Zambujo reCover: ecological restoration in the International Tagus Natural Park

Increasing the environmental value of the natural and semi-natural forest habitats of Zambujo, a Navigator property located in Idanha-a-Nova, in the heart of the International Tagus Natural Park, is the aim of the Zambujo reCover initiative, which will undertake the ecological restoration of an area equivalent to about 150 football pitches.

Recovering poor soils and planting autochthonous species adapted to the relief, climate, and soil conditions of the International Tagus Natural Park are two of the numerous activities being carried out under the Zambujo reCover project, which aims to facilitate the ecological restoration of more than 150 hectares of Zambujo, a forestry property located near the Spanish border.

Besides being vast, the project’s intervention area is entirely within the Special Protection Area (SPA) pertaining to the International Tagus, Erges and Pônsul Natural Park, which is classified under the Natura 2000 Network, and 118 of its hectares are part of the International Tagus Natural Park, which clearly shows the importance of this area for the conservation of habitats and various species of fauna and flora.

“This property had already been identified by The Navigator Company as having several High Conservation Value Areas because it has several protected habitats, which are in good condition, and because it has vegetation-covered escarpments that provide an important environmental service—soil retention,” says Nuno Rico, who is responsible for biodiversity conservation at the company.

The planned environmental intervention measures will thus enhance the value of this forest estate, dedicating a large part of its area to soil protection and nature conservation, in an initiative that brings together The Navigator Company and the Forestry and Paper Research Institute RAIZ, with the support of outside specialists.

The project took its first steps in 2022, but it is in 2023 that most of the intervention measures will take place on the ground. In addition to the planting of native trees and the densification of existing holm oak groves, experimental actions will be carried out to improve soil quality and minimise the risk of erosion, which will subsequently be studied with a view to identifying best practices. The activities are planned so as not to interfere with the rhythms of the various species of wildlife present at Zambujo, including protected birds that nest and feed here.


Ecological restoration: qualified and resilient habitats

The team will promote habitats with favourable conditions for a wide range of protected wildlife and flora, and implement active management measures in the interests of biodiversity. But the objectives of Zambujo reCover go further and the interventions also aim to increase the resilience of these more than 150 hectares to the effects of climate change, reducing risks that are increasing in these territories, including desertification, and enhancing ecosystem services.

“We will plant tree species adapted to the aridity and dryness that have been becoming more prevalent in this part of the country, in particular the holm oak (Quercus rotundifolia),” says Nuno Rico, head of Biodiversity Conservation at The Navigator Company.

For example, more than 40 hectares of holm oak groves will be planted and holm oak stands will be developed across another 70 hectares, through forest restoration, densification with native species, and maintenance of tree and shrub vegetation, including, cork oaks (Quercus suber), wild olive trees (Olea europaea var. sylvestris), Montpellier maples (Acer monspessulanum), narrow-leaved ash trees (Fraxinus angustifolia), common hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna), Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternos), and mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus), among other species.

These are ways of promoting the extension and improvement of the conservation status of several of the protected habitats present in the Zambujo, such as Habitat 6310 Montados of evergreen Quercus spp. , and Habitat 9340 Forests of Quercus ilex and Quercus rotundifolia –, also helping to increase the carbon sequestration and nutrient fixation that enriches the soil.


Testing and dissemination aimed at soil restoration

Since part of the intervention area is identified as having a high risk of erosion, the project includes a dimension focussing exclusively on increasing knowledge of the soil and its ecological restoration.

With this in mind, “we will analyse soil fertility before and after plant species (trees and shrubs) installation operations to determine germination rates in areas susceptible to desertification, and we will also carry out some soil reversal tests, evaluating, for example, the effect of incorporating eucalyptus foliage in increasing soil fertility,” he explains.

The knowledge resulting from these methods is an important lesson for forest and soil restoration in areas with similar characteristics, so the purpose is also to disseminate the best techniques that have been tested.


Zambujo provides shelter for over a hundred different species

Even before Zambujo reCover began its first activities in the field, more than a hundred species of flora and wildlife had already been identified on this estate.

Among the species present are some unusual plants. One of them exists naturally only in Portugal, Iris xiphium var. lusitanica. Several others are limited to the Iberian Peninsula, such as the endemic species Linaria amethystea subsp. amethystea, Narcissus rupicola, Koeleria caudata, Salix salviifolia subsp. australis, and Cytisus multiflorus.

As for wildlife, 57 species have been recorded on the property, of which the most noteworthy, due to their degree of threat or protection status, are birds such as the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo), and the Eurasian griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), as well as the Iberian painted frog (Discoglossus galganoi) and the Iberian pond turtle (Mauremys leprosa).

“Zambujo reCover – Forest rehabilitation and soil protection project” aims to implement ecological restoration measures across an area of 153 hectares, through reforestation with native species, with the objectives of promoting soil conservation and improving protected habitats.

The initiative is taking place in Zambujo, a forest estate located in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova, in the middle of the International Tagus Natural Park and the Special Protection Area of the International Tagus, Erges and Pônsul Natural Park, an area classified under the Natura 2000 Network.

Promoted by The Navigator Company in partnership with RAIZ – the Portuguese Forest and Paper Research Institute, this initiative has a total budget of €225,774.79 and is funded by the COMPETE 2020 Programme under the REACT-EU/ERDF initiative “Support for climate transition/Resilience of territories against risk: Combating desertification through reforestation and actions promoting increased carbon and nutrient fixation in the soil”.