ScrubsNet kicks off!
LIFE ScrubsNet project will focus on the regeneration and improvement of dehesas – and their associated wild species – through the appropriate management of scrubland/shrub areas, as an essential element for the conservation of the ecosystem as a whole. This project is co-funded by the European Union through the LIFE programme LIFE20 NAT/ES/000978.
The project proposes the experimental development of a scrubland mosaic management model to promote the environmental and economic sustainability of the habitat, offering landowners a differentiated management alternative where natural capital is at the heart of the system.
The ultimate goal is to reconcile agricultural and conservation policies for these habitats in such a way that economic profitability is compatible with long-term survival.
Colaboración entre entidades comprometidas
The LIFE ScrubsNet project partners are 11 entities from Spain, Italy and Portugal, which work directly in sustainability, research and innovation applied to different ecosystems in southern Europe.
Innogestiona Ambiental is the coordinator of this project, has just started, and will last for at least 5 years.
- Extremadura Verde
- Direccion General de Sostenibilidad, Junta de Extremadura
- Instituto de Recursos Naturales y Agrobiología de Sevilla – Agencia Estatal CSIC
- Ayuntamiento de Plasencia
- Sociedad Española de Ornitología, SEO – Birdlife
- Grupo Ecohábitat Ibérico
- Universidad de Córdoba
- Universidad de Extremadura
- Innogestiona – coordinating partner
- Agris Sardegna
- University of Évora
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.
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 the 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.
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.
Shrubs and bushes, key to ecosystem health
One of the key elements for the conservation and good health of the dehesas are the scrubs. However, these elements has been reviled in the management of these systems for a long time, which results in a simplification of the habitat, the appearance of diseases and plagues and the consequent loss of biodiversity.
Dehesas are ecosystems of great ecological value that harbour a wide variety of animal species. They provide habitats to outstanding biodiversity, including the endangered Iberian Lynx, the Spanish Imperial Eagle and many other remarkable species. Structurally diverse scrub plays an important role diversifying the landscape and creating habitat for many species that rely on scrub for breeding, feeding, basking roosting and hibernating. Scrubs provide refuge for a range of vertebrates and nesting opportunities for birds. It can provide basking spots for reptiles as well as important over-wintering sites both for amphibians and reptiles. Other crucial ecosystem functions are favored by scrub layer including the contribution to the stability and function of the soil or the control of pests and diseases, among other socioeconomic and environmental benefits.
ScrubsNet, a scrubland-specific project
Diversity of scrub species are one of the main factors constituting a forage reserve for livestock in the least favorable years. Furthermore, scrubs diversity is one of the main factors determining the structure and composition of soil microorganisms, that directly affects plant health. This project wants to recover the culture of scrubs in the dehesas, and with it the protection of the habitat and its species in addition to directly influencing the capture of CO2. The scrub spots are key to the ecological functionality 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.
These more intensive management practices have profound consequences on ecological processes, which ensure the long-term persistence of the habitat, prevent tree regeneration and deplete soil function. In addition, there are nowadays additional factors that jeopardise the survival of forests, such as the spread of exotic pathogens, increased drought, etc.
All these threats together pose a challenge for the management of these systems that could have dramatic social, economic, landscape and biodiversity consequences.