.
Analysis of management methods
Analysis of the occupation of the area will be carried out to determine changes in management of the zones, taking as a starting point surveys conducted among the local population.
Defining strategies for sustainable development on the basis of information obtained from the Forest Inventory
The different strategies for the sustainable development of the “montados” will be debated in seminars to be held after the analysis of the results from the Forest Inventory and from the permanent plots. Following these discussions and starting from the data collected, a long-term strategy for the sustainable management of the “montado’s” resources will be defined, taking into account the combined need for local rural development and the conservation of natural resources.
The whole methodological process, debate included, will be monitored by technicians from local associations and partners in the RECOFORME project.