Discover a Protected Area: The Montados Ecosystem (Portugal)

Vânia Proença, Helena Martins, Tiago Domingos – MARETEC – Marine, Environment and Technology Centre, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal

Montados (or dehesas in Spanish) are traditional agro-forestry systems with a savanna type structure, characteristic of the Mediterranean Basin. In Portugal, Montados are mainly distributed in the southern half of the country where the climate is Mediterranean. Annual average precipitation is 600 mm and mean annual temperature is 15ºC, although there is a large variation within the area of distribution of this system. Cork oaks (Quercus suber) and holm oaks (Q. rotundifolia) are the dominant trees, forming pure or mixed stands, with holm oak being dominant in drier regions.

Montados, with their natural or semi-natural pasture and extensive grazing, are listed under the EU Habitats Directive (habitat 6310), and are key habitats of Special Areas of Conservation (Habitats Directive) and of Special Protection Areas (Birds Directive), which are part of the Natura 2000 network. Their multifunctional management promotes structural diversity at the stand and landscape level, which combined to a large distribution area and spatial continuity results in high-levels of biodiversity. They are also High Natural Value farmlands that simultaneously fulfil the three criteria considered for their delimitation by the European Commission, since they are dominantly related to a high proportion of semi-natural vegetation, to a mosaic of low intensity agriculture and natural and structural elements and to the presence of rare species (e.g. Lynx pardinus and Aquila pennata).

Cork is the most important forest product from Montado systems, with Portugal producing 54% of the world cork. In addition to cork (harvested every 9-12 years), animal production in pastures also provide a source of income. The regulation of water and nutrient cycles and of soil erosion, as well as carbon sequestration, are important regulating services to be managed in Montados. From a cultural and recreational perspective, Montados are valued for the landscape aesthetics, natural values and cultural heritage.

Strategic actions have been put in place to conciliate human use and biodiversity conservation, such as the publication of national regulations that legally protect the cork and holm oaks. But the most significant one might be forest certification, which has been promoting practices of responsible forest management in more than 70,000 ha of Montado, around 30% of the total certified Portuguese forest area.