MdD - Fire Prevention Campaign
The Luck of the Draw~
We are thankful to tell you that we made it through last year without any damage from the fires that ripped through Central Portugal in the summer and fall. The fires destroyed more than half a million hectares of forest, agricultural lands, monocultures, 850 houses and 450 businesses...and left 104 people dead. It was really just luck that no fires made it to our part of the Dão valley this year. Some of you might remember the MdD had fires on its 'doorstep' in the past. It can happen anywhere. Many friends and colleagues were not as lucky—they lost their livelihood, homes and the forest around them.
Everybody in Portugal knows this was a man-made disaster that has been in the making for many years. The combination of factors such as inadequate property laws, short-term-gain mindset, cultural disconnection from nature and climate change has proven to be very dangerous. Portugal, as well as the Moinhos do Dão, need all the help they can get to stay green and safe. At our quinta we have always been active with fire prevention and safety measures by cleaning the lands around us and having extra pumps and hoses installed. As conditions change, with more hectares of highly flammable eucalyptus and pine plantations around us and a hotter and drier climate, we need to do more.
This campaign is not just about safeguarding the quinta—as important, it is to protect the ecosystem we are in. In recent years, our stretch of the Dão valley has become an important nature habitat teeming with wildlife. Especially right now, after the fires burned other valleys and forests nearby, we observe new and more animals in the valley, seeking shelter, seeking life. Because of this rich and growing "nature reserve" that the MdD has become by default, we want to do whatever is possible to protect the river valley ecosystem.
Did you know that on and around the quinta, one can observe these species: river otter, red fox, wild boar, badger, water vole, hedgehog, red squirrel, kingfisher, falcon, wood pigeon, Cuckoo bird, Oriole, Cormorant, fire salamander, emerald lizard...and more?!?
Fire Prevention Plan~
Create a larger fire barrier around the main quinta (zone 1), including the restoration of the native (cooler and more humid) ecosystem around the quinta. To make the Moinhos more safe for ourselves and our guests, and so that nature can keep thriving in this piece of 'paradise' in the Dão river valley.
Once a fire has started it needs 2 things to keep going: oxygen and flammable materials. We cannot remove oxygen from the equation, but we can remove flammable materials (cleaning) and make it harder for them to grow back. We will remove the forest understory of dry shrubs and support the remaining and new trees to grow tall and bring back a healthy forest that can keep the hillside cool and retain water in the ground. Our strategy for making it impossible for the dry shrubbery to grow back is: pulling them out root and all (instead of cutting them down), covering the soil with mulch, and planting native trees where needed.
We will do mainly cleaning work along the two access roads (3 and 5 on the map) and cleaning, mulching and planting work on two pieces of land we own on the edge of the quinta (2 and 4 on the map). Once this work is done it will be harder for a fire to reach us. In the other areas that surround the quinta (as you can see on the map) our neighbor is doing cleaning work as well. When our project is completed it will actually be possible to do annual maintenance on all the zones for continual, long lasting fire-prevention.
1. Remove 'fire hazard materials' from all zones on the edge of the quinta (zones 2,3,4 and 5) such as mimosa trees (invasive and highly flammable species), shrubs, brambles and other flammable plant matter.
2. Turn this material into chips/mulch to cover the soil, bring the carbon back into the ground and protect the soil from eroding and drying out. (zones 2 and 4)
3. Plant broad leaf native trees to create a fire brake (cooler and more humid type of forest). (zones 2 and 4)
Practical Planning Calendar:
- February till end of 2018 - reach out to network with the Fire Prevention Campaign
- April till end of June - remove as much flammable materials as possible & chip on site
- October till end of 2018 - continue to remove flammable materials, chip on site and plant broad leaf native trees.
You Can Help in Three Ways~
1. Donate to the Fire Prevention Fund.
The estimated the costs of making Moinhos do Dão more safe from fires are € 4300,-. With our own money and the first donations from family we have collected €1300,-. Thus, our gofundme campaign is setup to raise the final €3000,- necessary to fund the project into reality.
The total estimated costs include:
- € 2600 for hiring a local business with a crew and the right machinery for the cleaning of fire hazard materials from 1.5 hectares of land in zones 2 and 4
- € 450 buying two 'Weed Wrenches' for pulling out shrubs
- € 550 for hiring an industrial chipper
- € 300 for buying trees
- € 400 for feeding the volunteers that will work on this project with us during the year.
Please help us reach our goal to make the Moinhos more safe so nature can keep thriving and people can keep enjoying this little 'paraíso' in the Dão river valley.
ALL LEVELS OF DONATIONS FROM € 5 to € 3000 :-) ARE APPRECIATED!
GIVE TO STAY: In return for donations above € 500 we offer a free stays at the quinta. Contact us for more information.
GIFT FOR THE GIVER:
Donations of € 30 and above will receive an A3 high quality print of our home made 'Summer Fruits' poster (see below). Don't forget to send us your address!
2. Lending a hand
Join the crew for a clean up week in April (14-21) or a clean up and planting week in November (3-10). Enjoy free room and great food at Moinhos do Dão in return for 6-7 hours of group work. Maximum number of participants is 10 and the minimum participation is 3 days.
Volunteers are welcome to stay longer for free before and after the week!
3. Tell a friend of our project and needs.
Maybe he/she is willing to lend a hand!?
2017-the worst fire year in Portuguese history...what's next?
Even though fires have been troubling Portugal for many decades the scale and intensity of the fires of 2017 were 'the next level'. It is heartening to see many new civilian and federal initiatives for reforestation and policy changes, to revive what was lost and try to prevent this from happening again. The severity of the fires and the damage caused have literally and figuratively created space for doing things differently. We are joining in the effort by being pro active in our area. But so much still has to change on the level of lawmaking, economy, culture etc. and this will take time and persistence...in other words: there is a long way to go.
Stay informed about the progress of the Fire Prevention Plan on our website.
Thank you for your help and consideration!!
It has been 8 months (!) since we last posted an update on the Project, but we have not been unproductive! In fact, we made some mini-milestones on the project, and now we want to share the news with you, as the work season comes to close as the heat and dryness starts to settle in, and laws designed to protect the countryside and forest lands from accidents leading to fires, disallow metal tools and machinery in the landscape.
The autumn months of 2018 got started out with a small working group of Steve with his pal Joris from Amsterdam, doing a 2-man cut-down of as many young, invasive mimosas as possible, having some wet days and cooling weather to burn off the wood that was without possibility to repurpose. So what did we do, do with the wood that we could use? After hauling over an amazing number of long, thin mimosa stalks, Joris prepared for us hundreds of stakes for marking and supporting newly planted trees! It is pretty thankless work, that, but we thank Joris nonetheless for every stake made, because it was just a few short weeks later, that they were put to great use. Good thing that guy likes to use a hatchet! Some photos posted.
After this initial and big first step, Freya and Steve managed to plant 30-odd species of native trees in the newly cleaned areas. With hope for good rains and healthy soil, we wished the little trees good luck in their new life, promising to enjoy their shade in the coming years…so grow strong, and fast!
Then in November of 2018, the Moinhos do Dão - Eco Quinta hosted a group of Xerox company workers who sought out a social-cultural-environmental project to volunteer with for a few days, led by a local Tibaldinhoan named Suzanne. Such a great group of people, who really put some heavy hours with the fist stage of a hillside cleaning, and then, a first planting of new trees—oaks mostly—just prior to the arrival of the rainy season. Over 2 days of sun, rain, communal eating and living and good vibes, we had a fantastic experience of this “donation” of time and energy that very much pushed the Campaign forward. Thanks a million Xerox Crew! You are always welcome back to the MdD. Some photos posted.
Come February of 2019, our good friend Piet returned to the MdD for his winter trip, and Piet and Steve proceeded to pick up from the work that Joris and Steve were busy with, because you don’t initially think a small-yet-dense forest of thin mimosas will take so much time to clear out, but once you DO get into that work, the reality shows itself. With as much effort to conserve the cut down wood as possible—which adds another entire layer to the word—not only did these guys do a significant clearing, but managed to store up probably half-a-years worth of firewood. A real nice benefit overall.
Also in February, Freya arranged with a local provider of trees for reforestation—BioLousada—to grant 210 (!) saplings of various native species to the Fire Prevention Campaign. What a luck! So, as a small side project, Freya built up a small tree nursery on the MdD to grow these saplings under a direct care—and watering…—during the coming months, in preparation for a massive planting project to occur in autumn of 2019. 210 trees! Such a great opportunity and donation…we can’t thank BioLousada enough for the assistance.
The following May saw the arrival of Team Wizard (Wietse, Karin, their son Raf…with the addition of Steve to the team), who took up where the Xerox Crew left off, making a SUBSTANTIAL push upward on the hillside, clearing broom like nobody’s business. It surely wasn’t the easiest of tasks—it’s a steep hill!—but getting the time to visit with friends during the work day, was a cooling reward in the hot sun. I’d estimate that we freed up about 7-8 oaks of a decent age, and now they should be able to safely grow into adulthood without worry of fires racing through (that being the main point of the Campaign). Uncovering established trees and giving them the open space to really grow strong and tall is, at least for me, when of the nice rewards to the heavy work. Knowing the a tree has already established roots and is already giving shade to the otherwise dry earth, gives a relaxed feeling because the tree won’t need much more care other than protection from fire, to continue to grow (planting saplings is a chancy endeavor, because besides good soil and weather conditions, there is the need for water during the hot months. Established trees you uncover usually have “tapped” a water resource already, so are likely to survive the dry months on their own—general practice says one needs to water a tree 3-5 years after planting, before they can tap a groundwater resource on their own…so that puts a perspective on what it takes to re-forest a couple of hectares!). Anyway…THANKS Team Wizard! See you soon.
And then Piet returned in May for the spring trip, and he and Steve started up again by self-tasking themselves to “clear the stone hill” that is on the Viseu side of the river, to the MdD. It is always good to have a goal in mind, which keeps a sense of purpose to the grind of the work. And so they did, uncovering this stone hillside, now easily viewed and appreciated from the river, once previously camoaflaged by hundreds of thin mimosas. With success in reaching the goal, the entire Viseu river side property has been now officially cleared of invasive tree species, and awaits the next season—staring in the autumn—for a quick grass clearing and then the autumn-winter tree planting. A big milestone completed after 1 year and lots of effort! Thanks everyone that has contributed to this outcome!
Altogether, it has been a quality 8 months of step-by-step progress toward the ultimate goal of the Fire Prevention Campaign, that is, to create a safer and environmentally healthier landscape around the Moinhos do Dão, through the many efforts and variety of “funding” we get, through the generosity of others. Of whom we hope ALL will come back in short time to see for themselves the outcome of their efforts—as often is the case, work done on the MdD and the Campaign is fully manifests only after a complete season cycle.
And…if there are any out there in the Universe that would like to participate in the MdD Fire Prevention Campaign, as you can see, we’re still a few Euros short of our initial budget. And alternatively, as you may have interpreted from the previous descriptions, hands-on time and energy working on the actual Campaign, is greatly appreciated, and still welcome. Get in touch with us!
All the best,
Steve & Freya
Some may have wondered in the last months: "What happened with the MdD's Fire Prevention Campaign (FPC)?"
The short answer is that a combined summer program where our attentions were put towards the visitors to the MdD, with the Portuguese rules on prohibition of machine use in the High Fire season to prevent forest fires, we at the MdD were essentially on a 4 month pause in our efforts.
But that has changed in the last weeks, and we're back on track to continue with the good work towards establishing a good example of land management and protection and reforesting lands surrounding quintas in Portugal.
At the moment, we're creating "cuts" on certain parts of the properties in order to disable fires from burning through the valley, and protecting any zones in which we'll be replanting forest. It also helps with removing invasive species of trees and brush. Not a small task!
On that note, we've manged to fulfill 60% of our FPC monetary goal so far...which we are proud and thankful for all those that have helped us along. THANK YOU!
As promised, here are a few images from the initial work to prepare our surrounding lands against wildfires and build a more secure quinta down in the Dão river valley.
As you can see, the high-infested river margin strip of land got a "haircut" of major proportions. It might look stripped now, but the goal was to retain some of the mimosa for providing stable river margins against erosion, to provide shade for new trees (to be planted) and to still give the fishermen of the region a cool spot! We managed well to leave the native species and what small tree growth was already happening near the river. Now, there is little likelihood that fires could jump the river via the nearly touching tree tops, and come on the quinta. FYI, in the past, the Viseu side of the Dão is were the most fires start, and after jumping the river, they have come to the "doorstep" of our terrain a few times. Prevention at work!
You'll also find a first stage broom and thorn cutting photo, which is opening up land for our ambitious tree planting project, in order to reduce non-native species and provide a semi-food forest in the future, as well as grazing land for the few sheepherders in the neighborhood. The combination of hardy shade trees bearing nuts of various sorts—some edible—plus the herding, can be all one needs for viable fire-resistant forestry.
There is still more work to do. We move on to a second stage of roadside cleaning, to and from the quinta. Steep hillside work, but it has to be done, considering how though the new laws of Portugal state that public roads need to be cleaned up from flammable brush/trees to up to 10m on each side, YET our camâra (city hall) has decided to NOT clean our roads (though the Moinhos do Dão has now been classified as a terrain that exists in an high danger fire zone...but then again what part of Portugal doesn't?!?).
The story here is really this: Portugal has far too much none-managed lands, abandoned properties and quintas, and flammable forestry projects to take care of in this moment. The civil services are stretched beyond maximum. Though the reality, it does mean that places such as the MdD, that sit far off on the edge of these municipalities, are not seen as a priority.
Thus, we are doing what needs to be done, to make the MdD a safe and pleasant retreat for our family, friends and guests, this year, and years to come.
-Steve & Freya