Project
Restore Nature in Southern Portugal

The Restore Nature Foundation (https://restorenaturefoundation.org/) has a mission to restore natural ecosystems. Currently we are carrying out this mission in Southern Portugal, one of the driest places of Europe and its frontline of desertification and climate change effects. We operate on Vinha Velha, an organic farm and surrounding projects. We support landowners in their reforestation actions and organize strategic natural interventions in collaboration with experts while building a strong regional community.

1: Background
Hubert founded Vinha Velha 40 years ago to put his agricultural expertise into practice. He had a holistic vision to restore nature by diversifying the tree-, plant- and animal populations and farm in an organic and self-sufficient way. Back then, the 140 acres of land were infertile and there was no electricity or running water; everything had to be built up from scratch. First, the land was systematically reforested in order to stop erosion, while creating lakes to save the winter’s rainfall for the dry summer months. The water supply provided the farm with a source of life: vegetable gardens and animals were introduced to lay down the basic fundamentals of the farm.

2: Current farm profile
Years of hard work and cooperation resulted in built up organic agriculture with vegetable gardens, fruit trees, cows, chickens, sheep, donkeys and bees. Thousands of trees have been planted over the years to stop erosion and to rebuild ecosystems. 5 lakes provide a sustainable source of water for the farm. A nearby wind park supplies the community that lives on the farm with green energy. Small-scale eco-tourism has been introduced to offer people an opportunity to experience farm life in the Algarve and learn more about nature and how to cooperate with her.

2.1: Sustainable forest management
The forest make up for the vast majority of the land. This make it an enormous task to maintain and help nature to get to the next stages of the cycli. This is why we as the Restore Nature Foundation collaborate with Vinha Velha to maintain the forests in a sustainable way and help nature thrive. Our mission is to restore natural ecosystems. We organize strategic natural interventions in collaboration with experts while building a strong community. And in the long run we want to teach the kids about natural ecosystems.

One of the aims of the forest management at Vinha Velha is diversification to restore the natural ecosystems. Reducing fire risk is another important aspect given the dry conditions in the Algarve that makes the area vulnerable for bush fires.

Tree population on Vinha Velha
Hubert set up multiple tree planting projects spread over 30 years. This resulted in a current tree population of over 80.000 at Vinha Velha. They have helped to stop the land from eroding and to lay the fundamentals to restore natural ecosystems. Trees have a wide range of functions in natural ecosystems. One of the most important functions of trees is their ability to store water and reinforce the soil- protecting it from erosion. Trees also provide shade, shelter and healthy conditions for animals and smaller plants to grow. Planting trees and sustainable forest management is therefore the first vital step in restoring natural ecosystems, in order to lay the fundamentals for other plants and animals to return and thrive.

Challenges: on going drought in the Algarve- water scarcity and risk of bushfires
The threat of bushfires is a serious danger to the forests and nature in general in the area. The recent bushfire that started on June 20th 2020 kept the area in its grip for several days and made quite an impact in the landscape. Many areas were burned; many people lost their houses and the landscape was left severely damaged. The fire reached the neighbouring land of Vinha Velha but because of the enormous efforts of firemen from the air and on the ground, the fire did not harm Vinha Velha.
These raging fires are an alarming signal that nature is out of balance. Now more then ever we have to think of ways how to restore natural balance and think of long-term solutions.
Water scarcity makes it difficult for nature to thrive and this has affected a lot of trees. Mainly the higher areas, which are more exposed to the sun and wind and further away from natural water lines, have been affected. In these areas, the level of erosion was also the most extreme. As a result some trees have been stagnated in their growth or even died.

Solutions Restore Nature Foundation
We believe the solutions to the challenges posed by the drought in the South of Portugal lie in designing the landscape by diversifying nature to restore natural ecosystems and reducing the fire risk with natural solutions. We believe that working together as a community and collaborating with expert parties experienced in restoring nature is will get us further. That is why we are setting up a crowd funding campaign (more on this later) to be independent from governmental support that fund monoculture plans.

Restoring nature on a bigger scale
Now that the area is severely damaged by the recent bushfire, we feel the calling to help restoring the area that was affected and form collaborations to work on a long- term plan. This could be a huge opportunity to redesign the landscape in a more naturally diverse and safe way. And at the same time empower the community and other people that want to give back to nature.
The supporting response of the community after the recent fire is incredible and could be the driving force to let nature rise out of the ashes stronger then ever before. After helping affected people get back on their feet we want to be part of designing a long-term plan to restore nature. We already started here at Vinha Velha and want to help others in doing so as well.

2.2: Food production and restoring the soil
The farm produces food to provide for local communities.
Since 2017, Vinha Velha has been collaborating with ‘Sementas Vivas’, a certified organic seed production company in Portugal. Vinha Velha produces seeds for this company and supports their vision. The output of the farm is twofold: producing organic products and the various restorative effects it has on nature.

Vegetable gardens
Vinha Velha uses 2 acres of land for vegetable and fruit production, divided over 4 spaces on the land.
Products: a big variety of vegetables and fruits all year long
Function: restoring the soil by regenerative farming; no use of chemicals and a balanced plan to make the soil healthier every year through fertilizing and diverse production. Every year new pieces of land are incorporated for the purpose of growing vegetables.

Animals
2-3 acres of land are being used for keeping animals: 3 cows, 85 chickens, 34 sheep, 2 donkeys, bee colonies and 1 pig.
Products: milk products, eggs, honey and medicinal products.
Function: maintaining large areas of land by grazing, providing valuable poop for compost to fertilize the soil. The bees play an essential role in agriculture, pollinating the vegetable plants through the flowers.

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2.3: Tourism and education

Vinha Velha uses tourism not only to generate income but also the plant seeds of awareness. People can experience farm life and in addition they can learn about various aspects of nature, sustainable food production and alternative ways of living.

The touristic aspect of Vinha Velha is threefold:
1: Rustic sleeping possibilities on various locations on the land.
2: The café and shop on the farm with local products and cooked meals.
3: Educational tours to learn about ways to work and live together with nature are organized on the farm in cooperation with Tours that Matter.

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3: A new impulse to restore nature

In corporation with r regional and international partners, a new plan has arisen to take new steps in the restoration of nature on the farm. This plan entails:

  • Planting more trees and plants that will speed up the diversification process and reduce the risk of fire
    
    • New water collection possibilities
      
      • Restoring the bee population
        
        • Starting up educational program focussing on 1) tours that create awareness about living and working together with nature; 2) work together with local schools to teach kids about nature and involve them in tree planting projects.
          

As a kick-start to this plan we are preparing planting and maintenance actions in the fall of this year when more rain is expected. The planting will focus on mixing in more (native) tree and plant species in order to create more biodiversity and speed up the process of natural succession. Covering the ground with organic material from pruning is another important aspect. This will create a layer of natural biomass and a better environment for other plants to grow.
In collaboration with experts, the locations for the tree planting and the selection of adequate tree species will be chosen with care, with the long-term vision of restoring ecosystems in mind. The planting events will be recorded on video in order to give insight in the process. Analyses of the progress of the growth of the planted trees and other the restoration of nature in general will be documented.

Help us helping nature!

We are currently setting up a crowd funding campaign to be able to be independent from governmental support. Furthermore, we are working with companies that are open for change in their way of running a business by giving back to nature and act more responsibly with regards to our planet. This new project can serve as starting point to redefine the models we live in and explore more circular ideas. Many companies want to start a transformation of their business to act more responsibly and supporting projects like this could be a major step towards positive system change.

Please contact us for more information of if you want to support us in our mission.