Castell d’Encus´ micro-reserve
Written on 04/04/2023 by CASTELL D’ENCUS
Every summer, the fires all over the territory remind us that the forest management we are carrying out is not adequate. A very big effort is needed from many points of view to reverse this situation, but from Encus we want to contribute to protecting our environment and for this reason we have started the Castell d’Encus micro-reserve project. It is an ambitious but realistic project, and we hope that it will be one of many other initiatives across our landscape so that together we can once again have our forests cared for. A very sincere thank you to Jordi Castilló, a close collaborator of Encus in this idea. We take advantage of this new blog entry to explain what a micro-reserve is and what we propose to do at Encus.
The origin of the current project can be found in 2011, when we signed a custody agreement with Pallars Jussà Biological Station, an environmental organization, to collaborate on the conservation and dissemination of the estate’s natural values. This first agreement made it possible to gain ground in aspects such as the biological knowledge. It also helped to change its hunting management and to carry out an important task of forest management to improve the habitat of the Mediterranean forests and at the same time prevent large forest fires.
Castell d’Encus micro-reserve wants to highlight all the work done during these years, combining excellence in winemaking in a mountain area with environmental conservation. At the same time, it wants to be a means to channel new actions to increase biodiversity and make it known among society as an example that everyone can get involved in taking care of the Earth.
Micro-reserves are small preservation projects with a biodiversity and heritage conservation agenda. It is a space that is managed taking care of the natural environment, taking advantage of its resources in a sustainable way, and enhancing values that make it unique in terms of geology, fauna or flora, and that often are associated with a historical and cultural heritage of great interest. The micro-reserves can be promoted either by the owners of the farm, or by an entity that signs land stewardship agreements with the land owners. These agreements are entirely voluntary, and derive from mutual trust and a shared vision to preserve the natural, cultural and heritage values of a given space.
Private nature reserves are growing rapidly everywhere because owners, companies and non-governmental entities wish to preserve the territory and complement the work of the administrations favouring biodiversity. Here we have another great example of this work, Gratitud Pallars, which also works to recover and maintain natural spaces of great interest.
Basically, we can divide our actions at the micro-reserve into 2 large groups: those that we do in the daily work of the vineyard and the winery, and those that are not included in the scope of our work but that we have decided to carry out because they contribute to the respectful preservation of our environment.
In the first group of actions, we find working with plant cover. This fact favors the infiltration of rain and reduces surface runoff. Plant cover helps to maintain biodiversity and it serves as a reservoir for natural enemies that can be beneficial for pest control. Afterwards, the pruning remains are crushed to be incorporated back into the soil. Thus, the circle is closed and the vine is supplied with organic matter. Other actions: the use of manure as fertilisers, or the non-use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or any type of treatment harmful to the soil.
As for the second group, these are some of the actions that are not directly related to the vineyard, but which also add up when it comes to improving the fauna’s habitat in the micro-reserve.
Water is a very scarce resource in the Costa Ampla mountain range, and with the exception of the Seròs ravine, the absence of water springs greatly limits the distribution of fauna. When Castell d’Encus winery was built, the old village laundry was restored, the only water point available for to the fauna in the entire micro-reserve. It is an ideal spot for the watering of arthropods, birds and mammals.
We also contribute to the installation of wildlife refuges. The oak forests around Castell d’Encus vineyards are made up of generally small trees with few natural cavities. To help the fauna that takes refuge or breeds in the trunks we have installed several nest boxes.
Part of the Castell estate was replanted during the 1960s, mostly with pine trees. A very high density of saplings was planted, and the lack of subsequent clearing caused the trees to grow tall (seeking the light) but thin, due to an excess of competition. This generated pine forests without undergrowth, due to the lack of light below ground, resulting in very low biodiversity. It also made them very vulnerable during long droughts (due to the poverty of the soils and the southern exposure of this range) and forest fires (due to the excessive continuity and fuel load of the forests). Between 2012 and 2019, this area was partially cleared and leveled. Clearing generated a more open forest structure. The increase in insolation of the earth’s surface stimulated the growth of herbaceous and shrubby vegetation, significantly increasing plant diversity. Micro-habitats within the forest also increased, either in the form of piles of scattered branches or trees that occasionally fell. This renaturation of pine forests resulted in an improvement of the habitat for forest fauna, both in terms of the availability of food and shelter. This action serves at the same time to generate forests more resilient to natural disturbances, especially to phenomena of mass mortality due to drought and large forest fires.
In order to facilitate the extinction of an eventual forest fire, in 2016 the collaboration of Castell d’Encus with the Talarn Town Council and the Talarn Forest Defense Association began: we built a safety strip around the road that goes up to Santa Engràcia passing through the vineyards of Castell d’Encus, and in 2017 a water reserve point was built for extinguishing forest fires in the center of the Serra de Costa Ampla.
Fire has also been reintroduced into the ecosystem. Two controlled burns have been carried out in the vicinity of the micro-reserve (Serra de Gurp and forest of Salàs de Pallars). The aim is to rejuvenate the scrub by transforming it into a grazing area for sheep or horses, but also for wild herbivores such as roe deer and hares. Apart from this immediate objective, the cremations served to reintroduce fire as another element in the dynamics of the ecosystems of this area, where it had disappeared for many years following the abandonment of the human activity, the fire bans and the administration’s old policy of total fire suppression. Fire is an inherent element in all ecosystems. Applied at low intensity and prescribed by professionals, with appropriate rotations and careful planning, it is a useful tool for the ecosystems management.
One of the most rewarding tasks we carry out in the micro-reserve is monitoring biodiversity. In several campaigns we have been able to observe and study the situation of various animals in the micro-reserve: butterflies, squirrels, roe deer, wild boars, foxes, hares, badgers, etc. Diurnal butterflies are in widespread decline across Europe. They show great sensitivity to the composition and structure of the vegetation. If the plants they need to feed on disappear or become scarce, butterfly populations begin a rapid decline. This makes them a good bioindicator of the state of the habitats. During the surveys carried out, 76 different species of butterflies were identified, with a good diversity of genera and families, similar to that detected in other natural spaces in the region with a good community of butterflies.
As regards mammals, a survey of the community of large mammals has been carried out by means of phototrapping. Similar relative data to that of the region have been obtained, although lower than the indices of areas with a richer and more diverse community: Boumort, Lleràs, Montsec or the Noguera Pallaresa river.
The micro-reserve is a reality and a commitment for Castell d’Encus. For this reason, to continue to improve the environment as much as possible, we have already defined a program of future actions in order to favor the natural processes in the micro-reserve, thus becoming a reference in terms of private conservation in Catalonia. We have been working on this project for years (since 2011!) but haven’t talked about it since now. We are very aware that highlighting the work done is vital to encourage more entities and individuals in this task and that is why one of the actions that we are implementing from now on is to report on what we do, share the ideas that we bring to term and the positive consequences that derive from it.
Written on 04/04/2023 by CASTELL D’ENCUS