Private Land Conservation Ambassador

Armando Carvalho

Armando Carvalho in his forest in Santa Comba Dão, in the Center region of Portugal. Photo credit: Armando Carvalho

Armando Carvalho is based in Santa Comba Dão, in the Center region of Portugal, between Coimbra and Viseu. He is the owner of 11 hectares of land, spread over multiple small plots. In 1985, he inherited the land from his family and ever since he tried to improve his farm and forest to respect nature.

Armando has a strong background of forestry engineering. He worked as a conservationist NGO representative for the national park service and on public and regional development projects. All the knowledge he gained during his life benefits his land.

My motivation comes from my parents. This land is a heritage, and it’s essential for me to take care of it, to honour their memory.

Cork oaks are well prepared to withstand wildfires. Photo Credit: Pixabay.

Marie Orban, ENPLC: “Thank you, Armando, for being part of the ENPLC community. You have a pretty long experience in the field. How has your land evolved in the last 60 years?”

Armando: It’s a pleasure to be part of this network. I think collaboration is essential to improve ourselves and boost land conservation.

Since 1985 we have gone from 8 hectares to 11 hectares. We started with 90 small pieces of land. And today, we have 75 plots concentrated in the same area to increase our local actions and impact. We had to go through many sales and acquisitions, but we have finally reached our goal—a broader and consolidated estate.

“I believe that we need more human interactions and peer exchanges to tackle climate change impact on our lands. My aim is to reach a sustainable agriculture, respect nature and maintain the wealth of my forest. We depend on our land and the biodiversity around us. We must protect it for the future generations."

Cork oak. Photo Credit: Pixabay.
Business-wise, 25% of the land is dedicated to agricultural activities. We grow fresh fruits, olives and chestnuts. The 75% remaining are devoted to forestry. In the last 30 years, most of the changes concerned the forest. We refined our production and left aside pine trees and eucalyptus. To protect our land, we returned to native tree species such as oak, cork oak, chestnut, ash, alder and willow trees.
Marie: 2017 was by far the deadliest year on record for forest blazes in Portugal. Your land was not spared. How do you start over after such a hard blow?  

"Almost 85% of my land was destroyed. It was a difficult time for many other people in Portugal and across the world. Wildfires are a pressing issue impacting all of us."

Armando: Indeed, 2017 was a tragic year for Portugal and our region. On October 15th, a severe wildfire crossed 60 km, burned 45 500 hectares, and damaged all the estates in that area, including 20 houses in the village. However, we believed in the kind of forest management and the resilience of native tree species.
After this impactful event, I took the opportunity to start over and rebuild the native forest, which is now more adapted to the Mediterranean climate. Native forests reduce the risk of forest fires, and this aspect can no longer be set aside. Knowing the different plants and trees and how to manage certain situations is essential. The type of forest I’m now running protects the soil. It hosts more biodiversity, and it helps water retention. We must prepare the agricultural and forestry ecosystems to resist wildfires without losing profits. I’m finding my inspiration in nature. Everything we need is right there. We need to learn from it. And adapt our processes.  

A firefighter observes the flames while trying to extinguish a fire in Cabanões, near Lousã, as wildfires raged in Portugal in 2017. Photo credit: Francisco Leong/AFP (via Getty Images)

Rules to resist fires and build resilience on our private land

  • Due to climate change, prevention is key
  • Let’s observe and learn from nature’s resilience 
  • Sharing is caring, we need a community-based approach
  • Peer knowledge and experiences are part of the solution
  • An agroforestry model, including shepherds and/or goats, improves the estate’s resistance to wildfires
Therefore, a ‘regenerative laboratory’ was created to allow landowners and people from the community to share experiences and knowledge. I contacted landowners actively involved in rewilding, re-naturalisation and regeneration in other country areas. Last year, the idea of creating a movement emerged. We want to gather the landowners committed to conservation and sustainability and join our forces.

"I consider my trees as my friends. I take care of them, and it changes everything. I’m not working; I’m building a relationship with my surrounding. I love to be around nature. Surrounded by trees. It’s quite therapeutic."

Jóni Vieira, Montis, Portugal: “The case of Armando is particularly important. Because of the fires, we have now realised that what we have been doing so far in landscape management is not working. Or at least, the results are not what we would have expected.

2017 was a wake-up call. Today we are aware that we need to do things differently. But how to proceed?

By listening to people working on the ground. People who are experiencing and testing, such as Armando. They need to be heard. They need to gain visibility. And that’s why a network such as ENPLC matters.”


The news items collected on this blog have been written by project partners of the LIFE ENPLC project.