Western Iberia II – Faia Brava, Portugal

April 20, 2011

From the very fragmented, small-landowner landscape in northeastern Portugal, we suddenly come into a big, already quite raw and wild-looking area: the 600 hectare Faia Brava private nature reserve, in the dramatic Côa valley. This is Portugal’s first private reserve and it is owned by Associaçâo Transumância e Natureza, who is working to rewild it, taking away all extractive use and bringing back lost wildlife, as well as protecting the already existing precious locally breeding wildlife: the Bonelli’s eagle, the golden eagle, griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, eagle owl etc. And taking care of the cultural heritage sites in the reserve as well.

They are breeding rabbits for reintroduction and rock pigeons too, and have started with wild living horses of an ancient Portuguese race, to see the effect on the landscape. We can see with our own eyes the difference in vegetation  inside and outside the horse fence. Inside, much more open area and grassland. Outside, only dense bush. During the hike through a part of the reserve we see egyptian vultures, golden eagles, griffon vultures, a barn owl, an eagle owl nest, short toed eagles and massively flowering landscapes of white-flowered Cytisus multiflorum bushes.

Later, at night we are guided through the ”Côa valley archeological park”, which happens to be one of the worlds largest outdoor rock carving sites in the world , with thousands of carvings in stone slabs in the long valley, dating mainly from 15-35 000 years ago. To see these vivid and stylish artistic impressions of the then-present wildlife lit only by torch light in the dark night is very exciting.

Stone slab after stone slab, showing five species of wildlife, over and over again, with amazing artfulness: aurochs, ibex, horses, red deer and fish!

ATN is planning to expand this reserve in the Côa valley to some 2500 hectares and add another reserve in the brutal gorges of the Agueda valley (Eagle valley), making it open for professional ecotourism. The Agueda valley reserve can then be connected as a corridor with the Côa valley, as well as with the Campanarios de Azába reserve on the Spanish side. A great rewilding area of possibly more than 100 000 hectare straddling the national border between Portugal and Spain.

This is one of Rewilding Europe’s five first pilot project sites.

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