Western Iberia

Ancient dehesa, sierra and montado landscapes

Western Iberia

Ancient dehesa, sierra and montado landscapes

Western Iberia

Ancient dehesa, sierra and montado landscapes

Western Iberia

Ancient dehesa, sierra and montado landscapes

Western Iberia

Ancient dehesa, sierra and montado landscapes

The Côa Valley, a yet relatively unknown place in Portugal near to the border with Spain, with amazing birdlife, home to one of Portugal’s most important, large, independent nature reserve – Faia Brava. An area where wild nature and wildlife is coming back.

The river gorges, oak forests, rocky heathlands and scattered fields constitute a spectacular mix in the Côa Valley, between Douro river and Malcata mountain ranges.

An unprecedented, large-scale opportunity exists here today for the rewilding of this beautiful area in Portugal. The abandonment of a big part of the valley has brought a new opportunity for rewilding and the comeback of wildlife. More than 100,000 hectares of land here have already been set aside for conservation in the form of Natura 2000 areas, with an interesting mix of natural and semi-natural habitats.

Montados, mountain ranges and river gorges are popular with cliff loving animals such as vultures and eagles, together with river valleys inhabited by otters and pond turtles. On the poorer soils on granite bedrock, the landscape is dominated by very small land holdings that have had cultivation based on olives, almonds, and cereals – which are now also increasingly being abandoned.


Rewilding vision

For each rewilding area we developed an inspiring vision that shows our ambition for the next ten years. Together with our local partners we work to make this vision a reality.

What are we doing here?

Grazing fire brigades

As a result of rural depopulation and associated land abandonment across much of the Mediterranean, grazing livestock numbers have plummeted, leading to a very significant increase of landscapes without any form of grazing. As a result, many landscapes are now covered by young, often monotonous forest or dense scrub.

One obvious case where this has happened is Portugal’s Côa Valley, part of of the Western Iberia rewilding area, in a region with the higest levels of land abandonment in the whole of Europe. The proliferation of bushes here, coupled with the close plantation of pine and eucalyptus trees, means the landscape is very susceptible to forest fire, with this problem exacerbated by long hot summers driven by climate change. Although fire is a natural process in itself, the current frequency and intensity of fires not only causes severe habitat loss and environmental degradation, but also serious economic losses and even loss of human life.

By bringing back grazing – this time not with livestock but with (semi-) wild herbivores such as wild horses and Tauros – Rewilding Europe and its local partners can significantly reduce the risk of fire in the Western Iberia rewilding area. Reintroducing such herbivores will also improve conditions for populations of roe deer and Iberian ibex. Natural grazing by these species leads to the creation of more diverse mosaic landscapes, with open spaces that act as effective firebreaks.

These mosaic landsapes have a huge biodiversity and also help boost populations of species such as rabbit and red-legged partridge, which in turn increases the availability of prey for predators such as the Iberian lynx and Bonelli’s eagle, and scavengers such as vultures.

Supporting local enterprise

Through financial loans and expert business advice, Rewilding Europe Capital (REC) is helping a growing number of local entrepreneurs create rewilding-focused enterprises across our operational areas. Since 2013 REC loans have so far helped a quartet of nature-based businesses become established in the Western Iberia rewilding area (the Faia Brava Nature Reserve). Star Camp, Casa da Cisterna, Wildlife Portugal and Miles Away are all pioneering nature-based tourism models which are helping to reinforce the rewilding agenda here. Rewilding Europe promotes these enterprises through the increasingly popular European Safari Company.

The Western Iberia rewilding area is well-placed for such nature-based tourism. Situated between the Douro River to the north and the Serra da Malcata in the south, the Côa Valley is a spectacular mix of riverine gorges, Mediterranean oak woodlands and shrubs, rocky heathland and former cropland and orchards which are now returning to nature. The 200-kilometre long Côa Valley Grand Route takes tourists and nature lovers through the Faia Brava Reserve, enabling them to enjoy its diverse wildlife and discover the beautiful countryside of Portugal. With the area now welcoming more than a thousand visitors annually, revenue growth for the nature-based enterprises here has already been substantial.

Shaping the Greater Côa Valley

Rewilding Europe is working with its local partners to shape the Côa Valley through the development of a 120,000-hectare wildlife corridor – the Greater Côa Valley – that connects the Malcata mountain range in the south with the larger Douro Valley in the north. Innovative land-use models will be applied in a region with one of the highest land abandonment levels in Europe, transforming threats of landscape degradation, rural depopulation and economic downturn into new opportunities based on rewilding principles.

To reach this goal we are focused on securing strategically located core areas and connecting them by signing land-use agreements with landowners and hunting associations, and on restoring natural processes such as herbivory, carnivory and scavenging in the zones between them. By allowing species such as Iberian ibex, wolf and Iberian lynx to make a comeback, this will hopefully boost biodiversity significantly and underpin a burgeoning nature-based economy that serves as a regional role model. Once a more natural state has been reached, the Côa Valley has the potential to become one of the main migration routes for wildlife in this part of the Iberian Peninsula.

“Top predators return to Western Iberia”

Pedro Prata
Team leader of Western Iberia

How would you characterise your rewilding area?
Western Iberia is a biodiversity hotspot where rewilding can really take shape. It is a large arid open forest landscape, with steep valleys and inaccessible areas, where wildlife has been able to survive the loss. This compact area boasts a multitude of habitats and species, as well as signs of human activity and wildlife that go back nearly 30 000 years.

What have the major achievements been in your rewilding area to date?
One of the main achievements has been persuading people that wildlife comeback and land abandonment represent an opportunity, rather than a problem. It has been fantastic to see top predators like the wolf return, black vultures nesting and breeding, and the Iberian lynx and imperial eagle starting to reappear. We have also built a cluster of nature-based businesses that are now going from strength to strength.

What would you like to see achieved in your rewilding area in the next five years?
I’d love to see 500 000 hectares of real rewilding area stretching to the Spanish border. That would connect two mountain ranges and two main canyons, strengthening the wildlife connection between northern and southern Iberia. And it would obviously great to see species such as the ibex, chamois, lynx and bear return.

Our main achievements

Visit Western Iberia

There are many ways to discover Western Iberia, from a relaxing long weekend to tackling 200 km of marked Grande Route trail along the entire Côa Valley – by foot, mountain bike and even horseback over multiple days. Find your ideal combination of wildlife and culture, using expert guides and staying in handpicked accommodation.

Learn more

Image gallery

Team members

Pedro Prata

Team Leader

Rafaela Faria

Communications Officer

Sara Casado Aliácar

Rewilding Officer

Partners

In Western Iberia, Rewilding Europe works with Associação Transumância e Natureza (ATN) as the preferential partner on the Portuguese side.

Both organisations signed a 5-year partnership agreement for the period 2015-19, including a 5-year strategy. ATN has worked in this area for over 17 years now and has established the first private nature reserve in Portugal, called Faia Brava.

We are also exploring several areas on the Spanish side to become part of the Western Iberia rewilding area, but so far no areas have been concluded yet.

ATN is working with a range of local partners, including The Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley, University of Lisbon and Avero, Zoological, Multi Natura and others.

Contact

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