Bosque das Hortinhas started as an environmental project on the border between Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António which involved recovering a pine grove and creating native Algarvian woodland with cork oak, holm oak and other oak trees. However, the devastating fire that broke out in Tavira in August posed a huge setback to five years of arduous work.
The project’s mentor Rui Horta, a Tavira-based lawyer, refuses to give up and has launched a new campaign entitled ‘Não plante uma árvore, semeie uma bolota’ (Do not plant a tree, sow an acorn) which anyone can join.
The land – an eight-hectare plot set between two hills – was purchased by Horta around five years ago.
“I negotiated with the owner, a local man whose children were not interested in using the land, so I bought it,” he told Barlavento newspaper, adding that his goal was to turn the pine grove into a patch of “Algarvian woodland”.
“We removed some shrubs and rockroses, we thinned some of the pines and pruned many others. Then we started planting many kinds of oaks, cork oaks, evergreen oaks, Portuguese oaks, ‘choupos’ (silver poplar),” he said, adding that all species planted were native species.
“We opened up a well and made small ponds which didn’t exist, because the Algarve mountains are dry and very hot in the summer. They have attracted many species of mammals, amphibians and birds,” Horta told the paper.
The goal of the initiative is not to make money, he said, but to leave it to his family and become a testament to how nature should and can be in the Algarve.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has halted some of our progress because, in the last three years, several field trips took place, and others were planned, from several schools in the region,” he said.
Another major setback to the project was last August’s wildfire, which Horta described as a “catastrophe”, “a disaster”.
“According to the cameras I installed, just the temperature alone burned a lot (of flora),” he said. “The land was not sterile because, to have an ecosystem that is as natural as possible, you need some grass, which at the time was 20 to 30 centimetres high, and some shrubs. It was all very well-cleaned, but still, it fed the fire which was pushed by the wind and burned kilometres of watering tubes, and over 2,000 small trees planted in the last five years, from young cork oaks to evergreen oaks and strawberry trees,” he said.
All in all, Horta estimates that the flames consumed 70% of what had been planted in the last five years.
The aftermath of the fire brought forth a lot of despair and tears.
“I knew the trees one by one; I could almost call them by their names. To see everything burning and not be able to do anything is a horrible feeling of hopelessness. I went home defeated that day. I returned the next morning and it was still burning. The smell was unbearable. I started the electric reinstallation to be able to pump water from the well and water the remaining trees which had the largest odds of surviving,” he said.
Despite the setbacks, Horta never considered giving up, and he hopes that his work may inspire others.
“The idea is that someone can replicate the feeling I have about this and multiply it, either within or outside of their family. We had a series of trees that had been planted by children, with their names and the date they had been planted signalled on a plaque. Many returned to visit them some time after. A lot of them burned, but we will be replacing them, and I hope those children and others will return here to plant them again.”
Sanctuary for wildlife
Bosque das Hortinhas – a hunting-free area – has become a sanctuary for a wide range of wildlife, from foxes and wild boars to birds of prey.
“We have resident crows, which bred at a nearby tree and feed here frequently. We also have several feeding points for birds,” Horta concluded.
For more information about Bosque das Hortinhas or to sign up to help, visit ‘Bosque das Hortinhas’ on Facebook or contact [email protected]
Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper.
Photos: BRUNO FILIPE PIRES/OPEN MEDIA GROUP