Framework ATNatureza

Biodiversity strategy with soil enrichment, reforestation, water management and wild herbivores to increase biodiversity

The mission of ATNatureza is to conserve, enhance, know and disseminate the natural heritage of the Northeast of Portugal, through the protection and management of natural areas in the Côa, Águeda and Douro Valleys region. We focus on the management of habitats and species with high conservation value.

The last 20 years have resulted in a private protected areas network, with the Faia Brava Reserve as remarkable stepping stone with the conservation of endangered cliff nesting birds, such as vultures and big eagles. We improve the attractiveness and carrying capacity of our reserves for wildlife, in particular for wild ungulates (roe deer, red deer, wild boar), rabbits and also the wolf. We aim to enhance the biodiversity in our parks.

One of the major bottlenecks in Faia Brava is the very poor acid granite soil, due to centuries of over-exploitation by sheep breeding and systematic burning of fields. The granite soils lack certain trace elements and have very low organic matter %. The last one is so important to absorb the water from rainfall and organic matter prevents that the water in the top soil disappears quickly. Due to the poor soil and the dry summer, many young trees died in our reforestation efforts. Next to forestry, the quality of soils is for a good reason one of the top priorities Worldwide (IPCC).  When you only fence the land and try to avoid fires, based on the idea: let nature do its work, it may take a very long time to restore a living soil with trees as it was centuries ago.

In all our activities, fire prevention is one of our leading guidelines to organize work. Next to daily vigilance in the summer months, we increase forest resilience to fire. Natural grazing by free ranging bovines and horses reduces the vegetable fuel. 

Framework ATNatureza

ATNatureza has developed a framework for nature conservation and rewilding, that incorporates the EU headlines of her biodiversity strategy 2030:

ATN framework

We create a positive cycle: investing in good land management, reforestation, and working with large herbivores, allowing a resilient and living ecosystem to develop. As soon as trees grow higher, the soil recovers and retains more water, better conditions for forest development and ecosystem services such as CO2 sequestration are created. Large herbivores play a crucial role creating a so-called mosaic of open and closed habitats. In Faia Brava we introduced indigenous Portuguese horses in 2008 (the Garrano and Sorreia breeds) and Maronesa cows in 2013. After 10 years of natural grazing in low to medium densities, we observe that trees and bushes reappear; in other words, the so-called mosaic landscape develops. At the same time the landscape becomes more interesting for visitors, who can enjoy grazing wild herds, singing birds in trees, buzzing insects in the meadows and flowing streams. The Coa Valley has so many assets and we are convinced there is future for ecotourism.  

We work on expanding our reserves and create a resilient ecosystem over the whole Coa Valley reaching a scale where ecosystems are resilient and can support human use; with restored soil life, optimal use of water from rainfall, many indigenous trees and meadows full of flowers and insects.  In this way we create optimal conditions for the return of the black vulture, a healthy deer population and rabbit population, creating an attractive perspective for the Iberian wolf and Lynx. Step by step the biodiversity will increase. 

Faia Brava as living laboratory

In our view ATNatureza reserves are living laboratories for testing of innovative nature management strategies and study the restauration of these ecosystems. Only by small experiments and mindful observations, we might get to understand the ecosystem and develop small meaningful interventions to increase the biodiversity. For example, a new approach has to be developed for reforestation. In particular the ‘west bank’ of the Coa river is devastated by human interventions for ages; restoring the nature ecosystem is there really a challenge. An ecological forestry expert, knowing the Faia Brava conditions, recommended that we should first revive the soil at selected spots, before planting young trees for reforestation. So, on the plots where we have sown this autumn a mix of rye and vetch, we will plant next autumn the young trees. In a few fenced plots at a small scale we will sow a mix of rye and vetch. We will realize scattered small plots with indigenous trees. The first years these plots are fence to protect the young trees and in time these plots will expand. 

In former times many young planted trees died; they did not survive the harsh, dry and hot summer conditions. The provision of water in the summer requires an enormous labour force investment. We will try the awarded innovative water boxes in the plots where we plant trees. These boxes are developed for arid areas. 


We also need more data to be able to adjust our reforestry activities. The LandlifeCompany is experienced using modern technology for reforestry and we will use their app and professional GPS devices to collect data. In a mosaic landscape we cannot realize hectares of efficiently planted trees; as the small forest plots will be scattered in the reserve. We will develop a smart implementation strategy, with minimum labour investment and maximum nature impact. 

With our soil management and planting of trees we will sequestrate much CO2. Of course, we would also like to generate some money with CO2 sequestration, also knowing that there are more and more enterprises in Europe willing to pay all the costs involved and willing to pay a price of € 100, - per ton CO2. In this way we also bring nature back in life and in companies and we think it is important to establish these relationships. LandLifeCompany has developed a very interesting business case in Spain, in which big enterprises participate. We will explore the business case in a nature reserve with a mosaic landscape. 

We are also confronted with the limits of large herbivore management. One of the most conspicuous interventions is to alleviate the lack of food and water at the end of the dry and hot summer. In the summer the carrying capacity of the system with regard to large herbivores is in danger. The period of draught is more and more unpredictable i.e. can last only for 2 months or can be 6 months, as we saw in 2017. Due to the shortage of rainfall, almost all the natural ponds and wells were dry and the available food sources became very scarce. With the tractor, we had to collect water from the village to provide water…… We could reduce the herd drastically to be adapted to the worst drought, but then the grazing pressure would be too low to develop the mosaic landscape and reduce the risk of fires. So, we felt obliged to buy straw and hay for the skinny animals. The coming year we will try to produce our own fodder for the hot, dry summer period to feed the herbivores. Naturally we produce these crops in an ecological way. But, when we are able to improve the soil and harvest more water, then the need for extra interventions by people may be much less.

Water is a precious source in Portugal and especially in summertime. From November to April normally there is enough rainfall but most of it disappears via the Coa river to the ocean. The more water is harvested in the soil or catched in ponds, the less extra water provision is needed. Solar artisan wells might play a crucial role to bridge the water gap in summertime. However, also the well might fall dry. Pumping water with solar cells from the Coa river might be an interesting option, only it is difficult to obtain a licence for that in a Natura 2000 area

Sustainable ATNatureza
ATN should generate money to realize a sustainable organization. At the moment we depend too much on projects and that is too risky. Sequestration of CO2 might be a source of income. We would like to interest private companies to compensate their CO2 production with reforestry in our reserves and we aim to bring nature back into companies. With help of private investors, we will expand the nature area.

We will establish relationships with research institutions and universities to better understand what happens in our ecosystem and assess what the impact is of our interventions.  

We will inform you regularly about the progress and results of all these activities. 


Innovative new “Impulse for Reforestation in Reserva Fa…

In November we planted trees in 4 small plots (0,25ha) with state-of-the-art materials and techniques. We hope to establish biodiverse groves of trees that rapidly become living seed banks, also aimin...

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The importance of Micro-mammels in the Rewilding proces…

A team from the University of Aveiro was recently at Faia Brava doing fieldwork related with the project rWILD-COA "Ecological challenges and opportunities in the process of rewilding the Côa Valley...

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Visit Paolo Azevedo, chairman of Sonae

Last week we were delighted and grateful to receive Mr. Paulo Azevedo Chairman of SONAE and Dr. Nuno Ferrand Almeida of CIBIO, at our Faia Brava Reserve. Paolo Azevedo is the chairman of Sonae, a mult...

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