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Santiago de Covelo, Spain

Santiago de Covelo Common Hand Community Land: combining ecological, social and productive functions for sustainable management.

These three priorities define the work of this community in the municipality of Covelo in Galicia’s Paradanta region. Thanks to these priorities and the leading role played by the local community, the area’s forest management is on the road to sustainability.

The planning and management of a common woodland begins with in-depth knowledge: its boundaries, history, place names, climate, vegetation and orography, together with its unique geological, cultural and even socio-political legacy. All this knowledge gives meaning to forest management and ensures it is done responsibly. It is built up on a day-to-day basis through the search for information, daily field visits and continuous dialogue between the governing board, the horizontal assemblies, elderly residents and qualified technical staff.

Broadly speaking, the common woodlands of the parish of Covelo can be defined by a combination of a woodland that has suffered recent deforestation as a result of overgrazing, the presence of pine plantations (largely Scots pine, or Pinus sylvestris) imposed by the fascist government in the second half of the previous century, and the rugged landscape that is typical of Galician mountains, comprising hills, summits, plains, valleys, ravines, rivers and peatlands. Half of the 700-ha area is covered by trees comprising plantations, gallery forests and small native forests that are just beginning natural regeneration. The other half is characterised by bush coverage (some humid, with Erica cilliaris and Erica tetralix, and thus classed as of community interest by the European Union) and large areas of grasses.

Large-scale abandonment of livestock rearing—alongside other traditional country activities—and the introduction of forestry is favouring the woodland’s renaissance, creating new opportunities for social, ecological and productive sectors. Timber production and livestock farming form a symbiosis, with a modern outlook and a twist of tradition. The community directly manages the timber from the plantations, and members individually take their livestock to graze on fields provided for this purpose. Instead of being obstacles, the two activities support each other: fields are arranged and interspersed in such a way that they act as fire barriers between the plots used for producing timber (moreover, plantations are never cut en masse but selectively using clearings), while profits from the sale of timber are invested in maintaining the fields through fences, gates, sowing and clearing. Meanwhile, the community can continue its traditions of gathering wood, gorse and heather for stables, as well as new activities such as foraging for mushrooms and using spaces for relaxation.

Production plays a fundamental role, since the activities and jobs that take place in the woodlands revolve around it. It is productive activity that makes it possible to invest in improving the common property and in conservation, with four main priorities: the upkeep of the plantations, looking after the network of paths, the protection and restoration of archaeological and ethnographic assets, and preserving biodiversity (distributed throughout the different habitats and natural flora and fauna).

In addition to the arrangement of the fields, the battle against fire is won year after year as a result of three strategies. Firstly, there is selective preventive clearing (mitigating the temptation to burn land that cannot be transited by people), such as paths, access roads to plots, the protective strips beside houses and population centres, and grazing areas in the scrub. Secondly, fire is also prevented by forestry work such as pruning and clearing undergrowth, and confining plantations to separated plots, which avoids the continuity of many hectares of pine trees and helps create a mosaic effect in the landscape. Thirdly, there is an extensive programme to care for and promote the regeneration of the native forest in the valleys and around rivers, encouraging the growth of trees that grow spontaneously and planting new ones (primarily birch), which helps combat potential fires while creating spaces for biodiversity.

The community is also working to eradicate areas of invasive eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), which fortunately remains scarce: the specimens in the only plot invaded by these flammable trees (around 5 ha) were recently replaced with birch (Betula alba). The small birch trees will gradually regenerate the soil that was previously occupied by the leafy trees, facilitating the appearance of other native species such as the Plymouth pear (Pyrus cordata) and oak (Quercus robur).

The community’s work also takes into account the area’s heritage. As part of its conservation efforts, the community carried out a survey of research in the area and its location, resulting in a catalogue of various mámoas (megalithic tumuli), petroglyphs, a fort and even a Roman settlement. The local ethnographic legacy was also included in the study itself, with stone crosses, boundaries, bridges, mills and irrigation wells. This initiative culminated in the restoration of various mills and of the contours of the fort of Covelo, with its cross and petroglyph.

An environmental study was also carried out to determine the types of habitats to be conserved and the species of flora and fauna present on the common woodlands. Examples of the latter include the wolf (Canis lupus signatus), the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and the wild boar (Sus scrofa), as well as one of Galicia’s few reproducing populations of the Red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) in the pinewoods of Fontefría. The study has also attempted to delimit peatland zones and draw attention to them via information panels. These panels raise awareness of the importance of the peatlands to the environment, thanks to their extremely rich biodiversity derived from the special nature of the moisture, highlighting their role as water reserves and regulators for river flows.

To promote a closer relationship between the woodlands and both the community and visitors alike, the community of Santiago de Covelo has opened a circular path that allows visitors to observe the different habitats that make up the space, and showcases examples of the site’s cultural heritage. The marked path enables walkers to see the transformation of the environment brought about by the traditional farming and livestock culture of the area, as well as how new uses of the common hand community land help ensure sustainability going forward.

President of the Santiago de Covelo CMVMC.

Uploaded February 2018.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in February 2018. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has been gone through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.