Get to know the Habitat


The montado is one of Portugal’s most iconic landscapes, and can be found specifically in Alentejo, but this sanctuary of biodiversity, which was first shaped by human activity many centuries ago, is also an endangered habitat.

It is believed that more than 14 centuries ago, various areas were cleared in the Mediterranean region for agriculture and pasture, activities which were accompanied by the partial clearance of forests where the cork oak and holm oak were already highly valued and protected, says the Montados Green Paper. This shaped the landscape that would give rise to the “montado”, which combines agriculture, forestry, and pastoralism (the agrosilvopastoral system).

This multifunctional system depends on trees as its structural component, with two oak species standing out: cork oaks (Quercus suber) and holm oaks (Quercus rotundifolia). Around them develops this semi-natural ecosystem rich in biodiversity, which the non-governmental organisation ANP | WWF has called a “biodiversity sanctuary”.

In this patchwork landscape dominated by cork oaks and holm oaks (both belonging to the Fagaceae family), other species of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants also come together. These range from other oak trees (Quercus coccifera), to strawberry trees (Arbutos unedo), laurustinus (Viburnum tinus), and common myrtle (Myrtus communis). This space is shared between arable and forage crops and wild pastureland, where extensive grazing takes place, traditionally carried out by sheep. There are also around 140 species of aromatic, medicinal, and honey plants, as well as nearly 400 species of vertebrates, including several endangered mammals and birds. One of the rarest is the Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti), a resident and nesting species in the Iberian Peninsula.

The need to preserve this habitat led to the integration of the “Evergreen Quercus spp. montado” in the Natura Network (Habitat 6310). Currently, their conservation and regeneration are priorities, since the vitality of the montado has been in decline: the tree density has decreased, the rate of tree regeneration has decreased, and mortality has increased, threatening the balance of these systems.

“Many montados are not ecologically sustainable systems in the absence of management” and are in need of silvicultural management measures, says the ICNF, which warns: human action has not always been optimal. The decline of the montado has been linked to the introduction of new agricultural practices, such as raising cattle and black pigs, for example, and the application of inappropriate vegetation control methods, which damage soil structure and are further aggravated by drought.


Did you know that…

  • Montados extend beyond the Alentejo region, where they are most typical, and are the “main forest occupation” in Portugal: they represent around one third of Portuguese forests or rather “more than 1 million hectares of surface area”, says the ICNF – the Portuguese Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests. Beyond its borders, the montado landscape extends into Spain, with the “dehesas” (the name given to the montado in Spain) accounting for almost 14% of the neighbouring forest and also being its main forest formation. Albeit with some differences, this type of habitat can be found in various parts of the Mediterranean basin, all the way from Greece in Europe to Tunisia in North Africa.
  • The origin of the name montado is probably related to a tax levied on those who brought their animals to graze on the “montes”, or hills, which was called “montadito” or “montado”, at a time when transhumance was beginning to flourish in the 7th century.
  • Montado is also the name of a film, more specifically a documentary film, produced in Portugal and Spain. It premiered in the summer of 2022 after three years of filming and it was able to capture much of what escapes the human eye in this ecosystem, including much of the wildlife in it.


How do we take care of the montado?

Montados are a common habitat in the woodlands under the stewardship of The Navigator Company, from Lisbon and the Tagus Valley region to the Algarve, not forgetting, of course, the properties located in Alentejo. A total of 1120 hectares correspond to Habitat 6310 of the Natura Network.

In several of these montado areas, traditional activities that contribute to the balance of this system continue to be practised, such as sheep grazing for example. Cork oak stripping is another of the ancestral activities that still exists.

Natural regeneration is favoured and the planting of species typical of the montado is envisaged in cases where it is necessary to improve the state of conservation or extend these habitats.

Good management practices applied to these montado areas include occasional and localised phytosanitary measures to control invasive species and pests, including the installation of nest boxes and traps for harmful insects. Furthermore, spontaneous vegetation is controlled with a view to preventing fires and taking into account the richness of the undergrowth, which is necessary to preserve the soil and maintain habitats with a high level of biodiversity. Where possible, this is supplemented by pasture—extensive grazing with a preference for sheep.

One specific care measure required by cork oak and holm oak trees is the establishment of a surrounding area—a buffer zone—where soil tillage is prohibited in order to preserve the trees and their roots, and to promote symbiosis with other forms of life existing under their crowns and in the soil, including mushrooms that create mutually beneficial relationships with the roots (mycorrhizae).