A lucky few environmentally-interested people, families and school kids got the full benefit of a fascinating, new Erasmus+ student project last Saturday that has been based in Aljezur for the last two weeks and promises to become something of a regular fixture in winter, early summer and autumn.
The project called Student Projects+ is led by University of Lisbon, supervised in Portugal by Prof. Nuno Pimentel, geologist from the Faculdade de Ciências of the University of Lisbon, and hosted by CERES based in Aljezur.
The project brings together students and researchers from across Europe to help protect, conserve and make sense of the natural world. This novel interdisciplinary approach builds strongly on the engagement and inclusion of local stakeholders and NGOs in the project process.
The idea is to map out the local coastal areas, woodlands and rivers in terms of aquatic and terrestrial animal and plant biodiversity, investigate its geology and socio-economic challenges and come up with data that will “help protect, conserve and make sense of the natural world”.
The approach ensures solution-oriented research, transferable knowledge and implementation of new scientific evidence in management practice.
Saturday’s walk was designed to discuss the biodiversity of the river; how it is being compromised, and how it could be improved.
For the students from northern Europe, the intermittent nature of the river – the fact that it dries out during the summer months – was a novelty and they encountered some interesting wildlife.
The species include the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), soprano pipistrelle bats (Pipstrellus pygmaeus – which actually uses the giant reed for cover), the Arade chub (Squalius aradensis, a fish), the Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) and the Spanish pond turtle (Mauremys leprosa).
The students also discussed the pros and cons of the giant reed (Arundo donax) and how traditionally giant reed was used for guttering in agriculture, for lining roofs – even for “making flutes”, which he went on to demonstrate in a way that might not have received much enthusiasm from anyone in the world of music.
This particular student programme involved young people from universities in Ireland (Waterford Institute of Technology), Poland (Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences), the Netherlands (Leiden University) and Italy (University of Bologna).
It brought together students from a wide range of disciplines including natural sciences, arts, humanities and business.
The programme was led by Professor Peter van Bodegom and Dr Emily Strange, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, both internationally recognised experts for conservation biology and the mutual dependencies between nature and society.
For Aljezur, it was further confirmation that the area, and the wider Costa Vicentina, is a real jewel in the crown of natural biodiversity and deserves all the protection that can possibly be channelled its way.