Greater Côa Valley

Portugal

Juan Carlos Muñoz / Rewilding Europe

Creating a wilder future for the Greater Côa Valley

The Côa Valley of Northern Portugal is an important region for birds of prey and apex predators, but overhunting and persecution have diminished populations of these species, disrupted food chains and damaged local ecology. This project is creating a crucial wildlife corridor in the Greater Côa Valley and transforming a region with currently high levels of rural depopulation and species loss into one with new opportunities for people and wildlife. The recovery of biodiversity-rich Mediterranean habitats is creating the conditions for wildlife comeback, and underpinning the development of a modern, nature-based economy that serves as a regional role model.

The Greater Côa Valley

The project area encompasses the Greater Côa Valley in the Beira Alta Raiana Region of Portugal, connecting the Malcata Mountain range in the south with the larger Douro Valley in the north. Made up of typical Portuguese “montados”, the area is characterised by pastureland dotted with trees. This habitat dates back to the Middle Ages, when large grazers (especially cattle) formed its savannah-like appearance. The area has a strong continental influence, with well-conserved forests of sweet acorn and cork oak.

The Côa Valley is also of critical importance for large birds of prey and other soaring birds, which nest on the rocky cliffs of the Douro, Águeda and Côa rivers. Populations of Egyptian and black vulture and Bonelli’s eagle are particularly reliant on these habitats. Wild boar, the Iberian wolf and roe deer are examples of keystone species that help shape the ecology of the Greater Côa Valley. Overhunting and persecution of these species, however, has degraded food chains in the area, with prey species overharvested and apex predators on the verge of elimination.

Project context and opportunity

Many environmentally damaging human activities are now in decline in the valley as a result of a rural exodus, land abandonment and an ageing resident population. These factors have led to the encroachment of bushes onto abandoned farmland and a spread of monoculture pine plantations. This has made the landscape extremely vulnerable to large-scale forest fires, endangering people’s lives and properties, as well as wildlife.

This land abandonment offers an opportunity for large-scale landscape restoration, with the recent comeback of key species such as the Iberian wolf indicating the significant potential for recovery. The Côa Valley has the potential to become one of the main migration routes for wildlife on this part of the Iberian Peninsula, and its north-south orientation allows it to function as a corridor for species that need to adapt to climate change.

There is also growing support in the region for the development of alternative land-use models based on natural grazing, thereby creating landscape mosaics that function as natural firebreaks. This mosaic landscape has a rich diversity of wildlife species and abundant prey such as rabbit, hare and red-legged partridge, which are prey-base for species like Bonelli’s eagle and Spanish imperial eagle. This will also encourage the return of the Iberian lynx, a species that is now recovering its former range through active reintroductions and improved prey availability.

Project achievements

This project is restoring wildlife and natural processes in the landscapes of the Côa Valley in Northern Portugal, reconnecting the valley with existing protected areas and thereby creating a large scale wildlife corridor. This revitalised, natural landscape is delivering important ecosystem services such as fire prevention, food, local products and enterprise opportunities such as wildlife tourism.

So far, the project has:

  • Acquired 750 ha of land in priority areas to manage a nature reserves for the purpose of nature conservation.
  • Introduced two herds of Sorraia horses to Ermo das Águias and Vale Carapito, as well as one herd of Tauros to Ermo das Águias. These semi-wild large herbivores are carrying out natural grazing and helping to reduce the risk of fire.
  • Integrated 31 livestock guarding dogs in to 22 farms and installed nine wolf-proof fences in six farms to promote better coexistence between livestock breeders and the Iberian wolf.
  • During the summer months, the surveillance team carries out fire surveillance in priority areas and runs a fire surveillance volunteer programme in Ermo das Águias.
  • Set up the Wild Côa Network, working with more than 40 enterprises in the region, including local accommodations, touristic operators and local producers, to better market the region and a destination for wildlife and nature tourism.
  • Organised the CÔA – Corridor of Arts land art festival, aiming to reconnect people and nature through art, with the first of these festivals taking place in July 2023.

Project Partners

Rewilding Europe
Rewilding Portugal
ATN (Portugal)
University de Aveiro
Zoo Logical

Quick Facts

Project Lead

Project location:

Greater Côa Valley

Country:

Portugal

Landscape size:

318,000 ha

Key habitats:

Drylands, canyons, montado, and rivers

Focal species:

Griffon vulture, Bonelli’s eagle, Iberian lynx, roe deer, wild horse, and Taurus

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