REVITALIZING SEMI-ARID EXTENSIVE FARMING HABITATS THROUGH THE SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT OF THEIR ASSOCIATED SCRUBS AREAS
Much of Europe’s biodiversity is closely linked to traditional and extensive agricultural practices. Agricultural ecosystems represent 38% of the total area of the Natura 2000 network, most of which has been shaped by extensive farming systems.
A very good example of this type of habitat is the Dehesas/Montados (habitats 6310, 9330, 9430), southwest of the Iberian Peninsula (about 4 million hectares in Spain and Portugal), but also present in Italy. Its conservation status has been repeatedly diagnosed as unfavourable, mainly due to the effects of livestock intensification which is manifested in its ageing forests.
The intensive management practices have profound consequences on the ecological processes that guarantee long-term habitat persistence, tree regeneration is prevented and soil function is depleted. Furthermore, additional factors are nowadays compromising woodland survival, including dissemination of exotic pathogens, increased drought, etc. Together these threats pose a challenge to the management of these systems that could result in dramatic social, economic, landscape and biodiversity consequences.
The Scrub spots are key to the ecological funcionality of these systems and therefore must be part of a sustainable model of habitat management. But also the scrub formations in these systems have a great diversity of flora and fauna.
Health and biodiversity
Numerous species of plants, vertebrates and invertebrates are linked to this habitat, one of the most extensive of those currently declared. Dehesa/Montado systems are part of private or public properties where agroforestry and livestock management are necessary for the maintenance of habitats and associated biodiversity. However, the economic viability of this high nature value farming system is in question, largely due to its low productivity, which favours intensification or abandonment of the land.
Inadequate (semi-intensive) livestock management in recent decades has led to a simplification of the landscape mosaic, as the area traditionally occupied by patches of scrub and bushes has been drastically reduced. This trend is accentuated by the fact that the area of scrubland, including that occupied by the natural regeneration of the forest, which ensures the long-term persistence of the system, is not considered eligible for CAP support.
The LIFE Scrubsnet project is co-financed by the European Union through the LIFE LIFE20 NAT/ES/000978 programme.
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