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How Can We Save Our Forests? Portugal's Experience

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
 There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
 There is society where none intrudes"
Lord George Gordon Byron

Lord Byron wrote his epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimmage while travelling in Portugal, specifically in Monseratte in Sintra near the west coast.

He was inspired by the incredibly beautiful forest encircling landscaped English gardens with a breathtaking variety of plant life. Stemming from the Romantic era in the 1800's, the forest and monuments seem to be a fairytale brought to life.

But the trees are threatened by a very real menace; the corrosive and polluting effects of carbon dioxide from by car exhaust emissions and fossil fuels like oil burned to power electricity supply grids in the area. With 900,000 visitors per year to Monserrate, this is no small threat. If this magically beautiful area is to be saved, some serious and practical measures will have to be taken.

A new project called BIO Sintra that is funded by the European Commission's LIFE+ programme aims to do just that - to save the area's biodiversity from pollution. Its initiatives could well be replicated in other countries like Cyprus, which also has forests that are threatened by human activities.

water lillies sintra portugalThe project's specific aim is to reduce CO2 in the area by 19,293 tons per year. The way they plan to do that is to encourage visitors to walk to the park through paths rather than taking their cars, and invite them to take their own action to reduce their carbon footprint. It's estimated that for each 2839 cars and 302 trucks that enter the area, 2000 tons of CO2 are produced per week.

BIO Project Manager Maria Inês Moreira knows exactly how many cars pass by Monserrate because they have installed a mechanism that registers each vehicle. This very specific approach to monitoring helps her to make realistic targets.

But the team cannot do it alone, and have decided to enlist the public's help. Methods to persuade people to help save the forest include reaching out to schools because young people tend to be supportive of environmental protection initiatives.

Another idea is to offer PDAs to visitors which will explain each type of tree and plant when they go around the park.

During visits to Monserrate, BIO's staff also get people directly involved by asking them to help put up bird nesting boxes in trees, or offering their ideas on how to help preserve different plant or animal species.

The poets and writers of the 18th century were certainly idealists who prized beauty and nature above industry and urbanisation. But looking at the effects of pollution on our environment, it could also be said that they were prophets who foresaw the dangers of ignoring the balance between human activity and the natural world around us.

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This was a special report made possible by the European Journalism Centre and sponsored by the European Commission. Photos by Sarah Fenwick.


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