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February 2019
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SPEA is an Environmental not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support research and conservation of wild birds and their habitats, by promoting sustainable development for the benefit of future generations.
Home  > Participate > Campaigns > International Year of Forests > The portuguese forest

The portuguese forest
The Portuguese Forest

SPEA has acted continuously for the protection and enhancement of forests, for its birds and more generally for its biodiversity. The work developed in the Azores for the protection and recuperation of the native forest (LIFE Priolo project, Priolo Environmental Centre, LIFE Sustainable Laurissilva project) is one of the biggest examples of the actions of SPEA. We are also involved in the promotion of corks and cork oak forests, in the development of standards for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification in Portugal, we are part of the Association for Responsible Forestry Management, we annually monitor the biodiversity of Portuguese forests with the Common Bird Survey and the Index of Common Birds of Forest Areas, we fight for a sustainable management of hunting and on innumerable occasions we defend investment in forest-environment measures within rural development programs.

The 10 commandments of friends of the forests

1 -  Do not drop cigarette stubs in woods, forests or on roadsides;
2 – Only light fires in appropriate places (e.g. picnic areas with barbecue facilities)
3 -  Do not plant trees unless you are certain that they make up part of the native forest of the area;
4 – Participate in re-forestation campaigns that plant species appropriate to the location; 
5 – Do not drop litter in the woods and forests when walking;
6 – If you see smoke or any sign of fire call the authorities immediately
7 – Do not pick flowers or remove trees from the forests and do not transplant them in other places
8 – If you own any woods or forests keep them clean to prevent fires
9 – When you buy objects made of wood make sure they are made from trees planted for that purpose
10 – When you buy furniture make sure it is not made from a species or forest that is endangered, and preferably buy that which is produce in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Principal threats to the Portuguese forests

More than half of the original forest of our planet has already been destroyed. There are many causes, but the ones that stand out are those caused by humans - such as fires, clearing for plantations and building towns, pests and diseases and also the introduction of species from different habitats (so called invasive species). Air pollution and climate alterations also affect the disappearance of forests, causing droughts and so increasing the chances of fire. Predictions of future conditions are not hopeful, indicating both periods of drought with high temperatures, and an increase in the frequency of storms and periods of heavy rain.

The economic value of Forests

Forests are a source of wealth that, if well managed, is inexhaustible. They supply many products including wood for furniture and paper, charcoal, cork, resin, mushrooms, berries and honey. Further, the forests protect against soil erosion, store carbon, purify the air and water, and regulate the hydrological systems through control of river flow.  

Ecotourism is also a strongly growing economic activity. Activities such as birdwatching and hiking are synonymous with enjoyable times spent in harmony with nature and show the compatibility between conservation and tourism. 

Area of forestry by dominant tree species

Dominant specie
Area (x1000) ha
Pinus pinaster Maritime Pine 
Quercus suber Cork Oak
Quercus ilex Holm Oak 
Quercus spp Other Oak 
Pinus pinea Stone pine 
Castanea sativa Chestnut
Other broadleaf 
Other conifers
3 201

The importance of the Montado

Montados and forests of cork oak, holm oak and other oaks of Continental Portugal are sources of biodiversity. They are habitats that are subject to a varying degree of human intervention, from cork extraction to multi-use forestry of cattle, bee keeping, hunting and tourism. They are an archetypal example of forestry exploitation that is multi-use and sustainable, and is of great importance in socio-economic, cultural and ecological terms. The ecological importance comes from the function of these forests as barriers against soil desertification and against forest fires. 

More than 700 species of plants have been catalogued in the oak forests, including Iberian endemics such as the Broteroi Peony (Paeonia broteroi) and Iberian Lavender (Lanvadula luisieri). 24 species of reptiles and amphibians can be found here, and 160 species of birds including over 100 that breed here. There are also 37 species of mammals, including the European Wild Cat (Felix sylvestris) that is threatened with extinction throughout Europe, and the Cabrera’s Vole (Microtus cabrerae) and the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardina), both of which are endemic to Iberia. The Lynx is truly the most threatened feline species in the world with fewer than 120 individuals to be found in Portugal and Spain. 

Birds are precise indicators of the condition of the environment in habitats and ecosystems because they occupy the top of the food chain, are highly conspicuous and occur over vast areas. Species threatened with extinction occur in these forest habitats, including Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) and Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus). There are also rare species such as Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus), Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) and Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis). But above all, you can observe dozens of common species (diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey, partridges, Hoopoes, Bee Eaters, woodpeckers, larks, shrikes, starlings, jays, magpies, Bullfinch, Robins, Blackbirds, warblers, tits, treecreepers, sparrows, Chaffinch and Yellowhammers), which are indicators of the healthy environment of the Montados and Cork Oak forests. 

The Laurissilva of Madeira, a unique biodiversity

Laurissilva is the name given to a type of humid sub-tropical forest that is mainly composed of trees of the Lauraceae family, such as Azores Laurel (Laurus novocanariensis), Persea indica, Ocotea foetens and Canary Laurel (Apollonias barbujana).

This area of Laurissilva covers 15,000 hectares. It is the most extensive and best-conserved forest on the Macaronesian archipelagos and is considered to be a relic of the sub-tropical forest that formerly covered southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Owing to its unique characteristics it was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. This multi-layered forest includes large trees, but also a rich and diverse flora of exuberant ferns, mosses, lichens and other small plants which occupy different ecological niches. 

The composition of its fauna is particularly rich in both vertebrates and invertebrates, including two rare species of bat and two endemic bird species, the Madeira Laurel Pigeon (Columba trocaz) and the Madeira Firecrest (Regulus madeirensis ). The invertebrates of the Laurissilva, though discrete, are numerous and include over 500 species of molluscs, arachnids and insects. 

 Photos: Cork © Simon Wates; Montado © SEO - Birdlife; Laurissilva of Madeira © Cátia Gouveia

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