An old rubbish dump in Alfarnate will be the first place in which the provincial government will carry out its plan to plant
On both sides of the lane, very close to the Alfarnate sewage plant, almond trees grow on private land which is more or less marked with boundaries. Between some, however, there is a plot with only a sparse bit of grass and some half-demolished grey cement walls. Saturnino Moreno Borrell, the head of the Environmental Programmes section of the provincial government explains: “It used to be a rubbish dump, and it was closed down about 30 years ago”.
He is in charge of an ambitious new reforestation plan which will involve planting a million trees and shrubs in Malaga province between now and 2020. This is where the massive project will start, in the autumn. Other areas which will benefit include the Serranía de Ronda and the north-east of the province.
This piece of land, in the heart of La Axarquía, faces the southern slopes of the Camarolos and San Jorge mountains. It is slightly uphill from the sewage plant, high up, on a steep slope. There is hardly any sign nowadays of the rubbish tip, but there are problems with the site: the ground has suffered from erosion and the soil washes down to the nearby river in heavy rain, often causing flooding.
This is why this reforestation is to be carried out. The work will begin by clearing the ruins from the site and creating a series of small terraces to reduce erosion. Then soil which is rich in nutrients will be brought in and suitable trees and shrubs chosen.
Jacinto Segura, senior Environmental Technician on the programme, says more than 300 trees will be planted on the flattest part of the area, and native shrubs such as fan palms, mastics, broom, thyme, rosemary and lavender will be placed on the steeper parts because they adapt better. The idea is for the mountainside to look natural and for the plants to extend by themselves. The authorities will also install information panels about the mountain ranges which can be seen from a new recreation area which is to be created.
The site, like all others in this initiative which was officially presented by provincial president Elías Bendodo on Monday, is municipal property and was put forward by Alfarnate council. Volunteers will help with the planting.
The authorities also hope that this area will also soon become a natural habitat for native fauna, and the project includes a picnic area so that people can stop for a rest and enjoy the views of the countryside.
Before and after
Similar programmes have been successfully carried out in other degraded areas of small rural municipalities, including Los Portillos stream (a tributary of the Guadalhorce) in Villanueva del Rosario, on the other side of the Sierra de Camarolos. There, cultivated plants had reached almost to the stream and had eliminated all the riverside vegetation. That has now been recovered and native trees are thriving, such as ashes and poplars.
“When we started, the stream was overflowing and the land was waterlogged,” he says.
A year later, new riverside fauna has already moved in, especially the swallows, who are breeding there and can be seen hunting for mosquitos and other insects from the stream. In the background, warblers and a nightingale sing, an unmistakeable sign that the ecosystem is balanced.
“It is more important to create an environment and ensure that the ground is stable than to spend a fortune on plants; if the ground is stable the vegetation will flourish and if there is vegetation the rest will happen on its own,” explains technician Jacinto Segura.
This initiative was carried out through the Idara project, a trans-frontier collaboration between Malaga and Morocco.
“It is the alternative to retaining the soil with a stone wall on which nothing grows. In a short time the area has become very natural, and the shrubs were a fundamental part of the project because they contain the erosion,” explains Jacinto.
In this way, the reforestation has served as a base for the natural expansion of the vegetation and now, around the stream, there are ivy, willows, rushes and field horsetail, none of which were planted artificially.
Both experts point out that different species were planted to support the land, but the variety which can be seen now has sprung up spontaneously thanks to the vitality of the water; it flows fast in this area of the province, which is often known for being dry. “What little rainfall there is gets soaked up by the limestone mountains, like a sponge,” they say.
This is, according to those behind the project, an example of “thinking globally, acting locally.”
“It is a demonstrative case of what we want to do with the project for a million trees. We are not going to resolve the problem, of course, but we can show what can be done, that from a local perspective you can tackle a global problem, like the fight against desertification and climate change, because trees soak up CO2,” says Saturnino.
“With a million trees we will show that it is possible to slow down climate change”
Expert Saturnino Moreno, Head of Environmental Programmes at the Diputación says the project will demonstrate the importance of reforestation to local councils and volunteers
He has been involved in local ecology for a long time, co-founded the Silvema organisation in the Serranía de Ronda and was a pioneer in protecting vultures. Now aged 68, Saturnino Moreno Borrell is the head of the provincial government’s Environmental Programmes section and is in charge of the new reforestation plan, under which a million trees and shrubs will be planted in the province in four years.
–What is the province like in terms of desertification?
–We have been studying that, as part of our plan for a reforestation programme with a million trees. A survey is being carried out into the problem of erosion and loss of soil. We are incorporating variables to find out what the situation is in the province at the moment. We have studied 7,500 streams and rivers, with an erosion factor according to the type of ground, the topography, local cultivations and vegetation, and that enables us to draw up a map. It is an interesting picture. It looks as if 0.8% of the province is in a criticial condition, 13% is very serious, 50% is severe and the rest is moderate. We can see what happens when there is very heavy rain. Fertile soil is lost, it is washed down towards the coast.
–Which areas are most at risk from erosion?
–La Axarquía, especially, because of the intensive agriculture and its terrain, with very steep slopes. Also in the Guadalmedina basin. The north-east region is like a large red stain (meaning it is at critical risk of erosion) because of cultivation but in Antequera, because it is flatter, the process is not as bad. In the Serranía de Ronda, when there is deforestation then there is more soil erosion. You have to take into account that erosion is a natural process. The city of Malaga is to a large extent the result of erosion in the mountains; this is sedimentary land, like the Vélez river basin, but human activity accelerates it.
–Is there a solution?
–It can be slowed down, but you have to take into account matters such as agriculture. This is the Junta’s responsibility and the battle against erosion is being carried out by its Environmental Department. The provincial government can verify the situation in the province and then go and see land which is owned by local council, because it doesn’t have land of its own on which to act. You only have to look at the problems in Rincón de la Victoria when it rains, after building residential developments and roads, because of lack of ground cover. We will be carrying out reforestation on council-owned land on the outskirts of urban areas.
–Is the situation in Malaga worse or better than other provinces?
–Erosion is a very Mediterranean problem. There is hardly a square metre of virgin land, everything has been touched by human hand. Places like the Genal valley are artificial: although the chestnut woods look fantastic, they are the result of productive reforestation after massive tree felling for the tin factory. The same applies to the vines in Los Montes. But nowhere can cope with the amount of land which is occupied by homes.
–Recently, the Junta said that woodlands are expanding...
–A large part of Malaga has been sealed off by construction from Nerja to Manilva, but in the natural parks humans have only farmed. Pinsapos are extending and so are the woodlands of Los Montes, after reforestation. But urban areas are still the major problem.source surinenglish