Smash and plough in the western Algarve

By INÊS LOPES – [email protected]

A group of cyclists who enjoy riding in the far western Algarve raised concerns about vast areas of land in the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina (PNSACV) being ploughed up and piles of ruined trees and shrubs left behind.

The group of foreign residents cycles twice weekly covering several nature trails from Vila do Bispo and as far as Vale da Telha.

Clive Goodacre, a gardening specialist who lives in the west Algarve and is part of the cycling group, told the Algarve Resident: “The landscape is characterised by small stunted trees and shrubs, which have struggled for decades to become established and create the sort of microclimate the area badly needs to stabilise the soil and provide a habitat for wildlife.

“Therefore you can imagine our concern when swathes of land were ploughed up alongside many of the trails, but since this mainly affected the Via Algarviana route we just assumed it was to do with making better access and perhaps some fire breaks. But the ploughing went on and on over the winter months. It would be no exaggeration to say hundreds, and possibly thousands, of hectares of land have been cleared.”

Clive said a forested area on the trail south of Arrifana had been razed to such an extent that the group got lost and were unable to pick out landmarks.

“The approach seems to be smash and plough everything flat and leave piles of ruined trees and shrubs behind. The south areas from Vila do Bispo to Amado beach have received similar treatment,” he said.

“I could go on and on detailing areas of destruction. Forget managed nature and grooming to improve the landscape and forget any chance of wildflowers appearing, except those that thrive on cleared ground like Oxalis.”

The group describes the ploughing as a criminal act carried out by people with little understanding of ecology.

José Paulo Fonseca, a supervisor at the PNSACV, told the Algarve Resident: “With summer on the way, rising temperatures and low humidity leading to extensive areas of dry vegetation greatly increase the chance of a fire starting.

“Some of the intervention works carried out in the area, such as ploughing the ground along trails and roads and clearing some areas, are preventive measures against fire. This will also allow improved fire truck access.”

Another measure implemented in the area, and which could explain some of the cleared areas, is the removal of trees to prevent the propagation of plagues. “This practice has been carried out in large areas covered with pine trees to prevent the spreading of the nematode pest.”

José Paulo Fonseca did not rule out the possibility that some of the destruction witnessed by the cyclists could have been the result of criminal activities. “The resources to monitor criminal activity at the natural park, which covers a very large area (more than 74,400 hectares of land), are limited, but when these illegal actions are detected the necessary measures to bring the culprits to justice will be taken,” he concluded.