Thursday, 08 September 2016 13:32

The article published in Wilder - Wilder Series on Forest Carers

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

The article published in Wilder - Wilder Series on Forest Carers - about the LIFE Taxus Project - Restoring Yew forests.

During this critical season for forests, marked by fires, we are not going to talk about burnt area nor will we try to explain the causes of this disaster. Instead, we want to show you Portuguese people who are caring for forests all year round. In this series, we will be talking with the leaders of some of the best projects in fire prevention and in enriching forests, and we will also here stories from citiziens who rolled up their sleeves to take care of trees. These are the Forest Carers.


It is in the Serra da Estrela and Gerês mountains were the last surviving Yew trees in Continental Portugal can be found, the oldest native trees of Europe. This team is planting thousands of new trees and is preparing these forests to the arrival of the fire.

Forest fires are one of the largest threats to the Yew (Taxus baccata), a tree which can survive up to 2,000 years and which was in the past abundant in Portugal. Nowadays it survives in the Gerês and Serra da Estrela mountains.

 “In 2005, a fire destroyed 79% of the largest nucleus of yew trees in Serra da Estrela” tell us Isabel Garcia-Cabral, the coordinator of Project LIFE Taxys – Restoring Yew forests (July 2013 to December 2016), under the responsibility of Quercus – the National Association for the Conservation of Nature – and cofinanced by the LIFE Nature Programme of the European Commission. For this reason, fire prevention is at the heart of the initiative, which is underway in 50 hectares of the Peneda-Gerês National Park (in the Gerês Mountain) and 15 hectares in the Serra da Estrela National Park (in the Zêzere River valley close to Manteigas).

 On the ground is the project team, made up by two people, in close collaboration with the forest firefighters and the Institute of Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF).

 Most of the naturally occuring yew trees in Portugal are found in Gerês. “These trees grow close to watercourses, in valleys. They need shade and damp soil”, explains Isabel Garcia-Cabral. Here in the Gerês mountain, the project is maintaining and improving yew habitat in 50 hectares, in public land under the ownership of the Institute of Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF). It is a management that aims to make these forests more resilient to fires. “We have been carrying out fire prevention actions, such as clearing combustible material and opening up fire-fighting tracks”, tells us the coordinator.

In Serra da Estreka there are fewer yew trees.  “These trees are isolated, almost extinct” tells us Isabel Garcia-Cabral. “The occur in a zone that is strongly affected by fires, Here we carry selective management of brush, in order to reduce fuel load, and an edge was planted around the yew thickets, to efend them from fire.

“As long as comubstible material is cleard and regular maintenance is carried in the forest, providing easy access, the fire does not spread as much and it is easier to deal with”, adds the LIFE Taxus coordinator.

 In this mountain the strategy goes a bit further then in the Gerês, “We selected 15 hectares to manage, to recover existing yew trees, but that's not all. We want to increase the area of occupancy of these yew thickets”, she adds. Until now 15,000 trees have already been planted in the 15 hectares, common land under the management of the forest firefighters.

 “Of these 15,000 trees, 40% are yew trees and the remaining 60% are companion species such as Common holly, pyrenean oak, pedunculate oak and rowan.” According to Isabel, these companion species support the yew trees, especially when they are young and very sensitive. “These species make up yew thickets and provide shaded and damp conditions that yews trees need to grow.”


“All of the planted trees come from seeds collected in Serra da Estrela and raised in the ICNF Malcata tree nursery, in Sabugal. We want to, at least, help Yews not to go extinc by increasing the numbert of plants in Serra da Estrela and by keeping the ones in Gerês.”

 In the end of June during this year, the technical team monitors the planted trees. “The percentage loss of yew trees is very low, less then 10%”, said Isabel.

 Helping a tree is essential, since yews have a very slow growth. “A yew plant can take up to 50 years to become an adult tree”, said Isabel, who knows about a yew tree in Serra da Estrela “who was close to 70 years old”. This is way, “when there are few plants, natural regeneration is very low”. And if to this we add fires, shepherding, forest misuse and climate change the scenario is the not optimistic.

 The fires in the last days have not reached the Serra da Estrela project's area, said Isabel. There isn't any information yet on the Gerês.

Read 11350 times Last modified on Monday, 12 September 2016 15:17


Associação Nacional de Conservação da Natureza


LIFE12 NAT/PT/000950