Learning and sharing: the Mirco Reserve as a Pilot Project

Besides the ecosystem restauration goals for our slice of the Dão valley another goal is for our Micro Reserve to serve as a pilot project. A pilot project that can work as a test site and example for small scale nature conservation and restoration to hopefully inspire, motivate, inform and be proof of concept to others. As we are not ecosystem restoration professionals we don’t claim to know all relevant techniques and see the work here as ‘in progress’. We hope that the work can however support owners of ‘minifundíos’ (small plots of land) to see a value in also declaring their land as a Micro Reserve and applying a set of conservation techniques (such as making a plan for the long term) that bring forth the regrowth and resilience of ecosystems.

Below you can read the description written by our interns Lea ans Sophia about our approach and the work that was done so far on two sites on the edge of the quinta.

Our ambition is to develop and share a 'Micro Reserve Method', create a network of Micro Reserves, a tool kit and a Resource platform for sharing information and actual resources such as tools and volunteers. These project elements will be part of the activities of a new association that we are part of called: Ruralis.
Stay tuned!

Oakland (a.k.a. 'the sunny side of the Moinhos)
(by Lea Ring)

Oakland is a south-facing hill that forms part of the MR MdD. The name was given by the working group from this fall in 2021. It stands for the future image of this specific site to turn from a dry shrubland into a native mixed deciduous forest that mainly consists of different oak species. Therefore, it is given the name Oakland representing the overall goal for the site.

Description: The south-facing hill is a dry open shrubland with some steep as well as rather flat areas. It has an area of 1.3 ha. In general, it is a sandy soil with stony areas. The last wildfire happened in 2012 where most of the former Pine stand (Pinus pinaster) was burned down and only few Oak trees (Quercus robur, Quercus pyrenaica) survived. Right now, that hillside is in an early successional stage. Therefore, the area is mainly covered by White Broom (Cytisus multiflorus). Also, Bracken (Pteridium), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) and Yellow Broom (Cytisus scoparius) can be found on this site.

This south-facing hill is bordering to its south to a small road and the Dao river. Along the road Mimosa (Acacia dealbata), an invasive species, can be found. The rest of the area is surrounded by similar dry sites covered mainly by White Broom. Furthermore, after the fire Mimosa started to show up further up the slope. Last year some patches where prepared for the plantation of different tree saplings (mostly Quercus robur, Quercus ilex, Quercus suber, Pinus pinea) from the surrounding forests and from nurseries. For the preparation mainly Broom and Bramble were removed by pullerbearing.

Goal: By 2041 the open shrubland is covered by a native deciduous forest with a canopy cover of at least 50%.

Strategy: Establish native mixed deciduous forest in order to reduce fire risk.

Methods:

seeding & planting → of mainly deciduous tree species (mostly Quercus robur, Quercus ilex, Quecus suber, as well as Medronheiro and Olive) and partly Pinus pinea in a random order to establish a denser vegetation cover.

maintenance of existing vegetation → pruning trees to enhance straight growth and to reduce the risk of a canopy fire through branchless stems. Further, mature Mimosa trees were stripped and young shoots were pulled out of the ground. Regarding the planted saplings a removal of competitive vegetation is necessary to allow enough light, water and nutrient supply for a good growth.

Mulching → excess material was cut down and spread out to prevent soil erosion especially in areas where a lot of material was taken out. The method ‘cut and drop’ was applied for that.

Burning excess biomass → the material remaining after mulching was taken to more open areas on the site and burnt in controlled fires under conditions of low forest fire risk.

Mapping and zoning of the land → A map of the borders of the MR and of the different zones within the MR will be created. The zones were defined as trial areas for different methods as seeding, planting of tree saplings from nurseries and wild saplings.

Create a database and monitoring system → The database is used as a base for keeping track of the trees/ tree species planted as well as of the success rate of the different methods applied on the trial areas.

North-facing Hillside
(by Sophia Weimar)

The site is a piece of land of half a hectare with a relatively steep north-facing inclination. It is covered by a mixed deciduous forest which established after the last fire around 17 years ago. The forest is well established but there are still a few open patches leading to a canopy cover of 60%. Main species are Oak (Quercus robur, Quercus pyrenaica), Chestnut, Pine (Pinus pinaster), White Heather (Erica lusitanica), Common Hawthorn (Carteagus monogyna), White Broom (Cytisus multiflorus), Yellow Brom (Cytisus scoparius) and Medronho (Arbutus unedo).

The plot extends almost to the bottom of the valley and is bordered by a road. Further down the Dao river is flowing with its riparian forest providing cooling and humid air. To the right and left the forest continues with differing density. It reaches all the way to the top of the hill, where it ends by an old unused forest road. The site is quite humid due to its north-facing exposure. The soil is mostly covered with a relatively dense litter layer and a humus layer is existing. Two unused old forest roads divide the piece in three sectors. Our work this year was concentrated on the lower and middle third of the described area. On the upper third of the land the composition of the forest changes a bit from a well-mixed deciduous site to primarily Pine and White Broom.

Goal: By 2036 the native mixed deciduous forest has a canopy cover of at least 75%.

Strategy: Manage native mixed forest to reduce fire risk and to accelerate natural succession.

Methods:

Seeding & planting →  provide open and exposed areas with seeds of Oak (Quercus robur, Quercus pyrenaica) Chestnut (…..) and Hazel (Coryllus avellana), collected in the surrounding area as well as planting a few trees (Quercus robur, Chestnut, Medronho) in the same areas out of the own small tree nursery.

Maintenance of existing vegetation →  pruning trees and bushes to reduce the risk of a canopy fire through branchless stems and enhance straight growth.

Removal of flammable understory →  complete removal of very fire prune species as Broom and Bramble as well as pruning White Heather. Here we set our focus on keeping them at a certain size so they can provide some shade to the natural regeneration in very exposed areas without risking them to contribute to a canopy fire.

Mulching →  to prevent soil erosion especially in areas where we took out a lot of material we applied the method ‘cut and drop’. The excess material was cut down and either spread out or used to build compost piles in suitable areas (shady and moist conditions)

Burning excess biomass →  the material remaining after mulching, was taken from the forest and burnt in controlled fires under conditions of low forest fire risk.