Oak Woodland Restoration

Restoring native oak woodlands in areas prone to wildfires

Project information
  • Trees planted: 9,500
  • Status: Implemented

Working alongside our local partner, Montis, we restore native oak woodlands and combat dominant Portuguese Broom and Portugal's summer wildfires. Our vision is to have a dense native oak woodland within 15 years, where the canopy shade manages the shrub overgrowth, fuel availability is lower, and biodiversity is higher.

Project Timeline

The Ecosystem

Tree species

We plant Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea), English oak (Quercus robur), holm oak (Quercus ilex), cork oak (Quercus suber), Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica), European ash (Fraxinus excelsior), strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), hazel (Corylus avellana), lourel (Prunus lusitanica), elder (Sambucus nigra) and elm (Ulmus minor).

Priority species

Grey wolf (Canis lupus), common genet (Genetta genetta), Bonelli's eagle (Aquila fasciata), and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) are all present in the area.

An oak sapling glows orange against a backdrop of black ash
We plant a variety of oak species to restore the native oak woodlands

A Harsh Landscape

Surviving Portugal's wildfires

To reduce the severity of Portugal's wildfires, the team uses controlled burns to reduce fuel load. This also serves to accelerate the forest regrowth. In an ecosystem adapted to fires, the root systems of many species can survive and the trees can benefit from the extra nutrients in the soil. Controlled burns also clear the area of overgrown shrubs and vegetation, allowing us to replant native oak trees.

A controlled burn moves across a landscape of shrub
A controlled burn at our project area helps reduce fuel load and prevent Portugal's wildfires.

The Return of Biodiversity

New life from the ashes

After the first controlled burn, a few immediate positive impacts were visible. The ashes improved the nutrition of the soil. The few young oaks that dotted the intervention area sprung back to life much faster than other plants. Finally, an increase in young shoots and small flowers has led to an increase in rabbit populations and insect biodiversity.

An oak tree recovers with lush leaves after a controlled fire.
The native species here are fire adapated and can regrow from the ground and surviving stems

The Threats

Farmland abandonment and a lack of native grazers has allowed the Portuguese broom (Cytisus striatus) to take over the mountainside. In the summer, this tall shrub dries up and becomes the perfect fuel for Portugal's wildfires. In a landscape that deals with the reality of regular fires, with a natural wildfire expected every 8-12 years, this poses a very real threat to local populations. It also hinders the regeneration of the fire resistant oak woodlands.

The native oak trees are more resistant to these wildfires, and could ultimately spread across the mountainside, but the process would take too long, around 100 – 150 years. The current shrub vegetation that covers the landscape burns intensely fast, which makes it impossible for firemen to manage. This means wildfires can quickly get out of control and pose a threat to local people.

A forest engineer stands next to 3 metre tall Portuguese broom. This dominant, dry dense species is perfect fuel for Portugal's wildfires.
Forest engineer Luis stands next to 3 metre tall Portuguese broom. This dominant, dry, and dense species is perfect fuel for Portugal's wildfires.
Heart Image

the team behind the project

Team Member

Duarte de Zoeten, Mossy Earth

Team Member

Matt Davies, Mossy Earth

Team Member

Luis Lopes, Forest Engineer at Montis

Team Member

The Team at Montis

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. Are drought and wildfires turning Mediterranean cork oak forests into persistent shrublands? - Springer LinkExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  2. Plant and bird diversity in natural forests and in native and exotic plantations in NW Portugal - Science DirectExternal linkIcon Peer Review