A project to conserve the National Forest of Buçaco
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT The University of Aveiro is working on the Life+ BRIGHT project promoted by the Fundação Mata do Buçaco, which aims to conserve the natural richness of the National Forest of Buçaco, an outstanding landscape located on the foothills of the sierra of the same name in Central Portugal. The researchers are particularly anxious to control invasive plant species which are threatening a unique enclave dominated by the mock privet, a shrub that here acquires unique characteristics.
The National Forest of Buçaco holds a unique richness, “not only in terms of the natural heritage, but also the cultural, historical, religious, architectural, and military heritage, among others”, DiCYT was told by Carlos Fonseca, a researcher of the University of Aveiro. In any case scientists consider its natural richness to be particularly valuable.
As regards fauna, this national forest contains 150 species of vertebrates and 1,200 of invertebrates, including rare and protected species (some endemic to the Iberian Peninsula) that are “hard to observe elsewhere”. The forest is however particularly notable for its flora as it holds “a dendrological collection that is a point of reference at a European level” and conserves “forest remnants that retain characteristics of the region's vegetation that predate human occupation”.
Its various natural habitats include in particular the adernal, i.e. an ecosystem dominated by the aderno or mock privet (Phillryea latifolia) “which is so rare here that it was unknown until recently”. Although it is a relatively common species and is described as a shrub, in the Buçaco Forest “it reaches 15 metres in height and occurs in dense formations with unique characteristics", the specialist points out.
An extensive team of the Biology Department of the University of Aveiro has been carrying out research in this area since 2003, including an exhaustive characterisation of the fauna and flora and its interactions, an inventory of fungi, forest management studies, and science and technology communication activities.
Now the Life+ BRIGHT project aims to protect this natural space, in particular the adernal, with two measures: controlling invasive exotic species and encouraging autochthonous species of both flora and fauna. “The approach of the project is a demonstrative one; it will allow experimentation for new techniques for controlling invasive species and is a pioneer in the participation of civil society in such an ambitious conservation project”, Carlos Fonseca declares.
The main and most problematical invasive tree species are Acacia melanoxylon, Acacia dealbata, Pittosporum undulatum, and Ailanthus altissima. As for herbaceous plants, Tradescantia fluminensis and more recently Phytolacca americana stand out. The problem is that “they compete aggressively with the native species for natural resources such as soil, water, and light”. They grow much faster than the autochthonous species and are causing serious imbalances to the point of making some species of fauna and flora disappear altogether.
Nowadays scientists accept that eradicating invasive species is almost impossible; for this reason they are implementing control techniques ranging from pulling up plants by hand to the isolated and individualised application of phytocides.
In the fourth year of this initiative, the researchers are satisfied as they have achieved their conservation objectives and have involved society in the project. In their opinion, it only remains for them to define the financial strategies for the period subsequent to the project more clearly so as to keep up the ongoing work.
The National Forest of Buçaco is threatened not only by exotic species but also by the vandalism or negligence of some visitors; these problems are now being addressed. Another problem is that of the woody remnants that still remain in the forest since the passage of the cyclone Gong in January 2013.
On the other hand, the Life+ BRIGHT project aims to raise awareness and to promote scientific culture with initiatives in which not only the University of Aveiro but also the Fundação Mata do Buçaco and the Câmara Municipal of Mealhada take part. The University and the Fundação are also working on education for sustainability outside the project.