The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprises a precious, varied and unique natural heritage that is threatened by the dramatic proliferation of invasive exotic species and the consequent loss of biodiversity, habitats and landscapes. Natural disturbance and urban pressure accelerate this process and increase the risk of fire. The generalised absence of natural regeneration aggravates the scenario of ecological degradation and undermines any expectations of natural regeneration.
A set of four ecologically degraded priority-intervention areas have been identified as requiring and being suitable for full-scale ecological and native forest restoration. Interventions in these pilot areas will take place through a volunteer programme engaging various categories of volunteers.
In the Peninha (3.7 ha) and Monge (6.5 ha) plots, the intervention is required due to a severe wind storm that resulted in a loss of native vegetation and its replacement with alien species (Acacia spp. and Pittosporum spp.), affecting two important biodiversity hotspots. In the Peninha plot, there are the unique conditions necessary for the preservation of an important set of species that characterize the flora and fauna of the park. In the Monge plot, a riparian zone was completely lost. Regarding the Estrada da Serra (9.7 ha) and Azóia (1.0 ha) plots, the intervention is required due to the critical loss of biodiversity that has long been occurring through the replacement of native vegetation by alien species, thus turning the area into a “green desert”. In the Azóia plot, the entire area was occupied by a dense patch of alien species (Acacia spp., Pittosporum spp. and Arundo donax, dramatically increasing the risk of fire. The Estrada da Serra plot, together with other plots managed by other entities, are serving as a front line in controlling the progress of alien species within the Pedra Amarela forestall perimeter. This plot also includes the restoration of a riparian zone.
In all plots the set of actions will necessarily include identification of invasive exotic species and application of appropriate techniques for their control, identification and protection of biodiversity hotspots, complementing of natural regeneration through plantations, restoration of watercourses and riparian zones through natural engineering techniques, assessment of survival rates of planted species and levels of control of invasive exotic species, implementation of maintenance plans and fire protection actions.
These actions are to be developed until a mature native forest is obtained, accounting for the slow growth rates of most of the native species, the low levels of spontaneous natural regeneration, the fire risk and the threat of invasive exotic species. These plots are also pilot areas in a larger scenario, in which the dimensions of the plots can be enlarged, or the model can be replicated to other areas, as happened with the Monge plot, where the intervention started later.
All the interventions are being undertaken through a volunteer programme involving various categories of volunteers, including individual citizens, schools, social institutions and companies, in order to prove that valid and tangible results can be achieved through involving local communities in the safeguarding of their natural heritage.
Volunteers are provided with training appropriate to the volunteer category and the works to be undertaken and are supplied with the necessary tools and technical orientation during the interventions. Volunteers with regular involvement in the initiatives can progressively become operational or executive coordinators during the interventions and in the overall project. They may also ultimately be incorporated into the staff team, especially if they are unemployed.
A more professional volunteer programme is also being developed in 2018 as part of the European Solidarity Corps programme. This will enable the creation of a more professionally-trained volunteer team and a longer-term experience and engagement in the field, which will in turn give rise to greater results and will provide a valuable set of skills to the volunteers. The volunteers will thus become better adapted for professional contexts, since the program will target volunteers that are neither studying nor working.
Finally, all works are being planned in close cooperation with the Instituto de Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (the national authority for nature conservation and forests), Parques de Sintra e Monte da Lua (the public company responsible for managing the sites) and the Câmara Municipal de Sintra (the local municipality).