In terms of forest fires, summer 2016 has seen a tragic peak in Portugal: 117.000 hectares of forest were destroyed, the country saw more than 10.000 fires throughout the year. More than half of all forest fires in Europe happened in Portugal, which had to apply repeatedly for financial support from the Solidarity Fund of the EU. Each fire means a disaster for people and ecosystems involved. The fires have not only destroyed the economic basis of many farmers and land owners, but also the homes of numerous plants and animals and reduced our most precious wealth: biodiversity.
Although many fires are either being laid by arsonists or the result of carelessness, it is clear that fires are a direct consequence of summer droughts, of sinking groundwater tables and loss of vegetation and care. A well-maintained lush landscape with mixed forests and fields, with springs and creeks flowing throughout the year would not burn down that easily.
In the South of Europe we became so used to summer droughts that we might think they are natural – but this is not the case. Summer droughts are a result of a wrong land management worldwide: of deforestation, overgrazing, agricultural monocultures, sealing of land and overuse of ground water for irrigation.
Some older people still remember how creeks and springs were flowing throughout the summer, how summer storms refreshed the land in the middle of August and how mixed cultures of trees, small pastures and fields were providing yield all year long. As we can see today with some local examples in different parts of the world, it is possible to restore the landscape and at the same time create an economic basis for its inhabitants: through re-establishing the regional rainwater cycles by water retention.
From all the positive examples we gain one insight: In order to sustainably stop forest fires we must keep the winterly rainwater on the land.
One example for this is the Water Retention Landscape of Tamera in the municipality of Odemira: the formerly summer dry property has turned into a lush valley with small lakes and ponds filled by the winter rain, surrounded by terraces with fruit and vegetables growing throughout the year. Instead of flooding the roads and villages downstream, the rainwater is being gathered behind earth dams, infiltrates the soil, increases the ground water tables and feeds the gardens. No groundwater has to be used for irrigation, only rainwater.
If this principle, combined with a modern way of Montado – the traditional mixed cultures of cork oaks, gardening and animal husbandry – were applied throughout the country, many problems would be solved and less properties would burn down.
“Walk your Watershed!” 2nd – 12th of October
To witness the situation downstream, a group of 30 people from Tamera and its friends will go on a Caminhada called “Walking Water” – following their watershed from Colos to Setúbal, bearing witness to the situation of water on their way. The Sado watershed evinces agricultural monocultures, irrigation for rice fields and olive plantations, pollution and contamination. It still also shows remains of traditional knowledge and honoring the water: communal meeting places around wells, sacred sources, traditional rainwater harvesting and irrigation systems. The dolphins of the Sado basin show that the water of the Sado river is worth being saved.
The group wants “to walk the land, explore their watershed, get to know its inhabitants, listen to the people, listen to animals and plants, listen to water as a living being, bear witness to the pain of the tortured nature and envision a region whose communities take responsibility for their watershed.”
The Caminhada is inspired by the Walking Water initiative from California and aims to focus on a globally new Water Paradigm.