Micro Reserve ~ Nature Conservation and Restoration

Micro Reserve – a small area of land where an effort is made to conserve and restore nature for the purpose of providing habitat and of being a stepping stone for endemic flora and fauna.

Most nature conservation and restoration projects involve large areas of protected land and are often labeled as a National Park or Reserve. For the conservation of species and ecosystems the scale of the protected area is important which is why it is mostly projects that cover large areas that get an official and protected status. Besides these official conservation areas there are also many privately or collectively (non profit) owned small pieces of land in the world where nature is being conserved or restored. These efforts might not all be run by ecologists but most of them are based in common sense and ecoliteracy and support local biodiversity.

Such is the case at Moinhos do Dão ~ Eco Quinta. This quinta covers only 3.5 hectares but includes various ecosystems and microclimates and all the biodiversity* that comes with them. Ours is not the only quinta commitment to supporting local biodiversity and we believe that all the little bits help and together they can make a big difference. That is why we are promoting and developing the concept of a Micro Reserve – a small area of land where an effort is made to conserve and restore nature for the purpose of providing habitat and of being a stepping stone for endemic flora and fauna.
This webpage is dedicated to the Micro Reserve at Moinhos do Dão and the related conservation and restoration efforts. Two very inspiring examples of promoting small scale nature conservation are the ‘We are the ark’ initiative and Montis (active here in Portugal).

Juvenile Midwife Toad.
Resident King Fisher.

* Ecosystems and biodiversity at Moinhos do Dão.

The south-side of the quinta consists of a shaded and cool oak chestnut woodland which is home to squirrels, woodpeckers, many kids of mushrooms and mosses. The Dão river runs through the middle and consists of an area we call ‘the river forest’ where ash, alder and ferns abound and where we see otters, cormorants, king fishers, herons and many many kinds of dragon flies. On the north side of the land there is a hot and dry hillside which burned several times and here the river margin is invaded by mimosa. Endemic flora and fauna are having a harder time here but native trees are coming back, the hillside is a home for many small birds and we have seen 3 different kinds of praying mantis.

Also included in the mix are the food, herb, flower gardens and terraces at the cultivated heart of the quinta. This area also plays a role as it, for instance, supports many pollinators and a variety of amphibians and reptiles live around the stones of the buildings. In this diverse landscape Moinhos do Dão is committed to doing the best we can to conserve and restore nature on and around the quinta.

Restoration Focus

Our biggest conservation and restoration effort so far started in 2015 when we acquired a new piece of land of 1.3 hectare on the other side of the Dão. This area is the north (Viseu) side of the quinta and includes the river margin, a strip of flood plain and a south facing hillside. The hill has suffered multiple fires in the last 30 years and the margin is infested with Acacia dealbata (Mimosa). The goals of the work here are fire prevention and supporting and bringing back native trees and shrubs. Most of this work is done with the help of volunteers, friends and interns.

Forest Restoration Work Report ~ by Lisa Martensmeier
Intern at MdD during the months of Sept, Oct, Nov 2020
Studies: International Forest Ecosystem Management - University of Sustainable Development Eberswalde
Team: Rory, Mary Ellen, Freya & Steven
Read Lisa's more personal experience working on this project HERE.

The land is located on a southern facing hill and in summer is exposed to extreme conditions of heat and drought. It’s frequently hit by wildfires, the last one burning it down in 2013.
After a fire, the vegetation that grows back first are the so-called pioneer species. This is a natural phase of ecological succession. In our case, these pioneer species are mostly broom and brambles, both very flammable. The lower part of the land, more close to the Dao, is mostly covered by Mimosa, a very invasive and also flammable tree species.

Work and steps involved:

1. Opening up a strip of land
By removing most of the flammable vegetation along a strip of land, we create a fire barrier. Working our way up the hill, we remove the pioneer species by root. This ensures that they don't just grow back even stronger. To get the whole root, we use a tool called “pullerbear”. This tool acts as a lever and makes it possible to pull out tall broom with the least destruction of soil possible and without heavy machinery or fossil fuels. We connect already existing tree groups and free single trees, shrubs and saplings from broom and brambles, allowing them to grow with more light and less competition.
(The long term purpose of this strip of land is the reestablishment of a deciduous, native forest ecosystem which then can spread naturally along the hill. Through it’s more cool and humid microclimate, this forest will work as a natural fire barrier.)

2. Site preparation, use and care of the resources
To prevent erosion and to keep nutrients and water in the soil, we cut off the top parts of broom and use it for mulching. On different sites we create little compost areas to support tree saplings in future.
The larger trees are pruned. Cutting off dead and low branches is a way of preventing a fire from traveling up the tree.
The cleared plant material is still very flammable. To prevent future fires, we burn most of the woody material that would take a long time to decompose, in controlled fires.

3. Planting and seeding
By removing broom by root, we have the perfect hole for sowing seeds. In the surrounding forests, we collect acorns of different oak trees in similar condtitions. These and other seeds, we always carry with us and spread along the hill.
For planting we use trees from our little nursery and we collect saplings in the woods to transplant them along the cleared strip. We plant different oak species (Quercus robur, pyrenaica, suber, ilex) mixed with pines (Pinus pinea), strawberry trees (Abutus unedo), Hazelnut trees (Corylus) and laurel (Laurus nobilis).
As we know about the difficult conditions on this hill, especially for little saplings, we do our best, to plant them in a way that supports them as much as possible. This includes finding flat places for planting that provide some topsoil and moisture, creating swales that transport the water to the little trees, removing all bramble roots in the surroundings and providing the soil with mulch. If possible, trees are planted in the shade of still standing broom, which creates a more cool and humid space for the little saplings.

4. Ongoing activities and maintenance

Some of the flammable vegetation will grow back. Therefore, constant work of removing broom and brambles during the next years is needed.
We will plant more trees, sow more seeds and care for the already planted trees. In future, we will try to establish a basic irrigation system for tree saplings. In preparation, we already started to free the old track up the hill from broom, to make it possible to bring water tanks up there.

Site and work data/numbers

  • clearing work done 4.000 m2: broom pulling, bramble cutting & digging, burning.
  • 100 trees planted (Quercus suber, Quercus robur, Quercus pyraenaica, Quercus Ilex, Pinus pinaster, Pinus pinea, Arbutus unedo, Coryllus avelana, Laurus nobilis)
  • 300 seeds planted (Quercus robur, Quercus pyraenaica, Quercus suber, Coryllus avelana)
  • time spent – 27 half days (4 hrs) with a crew of 3 = 324 man hours