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Sound and independent information
on the environment

Portugal

Nature protection and biodiversity (Portugal)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

For the last 50 years, significant changes have been taking place in Portugal’s ecosystems, driven by profound socio-economic changes. The economy has grown six fold, the number of farmers has decreased by over 60 % and agricultural land has been reduced by 40 %. There has been an intensification of farming alongside a growing tendency towards eucalyptus monoculture which has had negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. Rivers have been dramatically affected by the construction of dams and the increase in pollution from agriculture, industry and settlements. Invasive species have exerted pressure on coastal ecosystems and caused even more damage on the islands. Meanwhile, other species have been overexploited by hunting and fishing (MEA, 2004).

Portugal’s mainland has a climate influenced by the Mediterranean, with dry, hot summers and rainy winters, but it is also influenced by a temperate macroclimate, which results in considerable climatic variation (Miranda, 2002 in MEA, 2004). There is also a considerable diversity of soil materials (Silva, 1982 in MEA, 2004) which, associated with the variation in climate, leads to a wide assortment of soil types (Cardoso, 1973 in MEA, 2004) and ecosystems.

Portugal’s strong biological diversity is explained by its location, which encompasses three bio-geographical regions – the Atlantic and Mediterranean on the Portuguese continent and Macaronesia for the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores. The combination of its pedology, particular geophysical characteristics and human intervention have given rise to a huge variety of biotopes and ecosystems, housing a wide diversity of species with multiple genotypes. On the other hand, Mediterranean agriculture dating back thousands of years has created a set of human habitats with a high conservation value (MA, 1994 in MEA, 2004). Several species depend on the conservation of these habitats for their survival. Examples of such habitats are the “montado” (traditionally grazed oak forests), the cereal steppes and the mountain “lameiros” (humid meadows) (MEA, 2004).

Portugal is also one of the European Mediterranean countries where desertification has the highest environmental risk (Sequeira, 1998a, b, c in MEA, 2004), particularly in connection with soil degradation caused by water erosion (Giordano, 1992 in MEA, 2004) and the degradation of surface and underground waters (GCID, 1998 in MEA, 2004). Portuguese ecosystems and agriculture are also particularly vulnerable to climate change (Santos et al., 2002 in MEA, 2004) due to the associated risks of fire and drought.

In conclusion, Portugal is one of the European countries with the highest diversity of organisms and farming systems which, at the same time, is most at risk of losing this diversity (MEA, 2004).

 

References

  • MEA (2004). Pereira, H.M, T. Domingos, and L. Vicente (editors). Portugal Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: State of the Assessment Report. Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

 

In continental Portugal, there are over 3 000 species of vascular plants, around 400 species of vertebrate and an unknown number of invertebrates. In Madeira and the Azores, there are more than 1 700 endemic species which do not exist anywhere else (MEA; 2004).

 

In 2005, the revision of the Red List of vertebrates was concluded for Portugal, in accordance with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) system for evaluation and classification of species. Of the evaluations conducted for the whole territory, 47 % were considered to be “of least concern”, 12 % were data deficient and 41 % were included in the remaining categories of threatened species. In Portugal, there are 19 vertebrate species considered regionally extinct: the sturgeon, the grizzly bear and 17 rare species of bird (APA, 2008).

 

Figure 1 Vertebrates Red List evaluations[1]

Fig. 1 - Vertebrates Red List evaluations

 

 

In general, the main threats are human-induced habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation and the introduction of exotic species. Between 2002 and 2006, the Institute for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity (ICNB) developed a LIFE nature project dedicated to the conservation of eight of the most endangered species of Portuguese flora.[2] All the actions necessary to ensure the conservation of these species have also been incorporated into the Natura 2000 Sector Plan.

With regard to forests, “Mediterranean” Portugal, south of the Mondego river, is dominated by broad-leaved forest, namely cork oak, Holm oak, stone pine and laurel, together with olive, fig and almond trees. “Atlantic” Portugal, which is more similar to central Europe, is dominated by deciduous trees like the chestnut, the Portuguese oak, elm and ash (ICNB, 2010).

The eucalyptus, an exotic species which was introduced in the 1950s, is widespread all over the country. Due to its rapid growth, it is much in demand for the paper pulp industry, which is one of the main reasons for its rapid expansion (MEA, 2004).

Portugal has an important genetic pool of livestock diversity. There are a total of 45 native breeds officially registered: 15 cattle breeds, 15 sheep breeds, 15 caprine breeds, three swine breeds, four horse breeds and three poultry breeds (INE, 2009). Most of the Portuguese native breeds of cattle and sheep are at risk of extinction. For this reason a national strategy for the protection of native breeds has been introduced to preserve the genetic heritage and prevent native breeds from becoming extinct.[3]

Bird populations can act as sensors, giving fairly good indications of trends in biodiversity. The Common Bird Index is an important tool for measuring the sustainability of policies and human activities that are reflected in the relative abundance of selected species (SEBI01). The Portuguese Common Birds Index provides information on variations in the population of common nesting birds. The base year for the Index was 2004 so it is still too early to make conclusive statements regarding population trends, nevertheless, it does seems that the situation is stable.[4]

 

Figure 2 Common Bird Index

 

Fig. 2 - Common Bird Index

 

With regard to exotic plants, over 550 species have been introduced into Portugal’s continental territory and these have now been classified as casual, sub spontaneous or invasive (Marchante et al 2005, Almeida & Freitas 2006). Portuguese legislation, which is currently being revised, lists around 400 exotic plant species as having been introduced into Portugal and 30 of these are classified as invasive species. A national list of invasive plant species is continuously being updated, together with a list of other species which have a high ecological risk associated with their invasive potential.[5]

With regard to the Natura2000 network, by December 2009 a total of 96 Sites of Community Importance and 59 Special Protection Areas had been classified for Portugal (EC, 2010), comprising around 22 % of the territory.[6]

Among the most important conclusions from an evaluation of the conservation status of species and habitats (under the aegis of Article 17 of the Habitats Directive) are that:

 

·         Most habitats have an unfavourable/inadequate conservation status,

·         A considerable percentage of Macaronesian habitats received a favourable evaluation,

·         Most species received an unfavourable/inadequate global evaluation,

·         More than 40 % of species from Macaronesia have a favourable global evaluation,

·         Amphibian and reptiles are the groups with the most favourable evaluations,

·         Fish are the group containing the highest number of unfavourable/bad evaluations, particularly in the Mediterranean region.[7]

 

Figure 3 Status of habitats and species

Fig. 3a - Status of habitats and species: habitats

 

 

Fig. 3b - Status of habitats and species: species

 

 

References

  • Almeida, J.D. and Freitas, H. (2006) Exotic naturalised flora of continental Portugal – a reassessment. Botanica Complutensis 30: 117-130.
  • Almeida, J.D. 1999. Flora exótica subespontânea de Portugal continental (plantas vasculares). 2.ª edição. Catálogo das plantas vasculares exóticas que ocorrem subespontâneas em Portugal continental e compilação de informações sobre estas plantas. Dissertação de Mestrado. Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade de Coimbra.
  • APA (2008). Relatório do Estado do Ambiente 2007. Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente. Amadora.

(http://www.apambiente.pt/divulgacao/Publicacoes/REA/Documents/REA07_06out09.pdf)

  • EC (2010). Sites of Community Importance, Update of December 2009.

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/barometer/docs/SCI_EU27.pdf

  • EC (2010) Special Protection Areas, Update of December 2009.

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/barometer/docs/SPA_EU27.pdf

  • ICNB (2010). ICNB presentation

http://portal.icnb.pt/ICNPortal/vEN2007/O+ICNB/Quem+Somos/Apresentação+do+ICNB/

  • INE (2009). Indicadores Agro-ambientais 1989-2007. Instituto Nacional de Estatística. Lisbon.

(http://www.ine.pt/xportal/xmain?xpid=INE&xpgid=ine_publicacoes&PUBLICACOESpub_boui=74873737&PUBLICACOESmodo=2)

  • Marchante, H; Campelo, F. & Freitas, H. 2006. Avaliação do impacto de Acacia longifolia [Andrews] Willd. sobre a diversidade vegetal dos sistemas dunares (Dunas de S. Jacinto e Palheirão). In: Rodrigues, L.; Reino, L.; Gordinho, L.O & Freitas, H. (eds.) Actas do 1º Simpósio sobre Espécies Exóticas: Introduções, Causas e Consequências. Pp. 67-71. Liga para a Protecção da Natureza, Lisboa.
  • Marchante, H., Marchante, E. & Freitas, H. (2005). Invasive plant species in Portugal: an overview. In: International Workshop on Invasive Plants in Mediterranean Type Regions of the World (ed. S. Brunel),Montpellier, France. Council of Europe Publishing, pp. 99-103.
  • MEA (2004). Pereira, H.M, T. Domingos, and L. Vicente (editors). Portugal Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: State of the Assessment Report. Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa.


[2] For additional information on the National Plan for the Conservation of Endangered Species of the Portuguese Flora:

http://www.icn.pt/pnc_flora_perigo/index.htm

 

[3] For additional information on preservation of genetic diversity:

http://www.dgv.min-agricultura.pt/producao_animal/docs/Autóctones.pdf

 

[4] For additional information on the Common Bird Index:

http://www.spea.pt/index.php?op=censo_aves

 

[6] For additional information on Natura2000:

http://portal.icnb.pt/ICNPortal/vEN2007/O+ICNB/Rede+Natura+2000/

[7] For additional information on the Portuguese Report under Article 17 of Habitats Directive:

http://www.icnb.pt/reldhabitats/

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

In Portugal, the human-induced change in ecosystems started thousands of years ago. The progressive dominance by human populations, mostly induced by the need to improve food production, has provoked the decline of forests and several species of large mammals. By the end of the 19th century only 10 % of the national territory was covered by forest and there were serious erosion problems in mountain areas. To mitigate these problems and to increase forest coverage, the Portuguese government promoted several campaigns for forestation, mostly involving the planting of wild pine trees. Meanwhile, the growing demand for cork and pork meat led to an increase in the “montado” (cork-trees and Holm-oaks) of Alentejo. By the middle of the twentieth century the forest area had tripled (MEA, 2004).

Due to political and economic circumstances, Portuguese society was predominantly rural until around twenty years ago (ICNB, 2010).

In 2006, 71 % of the land in continental Portugal was used for forestry and agriculture and approximately 15 % was a mixture of agriculture and natural areas (APA, 2009). Land use changes have produced modifications in the Portuguese landscape, ecosystems and environment. Urban areas and infrastructures are huge consumers, at the expense of agricultural lands. Rural landscapes are also undergoing change, with the intensification of farming and forestry activities, on one hand, and the abandonment of land on the other.

Coastal zones are a combination of complex ecological systems and intense human occupation. These areas are subject to constant pressures as they are the focus of increasingly intensive urbanisation, tourism and countless leisure activities leading to habitat loss. The demand for natural areas for recreation and tourism is still growing, as is the popularity of second homes (particularly in the south).

The road network has expanded greatly over the last 20 years and this development has had an impact on all areas with a protection status, be it ecological reserves, agriculture reserves, protected areas, Natura 2000 sites or areas of water in the public domain, contributing to the fragmentation of natural and semi-natural areas.

Forest fires are also a threat that Portugal has to deal with every year. In addition to the loss of forest and fauna and flora, areas damaged by forest fire are more susceptible to disease and soil erosion.

Similarly, animal species are being adversely affected, mainly by changes in their habitat caused by increasing pressure from certain agro-industrial practices, but also by depopulation and consequent changes in land use. Intensive agriculture; monoculture tree plantations; continued urban expansion; enlargement of the road network and excessive hunting also affect the survival of certain species.

 

References

  • APA (2009). Relatório do Estado do Ambiente 2008. Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente. Amadora.

(http://www.apambiente.pt/divulgacao/Publicacoes/REA/Documents/REA%202008_Final.pdf)

  • ICNB (2010). ICNB presentation

http://portal.icnb.pt/ICNPortal/vEN2007/O+ICNB/Quem+Somos/Apresentação+do+ICNB/

  • MEA (2004). Pereira, H.M, T. Domingos, and L. Vicente (editors). Portugal Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: State of the Assessment Report. Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The use of biodiversity indicators in Portugal is quite recent and there is a great deal of development work still to be done. However, the first global evaluation of the conservation status of species and habitats (under the aegis of Article 17 of the Habitats Directive) is now available, enabling more targeted measures to be implemented in order to reverse decline in biodiversity.

Although no real projections exist, the loss of biodiversity is an unquestionable fact that is identified as a threat in all the programmes, plans and strategies that have been developed over the last few years.

The impacts of climate change on biodiversity are one of the strategic sectors identified in the recent proposal for a National Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. Studies indicate that throughout the 20th century the Portuguese climate has undergone an evolution characterised by three periods of change in mean temperature, with the most recent period (1976-2000) characterised by an accelerated increase in temperature. All the climatic scenarios created predict a significant increase in mean temperature and a reduction of precipitation which will have a further impact on biological diversity.

The governments of Portugal and Spain are currently undertaking a collaborative study with the objective of fighting the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. The project Iberia-change is a unique initiative since climate change knows no political or administrative borders. As these two countries are part of the same bio-geographical region, the Iberian Peninsula is the ideal territorial area in which to study biodiversity. Even though it represents less than 6 % of the total area of Western Europe, it houses more than 50 % of all European flora and fauna. Endemism is extraordinarily high: 31 % of around 900 terrestrial plant and vertebrate species are found on the Iberian Peninsula.[1]



[1] For additional information on Iberia-change:

http://www.biochange-lab.eu/iberiachange/

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

 

Over recent years Portugal has produced a number of strategic plans and documentation which aim to improve the protection of biodiversity and nature. These include the National Nature Conservation and Biodiversity Strategy, the Natura 2000 Network Sector Plan, the Sustainable Development Strategy and management plans for protected areas, coastal zone management plans, a strategy for integrated coastal zone management and a management plan for the maritime area.

In 2001, Portugal adopted the National Nature Conservation and Biodiversity Strategy, interlinking international commitments (Convention on Biological Diversity) and European strategy. Not only was this a national recognition of the importance of biodiversity but it also aimed to implement measures identified in Portugal’s 1987 framework law on the environment. The three objectives of the Strategy were to conserve nature and biological diversity; to promote the sustainable use of natural resources and to contribute to the objectives of international processes (e.g. the Convention on Biological Diversity). These objectives were assessed in the first evaluation of the Strategy, conducted in 2009.

Since 1970, when Portugal’s first protected area was designated, the number and surface area affected by protection laws has greatly increased. In 2009, around 22 % of the area of continental Portugal held some form of protection status. All except four of the areas under the protected area network have had their management plans approved, in accordance with legislation.

In 2008, new laws were passed on nature conservation and biodiversity which brought some consistency and clarification to previous legislation. The Fundamental Network for Nature Conservation (RFCN in Portuguese) consists of the core areas of nature conservation and biodiversity, an ecological reserve, an agriculture reserve, the Natura 2000 areas, other areas designated at international level and the areas of water in the public domain.[1] The legislation also created the SIPNAT (Natural Heritage Information System) and the Cadastre of Designated Natural Values, as proposed in the Strategy for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity. Another important factor is a new economic and financial regime for nature conservation and biodiversity and the creation of the Fund for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity.

The Natura 2000 Sector Plan, published in 2008, defines the strategy for the territorial management of the areas included in the network, taking into consideration their natural value and long-term maintenance requirements.

The Portuguese Sustainable Development Strategy aims to prevent the further decline of biodiversity and to ensure the compensation of affected habitats and species. One of the objectives presented in the Strategy is to increase the value of the Common Birds Index by 2015 against base year 2004, the date of the first census. Similarly, the creation of a network of protected marine areas is identified in the Strategy as an important means of harmonising economic activity with the protection of estuarine, coastal and oceanic ecosystems.

One very important measure has been the replacement of the Institute for Nature Conservation by the Institute for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity (ICNB, in Portuguese) which reflects a change of policy regarding the protection of biodiversity. ICNB is the governmental body responsible for nature conservation and biodiversity policies and for the management of protected areas. Its mission includes the sustainable management of wild animal and plant species; designation of land and marine protected areas, management of areas of national interest; integration of the objectives of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources into planning and sector policy; implementation of the National Strategy for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity and development of a national programme for nature conservation; promotion of information and public-awareness raising on nature conservation and biodiversity and the monitoring of compliance with both EU and international law in matters related to nature conservation and biodiversity (ICNB, 2010).

Over recent years Portugal has produced a number of strategic plans and documentation which aim to improve the protection of biodiversity and nature. These include the National Nature Conservation and Biodiversity Strategy, the Natura 2000 Network Sector Plan, the Sustainable Development Strategy and management plans for protected areas, coastal zone management plans, a strategy for integrated coastal zone management and a management plan for the maritime area.

In 2001, Portugal adopted the National Nature Conservation and Biodiversity Strategy, interlinking international commitments (Convention on Biological Diversity) and European strategy. Not only was this a national recognition of the importance of biodiversity but it also aimed to implement measures identified in Portugal’s 1987 framework law on the environment. The three objectives of the Strategy were to conserve nature and biological diversity; to promote the sustainable use of natural resources and to contribute to the objectives of international processes (e.g. the Convention on Biological Diversity). These objectives were assessed in the first evaluation of the Strategy, conducted in 2009.

Since 1970, when Portugal’s first protected area was designated, the number and surface area affected by protection laws has greatly increased. In 2009, around 22 % of the area of continental Portugal held some form of protection status. All except four of the areas under the protected area network have had their management plans approved, in accordance with legislation.

In 2008, new laws were passed on nature conservation and biodiversity which brought some consistency and clarification to previous legislation. The Fundamental Network for Nature Conservation (RFCN in Portuguese) consists of the core areas of nature conservation and biodiversity, an ecological reserve, an agriculture reserve, the Natura 2000 areas, other areas designated at international level and the areas of water in the public domain.[2] The legislation also created the SIPNAT (Natural Heritage Information System) and the Cadastre of Designated Natural Values, as proposed in the Strategy for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity. Another important factor is a new economic and financial regime for nature conservation and biodiversity and the creation of the Fund for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity.

The Natura 2000 Sector Plan, published in 2008, defines the strategy for the territorial management of the areas included in the network, taking into consideration their natural value and long-term maintenance requirements.

The Portuguese Sustainable Development Strategy aims to prevent the further decline of biodiversity and to ensure the compensation of affected habitats and species. One of the objectives presented in the Strategy is to increase the value of the Common Birds Index by 2015 against base year 2004, the date of the first census. Similarly, the creation of a network of protected marine areas is identified in the Strategy as an important means of harmonising economic activity with the protection of estuarine, coastal and oceanic ecosystems.

One very important measure has been the replacement of the Institute for Nature Conservation by the Institute for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity (ICNB, in Portuguese) which reflects a change of policy regarding the protection of biodiversity. ICNB is the governmental body responsible for nature conservation and biodiversity policies and for the management of protected areas. Its mission includes the sustainable management of wild animal and plant species; designation of land and marine protected areas, management of areas of national interest; integration of the objectives of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources into planning and sector policy; implementation of the National Strategy for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity and development of a national programme for nature conservation; promotion of information and public-awareness raising on nature conservation and biodiversity and the monitoring of compliance with both EU and international law in matters related to nature conservation and biodiversity (ICNB, 2010).

 

References

ICNB (2010). Brief notes on the Ecology and Geography of Portugal in ICNB

http://portal.icnb.pt/ICNPortal/vEN2007/O+ICNB/Centro+de+documentacao/Noticias+-+Lista/Detalhe+Noticia/biodiversity.htm?res=1440x900


[1] For additional information on protected areas:

http://portal.icnb.pt/ICNPortal/vEN2007/O+ICNB/Areas+Protegidas/

[2] For additional information on protected areas:

http://portal.icnb.pt/ICNPortal/vEN2007/O+ICNB/Areas+Protegidas/

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The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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