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Major new enterprise loan to ramp up nature-based business in Western Iberia

November 6, 2019

As part of efforts to establish a network of rewilding-related enterprises in and around northern Portugal’s Greater Côa Valley, the 600,000-euro loan will help to develop a nature-based tourism resort. This will enhance wild nature and boost the local economy.

The iconic 19th century olive mill in the Coa Valley will be transformed into a vibrant restaurant.
Vale das Lobas

 

Rewilding Western IberiaTransformative finance 

A new enterprise loan of 600,000 euros is set to scale up nature-based business on the edge of Western Iberia rewilding area in northern Portugal. Facilitated by Rewilding Europe Capital (REC) – Rewilding Europe’s enterprise loan facility – the loan is backed by the Natural Capital Financing Facility (NCFF), a joint initiative of the European Investment Bank and the European Commission.

The recipient of the new loan, which will be disbursed in two tranches of 300,000 euros, is Vale das Lobas (“Valley of the She-Wolf”), a Portuguese, purpose-driven social enterprise aiming to reconnect humanity with nature. The money will be used to fund development of a nature and health sanctuary in the village of Sobral Pichorro, close to the Serra da Estrela National Park.

Together with associated rewilding actions, the REC financing will enhance wild nature in the surrounding area and revitalise the local economy. A biodiversity park will be created, while the sanctuary itself will directly employ an estimated 41 people by 2026.

 

Progressive project

The new loan represents a significant step forward in the efforts of Rewilding Portugal to establish a network of rewilding-related enterprises in and around the Greater Côa Valley. Such efforts are part of major new rewilding initiative that began in Western Iberia at the start of 2019, funded by a grant from the Endangered Landscapes Programme.

“The Vale das Lobas venture really is a showcase project,” says Rewilding Europe’s Head of Enterprise Timon Rutten. “It demonstrates how nature-based tourism can contribute to rewilding at a landscape scale, while also providing jobs and regenerating a rural area.”

“We are thrilled to be in this new financial and strategic partnership,” adds Vale das Lobas CEO and co-founder Tony Conway. “The ambition and vision of Rewilding Europe aligns perfectly with how we approach nature and nature-based tourism.”

 

Masterful masterplan

The aim of the Vale das Lobas programme is to use biodiversity restoration, regenerative organic farming and low-impact ecological construction to transform Sobral Pichorro and the surrounding valley into a nature-based tourism destination focused on wellbeing and environmental education.

 

Roadmap towards the grand opening of the new accommodation of Vale das Lobas.

 

“Modern urban life is stressful and people need respite, recreation and renewal in nature,” says Conway. “Vale das Lobas is creating a new kind of resort in Portugal, delivering sustainable, nature-based tourism and wellbeing experiences in a stunning location. A visit here will nourish mind, body and soul.”

There are multiple components to the plan. These include conversion of a seventeenth century manor house into a nature spa hotel (surrounded by botanical and medicinal gardens), the construction of an “Artisan Village” comprising 26 compressed earth eco-homes, the conversion of an ancient granite olive mill into a restaurant, the construction of a camping park, and the establishment of a regenerative organic farm. The REC loan will cover around 30% of the costs of converting the manor house, while the remainder will be provided by Turismo de Portugal.

Sales of the eco-homes will initially finance loan repayments, before the hotel opens in the spring of 2021. The hotel and artisan village will contribute to the wider plans for Vale das Lobas by generating finance for rewilding, building rewilding incentives, and stimulating engagement with nature.

 

Biodiversity boost

Vale das Lobas also owns a 15-hectare, 300-year-old chestnut forest. This, together with additional land, will be converted into a biodiversity park, with the resort as the core element. The designation of the park is the result of partnerships between Vale das Lobas and various other stakeholders, including municipal agencies. The local hunting association joined this partnership in 2013, and voted unanimously to classify the forest a no hunting zone.

Having already benefitted from the support of Turismo de Portugal and local municipalities, the team at Vale das Lobas recognise the importance of collaboration with local, regional and national stakeholders.

“On the biodiversity side, our vision is to build lasting partnerships with landowners in the region, especially in abandoned districts, using association membership,” explains Conway. “Such membership will encourage improved land management and the enhancement of nature through rewilding. Through these agreements we hope to eventually expand the biodiversity zone to 25,000 hectares.”

 

Influential investment

Launched four years ago by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Commission, the NCFF backs new investment in nature-focused businesses and is now supporting a wide range of projects and initiatives across Europe. At the start of 2019, this same facility enabled REC to disburse loans to enterprises engaged in transformative, rewilding-related projects in Finland and Portugal.

The NCFF-backed investment in Vale das Lobas is part of the “Scaling up rewilding in Western Iberia” project that kicked off in 2019. Backed by a grant from the Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP), this is seeing Rewilding Portugal and partners reshape the Greater Côa Valley through the development of a 120,000-hectare wildlife corridor, restoring natural processes and trophic chains, encouraging wildlife comeback, and driving the development of nature-based tourism.

 

Comprehensive support

Aside from funding, Rewilding Europe and Rewilding Portugal will work closely with Vale das Lobas going forwards. The Rewilding Europe enterprise team will facilitate collaboration with other rewilding-related businesses in the area, as well as with marketing through the European Safari Company. Rewilding Europe and Rewilding Portugal will also assist Vale das Lobas with rewilding efforts, as well as the development of plans and protocols for the biodiversity park.

Timon Rutten is particularly gratified that Vale das Lobas approached REC about the possibility of a loan. “Our door is always open. Prospective European enterprises that have the envisaged rewilding-related impact are welcome to contact us at any time. The fact that Vale das Lobas came to us shows that the rewilding message is really getting out there.”

 

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