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Summary description of the project

Project title: CONSERVATION OF NATURAL AND SEMI-NATURAL HABITATS IN THE “SERRAS DE AIRE E CANDEEIROS”

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Project objectives:

The project’s objective is to test a methodology for the conservation of priority habitats on the CSI “Serra de Aire e Candeeiros”, namely (6110) *Rupicolous calcareous or basophilic grasslands of the Alysso-Sedion albi, (6210) *Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (*important orchid sites), (6220) *Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals of the Thero-Brachypodietea and (8240) *Limestone pavements, and it will be applied in two distinct places, “Chãos” and “Cabeço das Pombas”, with a total area of approximately 1000 hectares. This project aims to promote extensive grazing, adjusted to the existing natural values conservation needs, and also to adopt measures that will bring an improvement on the economic sustainability of activities contributing to biodiversity conservation.

The project also intends to set an example on best practices, promoting local synergies towards the creation of dynamic development related to the sustainable exploitation of natural resources and that may constitute a means of economic support for conservation actions in the long-term. 

Actions and means involved:

In a preparatory stage, preliminary studies will be carried out, through the development of detailed cartography on the habitats and species, in order to identify the most relevant areas, those most sensitive and of greater priority to become the subject of intervention. Following these preliminary studies, an action plan for the implementation of the project will be developed. After its approval by the authority of nature conservation, custody contracts will be agreed upon with the land managers.

Active management actions on the habitats will be phased in, through sub-arbustive and arbustive vegetation control, in those cases where natural disturbance factors of the successional progression are absent, resorting to mechanical means, in order to:

– Improve the quality of the habitats using a non-selective technique;

– Allow for the subsequent intervention that will resort to the help of goat herds;

– Ensure an articulation with the harvesting of aromatic and medicinal plants and condiments;

The mechanical intervention on the habitats will not be done indiscriminately, being the most appropriate course of action defined according to each natural value. After this first intervention, grazing will begin, using ‘serrana’ goats (an ecotype from the Ribatejo region) – a native caprine -, on a traditional basis and regulating the herd’s capitation.

It is equally expected that the establishment and contracted management of two goat herds, consisting of about 400 animals at an early stage, will be crucial for maintaining the priority habitats subjected to the intervention in a favourable conservation status. The mosaic of habitats will also be assured, due to the application of specific grazing techniques where there is natural regeneration or bosquets or whenever there are species in need of protection from grazing.

The activity of grazing will be contractually agreed with local agents, according to a plan of action that may be subject to changes whenever required by the assessment resulting from the monitoring of the habitat conservation status and of the annual management measures effectiveness.

This monitoring will be undertaken by the project team and accompanied by a specialized scientific institute subcontracted for that purpose. To ensure the mosaic of habitats, providing suitable conditions for the presence of some communities of fauna and flora or where grazing is negative or even destructive, livestock access will be conditioned on a permanent or seasonal basis. 

Economic sustainability

Simultaneously to the intervention on the habitats, the project also aims to increase the economic sustainability of activities that contribute to nature conservation, valuing and promoting products associated to the sustainable management of habitats, particularly through the biological certification and valuation of products such as cheese, lamb and aromatic and medicinal herbs and condiments. Thus, an economy of symbiosis, originating from the improvement on the quality of life of all those involved and from the necessary improvement and conservation of the priority habitats, will be gradually achieved in the long-term.

Comunication and dissemination actions

In line with all these interventions, and apart from other dissemination actions that may involve the publicizing of information based on different communication strategies, a communication plan aiming to raise awareness on the importance of biodiversity will be implemented. This project will be directed towards the local communities, encouraging a sense of belonging and heritage protection with which they can identify.

Another expected outcome is related to the development of a best practices methodology that may be replicable in regions with similar characteristics and in need of intervention to promote and/or maintain biological diversity.

Finally, it is expected that this project will raise awareness on local, regional and national entities towards the need of implementing strategies of active biodiversity conservation in situations where the local economic dynamics can have a key role.

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