Rewilding a Former Mining Site

Handing an exploited landscape back to nature 

Project information
  • Categories: rewilding
  • Status: In Progress

Paul de ToirÔes is an important area for landscape connectivity in northwest Portugal where nature is recovering from years of mining. The 300-hectare property boasts one of the largest water surface areas in the Greater CÎa Valley, consisting of lagoons, canals, and ponds. Its diverse range of environments are connected by seasonal flooding which supports a variety of wildlife and vegetation. In an area managed by our partners, Rewilding Portugal, this project presents an excellent opportunity to expand its habitats and establish a stronghold for wilderness in the region. Starting with our first intervention, we aim to enlarge and diversify the habitats through earthworks.

Project Timeline

Transforming a Former Mine

Since mining came to a halt over a decade ago at Paul de ToirÔes, the area has gradually evolved into numerous water environments including lakes, ponds and marshes. These habitats are now filled with aquatic and riparian vegetation, such as reeds and rushes, where tin, titanium and sand were once extracted.

Paul de ToirÔes is one of the key areas managed by Rewilding Portugal as part of their landscape-scale rewilding ambitions in the Greater CÎa Valley and is within the wider Natura 2000 network of protected wild areas on the Iberian Peninsula. Being afforded the necessary space and time, Paul de ToirÔes is an example of how degraded land can be reclaimed and rebuilt by nature.

Paul de ToirÔes birds eye view
A bird's eye view of Paul de ToirÔes. Credit: Agatha Rucin

A Haven for Wildlife

Since the site was abandoned, it has already attracted a wonderful mix of wildlife such as the European pond turtle, marsh harrier and the black stork who feed and seek sanctuary there. It is a hot spot for birds in the region - 112 species of birds have been registered in Paul de ToirÔes to date. This includes resident species, summer visitors, like the black stork or the Eurasian hobby (a small, slim falcon), and species that use these habitats to rest and feed during migration, like spoonbills, wintering grey herons and many other important species. Without these habitats, the migratory birds would have no other similar resting grounds within a 100-mile radius.

Mammals, particularly bats, small mammals and otters as well as amphibians and reptiles stand to benefit from habitat restoration at Paul de ToirÔes too.

Black Stork
The black stork, a regular inhabitant of Paul de ToirÔes. Credit: Blue Nomads

Below is a sample of the threatened wildlife found in the area:

  • Black stork: Least Concern (IUCN), Vulnerable (Nationally)
  • Marsh harrier: Least Concern (IUCN), Vulnerable (Nationally)
  • Common sandpiper: Least Concern (IUCN), Vulnerable (Nationally)
  • Green sandpiper: Least Concern (IUCN), Near Threatened (Nationally)
  • Common Reed-warbler: Least Concern (IUCN), Near Threatened (Nationally)
  • Iberian ribbed newt: Near Threatened (IUCN), Least Concern (Nationally)
  • Iberian midwife toad: Near Threatened (IUCN), Least Concern (Nationally)
  • Iberian terrapin: Vulnerable (IUCN), Least Concern (Nationally)
  • European pond turtle: Near Threatened (IUCN), Endangered (Nationally)

A Future Stronghold for Wilderness

The restoration of habitats at Paul de ToirÔes has the potential to secure a future refuge for a vibrant array of species, not only those that are found here now but others that may come to colonise the area as it evolves. With severe droughts predicted to become more common in the coming decades, it is all the more important for us to focus on wetlands of this nature, especially since they are so rare in the region. The site is also well suited to showcase the potential of rewilding principles, since we believe it has the potential to evolve into an amazing natural area if given a helping hand.   

Otters at Paul de ToirÔes.
Otters enjoying the waterways of Paul de ToirÔes, hopefully for years to come. Credit: Blue Nomads

Our Project

We are partnering with Rewilding Portugal to enlarge and diversify the wetland habitats of Paul de ToirÔes by carrying out targeted earthworks to change the way water moves and accumulates in the landscape.

Earthworks

By smoothening the margins of some ponds, we will increase their area and also create a more gradual change in water depth and environmental conditions. In other cases, partially blocking the artificial water passages (made when the mine was active) will increase the area that gets flooded or create the conditions for Mediterranean temporary ponds to develop. These ponds, that dry out in the summer, are very special because some species have evolved to take advantage of their ephemeral nature. For example, for amphibians to lay their eggs in relative safety. In a few locations where it is feasible, we will build cascades to improve the oxygenation of the water and further increase the habitat complexity.

Financing

The main expenses for this project, which will be covered by the support of Mossy Earth members, are those associated with the machinery as well as the labour required to plan, carry out and monitor these interventions in the field. 

Benefits to Biodiversity

The overall approach for this project is to make concrete interventions that will facilitate the natural recovery of the area and then to step back and let the ecosystem processes take their own course.  Having said this, we expect the work to lead to a range of positive outcomes for biodiversity in the region including:

  • An increased abundance of nesting and wintering birds.
  • Boosting the populations of amphibian, reptiles, mollusks and arthropods in the lakes and ponds.
  • Improving water retention and the ecosystem's ability to capture CO2, increasing landscape resilience to climate change. 
A digger doing earthworks at Paul de ToirÔes rewilding project in Portugal.

The Broader Context of Rewilding Efforts in the Area

The Scaling up Rewilding in the Greater CÎa Valley project is being led by Rewilding Europe and focuses on the Greater CÎa Valley. Partners are working to reinforce a 120,000-hectare wildlife corridor to improve connectivity in the landscape between the Malcata mountain range and the Douro Valley. This project will contribute directly towards achieving that goal and complements what is already being done with the support of a grant from the Endangered Landscape Programme and numerous local partners. 

A landscape view of Paul de ToirÔes
Paul de ToirÔes is a key area for habitat connectivity within the Greater CÎa Valley in northwest Portugal. Credit: Agatha Rucin
Heart Image

the team behind the project

Team Member

Tiago de Zoeten, Conservation Biologist, Mossy Earth

Team Member

The Rewilding Portugal Team

A digger doing earthworks at Paul de ToirÔes rewilding project in northwest Portugal.