Wolf and Mossy Earth
It's just over a month ago that our fundraiser, Diana Birnbaum, put us in touch with Matt Davies at Mossy Earth. Diana had met the Mossy Earth team in Portugal a few weeks prior. Everyone saw there was a potential opportunity in exchanging knowledge between our organisations. It was a great idea and we have been getting on brilliantly.
Mossy Earth is a social enterprise that plants trees to help fight climate change and encourage rewilding. Matt explained that some of his organisation's work is planting new forests in areas affected by forest fires but that their main goal is to focus on "ecologically and socio-economically impoverished areas". Their belief that bringing back wildness to these areas will help rural communities flourish economically is what I truly connect with.
So, about these forest fires in Portugal. One of the major causes is that a high proportion of the trees planted in the country are actually invasive species. Eucalyptus, for example, is one of the most profitable trees you could plant for logging since it matures in a fraction of the time of native species. Unfortunately, it is the perfect fire starter. Further, eucalyptus trees have a more acidic pH than native vegetation. This means that native plants find it difficult to grow around them - they are effectively poisoned by the heightened acid levels in the soil, become sick and die off.
A couple of years ago, when I visited the Grupo Lobo Iberian wolf recuperation centre near Mafra, the staff told me that one of the main tasks for volunteers is ridding the wolves' enclosures of eucalyptus because it causes a vicious cycle that is detrimental to native plant and animal species in the area. So, imagine: a native forest is chopped down and a eucalyptus forest is planted in its place. Native plants in the area become sickly and begin to disappear. Animals who eat these plants migrate away or die off. The same for the animals that feed on those lower down in the food chain. And so on.
The end result is silence. And then more fires.
Portugal recorded the highest annual number of forest fires in southern Europe between 1993 and 2013 (European Environment Agency).
2017 was a terrible year. In June at least 66 people died and 204 were injured while 44,969 hectares of land was burned in a severe breakout of wildfires. Three national days of mourning followed. In October, a further 45 people were killed by wildfires in the north of Portugal and 4 across the border in Northwestern Spain.
Yes, there was a heatwave. Yes, globally we are experiencing more extreme weather and climate change. But why exacerbate the problem by planting eucalyptus trees that simply help wildfires ignite?
I've been following the news stories of wildfires in Portugal for some time now. My parents live in the country. I used to run a company with an office in Lisbon. That means a lot of conversations with local people who, in my experience, generally feel there's nothing they can do about the issue. It strikes me as incredibly shortsighted and perhaps even murderous of the Portuguese authorities to allow the planting of eucalyptus at all. Before even thinking about the implications for the quality of forests and wildlife, it is clear that eucalyptus forest fires are big killers of the human population. So much grief and anguish has been caused for the benefit of a few landowners.
Anyway, rant over. And back to our good friends at Mossy Earth who are working to improve the situation over in Portugal. You have to love them even more now for their efforts. And what do native forests mean? Homes for native species. That's why we get on so well.
Needless to say, we have already discovered a lot of synergies between our organisations and, at the same time, very different areas of expertise. Therefore, we’ve now going to start working together to help spread the word about our work.
As WOLF continues towards our goal of rewilding areas of the Pyrenees, we will be seeking help from Matt and his team about how to ensure we create forests that support the natural ecosystems that are really meant to be there.