By: Natasha Smith
WITH GROWING concerns about the human impact on the environment in Portugal, conservation associations have stepped up to fight for the land.
The Resident spoke with Nuno Grade, the regional president of Portugal’s largest environmental organisation, Quercus, about the difference it is trying to make and the effect of intense development on the environment.
The Resident: Could you explain what Quercus does?
Nuno Grade: We are a non-profit organisation, with regional offices in most districts of Portugal, our headquarters are in Lisbon. Around 90 per cent of the staff are volunteers. Our role is to raise awareness about conserving the environment and encourage people to recycle.
TR: What is your role?
NG: We offer our opinions from an environmental perspective and show people where the problems are. We run environmental education programmes in schools and organise regular leisure walks in the Algarve. We intervene in environmental situations where one party is unhappy. These are mostly individuals, who have been unsuccessful in determining information about an issue and they come to me and I try to help.
TR: Can you give us an example?
NG: Well, I am currently helping residents in Castro Marim, who came to me with concerns about the business park which is to be constructed there. They were worried about the effect on the environment.
TR: What other projects are you working on?
NG: We have many partnerships with people where we do environmental impact studies and we are currently involved in the master planning document for the Algarve region (PROTAL). We are working to improve and protect the Ria Formosa Nature Park (which runs along the coast from Ancão to the Spanish border).
TR: Do you work with other environmental agencies?
NG: Sometimes. We have worked with Greenpeace in the past to stop the importation of wood from a company in Indonesia. The company was accused of massive deforestation and infringing the human rights of its staff.
TR: Where do you think are the problem areas in the Algarve?
NG: The coast. There is a severe fragmentation of natural land. Some areas have been irreparably damaged, for example Quarteira. Public spaces are areas of concrete with a couple of trees. This is not a green area. Armação de Pêra is the same. On the other hand, there are developments like Quinta do Lago, where it appears to be a massive green area with houses in it. It is well managed and this model has not been replicated anywhere else in my opinion. Conservation is mostly not compatible with construction.
TR: Do you feel that construction companies should have an environmental conscience?
NG: In some ways, yes. Ultimately, the responsibility is with the câmaras who are approving projects. It has improved slightly. We were approached to submit an environmental impact survey about the future motor racing track in Portimão. We did this and offered our suggestions for minimising the degradation of the surrounding land, as well as highlighting the biggest problem areas.
TR: What can people do to safeguard the environment?
NG: There are many things people can do. It is harder to fight something as an individual rather than as a group of people. We need more people participating in the organisation. Together, we will have a louder voice and besides, there would be no organisation without people.
TR: Where do you think is the most beautiful place in the Algarve?
NG: Oh, that is hard. Can I have three? The Ria Formosa, between Faro and Olhão, is so beautiful and natural. Serra do Caldeirão in Loulé is very interesting and is so full of life. The views are fantastic. And I love Sagres as well, with the huge cliffs and impressive views. They are all great places to wander around in and they have not been spoiled.