It is Monday, 6 am. My Colleague Patricia and I (working for Land Life Company) are leaving our office in Burgos heading to Ribera de Folgoso (León), where our SUPERB colleagues from CESEFOR Judit and Rocio are waiting for us. Today we will accompany them to collect and place again field recorders in the plots of our Spanish SUPERB demo in Castilla/León.
Within the SUPERB project, we have 12 Demo-areas across Europe. In our Spanish demo we amongst other activities investigate degraded areas after a recent wildfire, and look at different states of forest recovery. In this regard, the aim of the field recorders is to identify different bird and bat species present across all these different recovery levels. Birds and bats play a very important role in many habitats as pollinators, insect controllers, dispersers, “reforesters” by regurgitating, defecating, or burying seeds, and they help the tree to “awake” the seed as it passes through their digestive system. Finally, they are of course indicators of biodiversity. Thus, their presence, or absence, can tell us a lot about the state of our forest.
After a 3 hours’ drive, we finally arrived at our meeting point with Judit and Rocio, who explained to us the plan for the day. We would look for the six field recorders which were placed one week ago, transfer the recordings to the laptop and place the field recorders again in other plots of our demo area. It sounded like an easy task to do, but as we soon discovered, nothing could be further from the truth.
The first challenge in each of them was to find the less risky entrance, as the majority of the plots are located in the middle of very steep terrain and we had to look for trees and bushes to hold on to and thus, to avoid slipping and falling while looking for the plots. And then we had to walk among the tangled forest to the center of the plot either to pick up or place the recorders.
Throughout the entire day, we were able to witness the recovery of nature after a wildfire. Our first stop was the most shocking for me. We walked on the black grass looking for the field recorders, soon our hands and boots were also black. This used to be an oak forest which suffered from a wildfire last year. The smell of burning logs could still be distinguished as if it had just been burned the day before. We pictured a landscape where it is very difficult to think a recovery is possible after all, much less any kind of life surviving in the surrounding area.
Our next stops felt like stepping forward in time: we visited plots where the fire happened already 10 or 20 years ago. In this case, the resprout of pioneer species after fire, like Erika sp., were rather worrying as they completely covered the terrain, often exceeding two meters in height. Thus, there is a high risk of wildfire again if there is no forest management happening soon in those areas. Unfortunately, this seems very likely to happen, as their management depends on decisions of the local government, and we were told no management in the short term is foreseen.
Finally, we visited plots totally recovered from the fire they suffered 40 years ago or more. Surprisingly, it was not obvious at all anymore that fire destroyed this landscape once. We could see a very diverse forest structure, with some big oak trees at the canopy level, but also small trees making their way and some natural regeneration surrounded by shrubs. This is what we, foresters, call an irregular forest, which means the trees within that forest cover the entire age spectrum, and thus, the forest presents a complex structure with trees at different levels that make it more resistant and resilience face to disturbances, and providing the perfect habitat for many special and shy species as this little viper we could see in one of the plots. We were so lucky to get to see it – vipers are endangered species and usually quite shy.
We did not realize we were a working group of four women until we stopped in a small village to replenish our energies, looking for a cup of breakfast coffee and a “Pincho de Tortilla” to eat. The moment we entered, we attracted the attention of the place, and soon, two men were not long in approaching us: “Are you on holiday?” they asked. “No. We are working.” – we replied. They could not hide their amazement and were even more curious about what we were doing. – ”Oh! As we saw you in mountain clothing on a weekday, we thought you were on holiday” they said, as an apology, I guess. The same happened again to my colleague Patricia and I when we stopped to have lunch. The waiter could not help but approach us and directly asked how the hike was.
Certainly, we still need to improve our understanding how ecosystems function to find the best way to help nature to build resilient forests but also, in our way doing that, we need to continue “normalizing” that four women in mountain clothing during a weekday are most probably working and not on holiday. And all this is what we are contributing to with SUPERB!
Featured image: Sara Uzquiano