Not even the rain was enough to damper the excitement of hundreds of schoolchildren who took part in a reforestation initiative in the fire-ravaged borough of Monchique on Friday, May 10.
The event was part of a joint campaign involving Forum Algarve shopping centre in Faro, Monchique council and the association of forest producers from the Western Algarve (ASPAFLOBAL).
During the holiday season, the ice rink that was set up at Forum Algarve raised €38,000 for the reforestation initiative, a sum 21% higher than that raised in previous years.
Sérgio Santos, director of Forum Algarve, said that the event was “special” not only for the shopping centre but also for every one of its visitors who “helped kickstart reforestation initiatives” in Monchique, often dubbed the “lung of the Algarve”.
“It showed that everyone can make a difference through a small gesture and help make this planet a more sustainable place for future generations,” he told Barlavento newspaper. Santos also promised that this was one of many initiatives to be carried out by the shopping centre.
Also in attendance was Monchique mayor Rui André who thanked Forum Algarve for helping rekindle the local community’s hope in a brighter future.
As he pointed out, “there is still a lot to do and we have to set the example”.
This particular reforestation initiative took place in a plot of land near the old sawmill at the entrance of the village and “many others are in the pipeline”, said the mayor.
Tree species planted on the day included cork oaks, chestnut trees and strawberry trees (medronheiro).
Rui André also said that his “promise” to ensure no eucalyptus trees are found around the village and in council-owned plots of land has been fulfilled as he considers them “a risk” and wants to “set an example for private landowners”.
He also revealed that a “long-overdue” forest redevelopment plan for the borough is due to be presented by the end of May.
Meantime, the village continues to recover from one of the worst fires in its history which raged for seven days and destroyed around 27,000 hectares of land.
“We still feel devastated. These kinds of initiatives bring us joy because children from all over the Algarve came here to show us that this is not just a problem in Monchique but in all of Portugal,” said the mayor.
“There is so much work to do, we are exhausted. But we realise that we have a window of opportunity that cannot be lost. A catastrophe destroyed our territory, but now we have an opportunity to correct many aspects and ensure that future generations do not face the same problems as us.”
Time to heal wounds
Aware that last summer’s fires broke open “deep wounds” in the community of Monchique, Secretary of State for Forests and Rural Development Miguel Freitas said that now is the time to start “healing these wounds and look to the future with hope”.
Attending the reforestation event, Freitas also spoke of the importance of the government-imposed land clearance measures, which helped keep many populated areas safe from the flames.
He gave the example of Alferce, which dodged serious damage thanks to efforts to keep the land around the village cleared, and added that a further 1350kms of land is due to be cleared in the Algarve to avoid the spread of wildfires.
The secretary of state also told Barlavento that nearly €2 million of support measures are being paid to farmers in Monchique while the government has received 31 proposals for reforestation initiatives which, said Freitas, will start being carried out in October.
Also in the works is a plan to “change the landscape” around Monchique by choosing tree species that are more resilient, grow slower and are less flammable.
Emídio Vidigal, president of ASPAFLOBAL, praised the reforestation initiative but lamented that the amount of money being made available by the government to each forest producer is “insufficient”.
Photos: BRUNO FILIPE PIRES/OPEN MEDIA GROUP