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Portuguese Fires Threaten Endangered Wildlife

Portuguese Fires Threaten Endangered Wildlife

Lisbon, Portugal and Cambridge, UK - The fires which have until now devastated an area the size of Luxembourg across Portugal are threatening several bird species and the habitats which they depend on.

SPEA, BirdLife International’s Portuguese Partner, says that the continued survival in Portugal of certain bird species is now under threat and that 10 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been affected by the forest fires of the last weeks. [1,2,3] The Spanish Imperial Eagle, classified as Vulnerable, and the Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Black Stork and Bonnelli’s Eagle, all protected by the European Union Birds Directive, are some of the species at risk of being lost to Portugal.[4,5] Birds have been affected either directly, through being burnt or asphyxiated, or indirectly through loss of habitat, and prey, such as rabbits for eagles.

To date, nearly 300,000 hectares of forest have been lost - a highly significant amount in a small country like Portugal, with cork and oak forests particularly adversely affected. The South-west coast of Portugal IBA beside the Algarve tourist mecca is one of the areas on fire.

SPEA criticises the Portuguese ministry of the environment, MCOTA, for its slow response, and the ministry of agriculture, MADRP, for its forestry policies, which have favoured the planting of species unsuited to the climate and soil of most of the country.

“The lack of intervention by MCOTA over the last few days is, at least, shameful,” says Helder Costa, President of SPEA. “The Government has to assume its responsibilities in conserving nature. Independently of private financial gain, it should target IBAs, those areas under the National Network of Protected Areas and those protected by the Natura 2000 network, which have all been burnt with an appropriate special reforestation programme. The Government should also favour a patchwork of natural habitats on a grand scale.”

Past mistakes, including intensive forestry leading to increasing desertification, and the fact that 90% of Portuguese forest is in private hands, should be learnt from to better plan forestry in Portugal, says SPEA. The intensive forestry of non-suitable species by private companies and the lack of a sustained forest management policy by all recent governments cannot compromise the future of rural areas. Forests in protected areas should be managed by competent administrative bodies, together with landowners, with sufficient funds to keep them out of danger, says SPEA.

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