Woodland builders

 New leaves. A young holly bush inside its protective netting.
New leaves. A young holly bush inside its protective netting. / SUR
  • Pines are being removed from the Genal Valley to allow native species to grow

  • The reforestation of the area includes planting 1,000 trees such as holly, maple, cherry, walnut, whitebeam, hackberry and bay

They like to call themselves “woodland builders” and their tools are the trees which grow on the mountainsides. They are also the successors to the engineers who reforested Malaga back in the 1970s, most of whom are no longer with us, and now it is their turn to manage the results of those projects.

Recently, SUR went with technicians from the regional government's Environmental Department in Malaga to take a look at the forestry restoration works which are now coming to an end in the Genal Valley.

The place in question is an old vineyard on an estate known as Barranca Honda in the municipality of Pujerra, which was expropriated in 1972 and reforested up to 1978. It is where the source of the Guadalmansa river is located.

“At first they used colonising or pioneering species, like the insignis or radiata pine, which grows quickly, so they could take advantage of the wood from them,” explained Antonio Pulido, a forestry engineer and technician at the department, who is responsible for the use and reforestation of the woodland.

In fact this area has the highest forestry productivity in Spain (19 cubic metres of biomass per hectare per year, compared with the average of three m3), which can be explained by the latitude, the solar radiation, high humidity and type of soil. At these latitudes, the pine trees can grow up to 35 metres high.

Evolution of the woods

Between Pujerra and Jubrique there are about 1,500 hectares of radiata pines which were cultivated 40 years ago. Much of the land is privately owned and the owners are earning good money thanks to the fact that this species grows at a rate of about two centimetres a year, and at 25 the trees are in optimum condition for felling. This particular species was also chosen because this is the mountain range with the highest loss of soil in the country due to the steep slopes, (over 100 per cent) and the aim was also to protect nearby populations from flooding, especially the Costa del Sol, because the water reaches as far as Marbella, San Pedro and Estepona.

“Our predecessors achieved a rapid coverage of the ground to stop the erosion, and at the same time that resulted in a spontaneous regeneration of the autochthonous woodland, with a mixture of oaks like gall oaks and corks as well as chestnuts,” said Miguel Arenas, head of the Natural Environment Management service.

Once that point has been reached, the next stage of evolution of the species takes place: once the pine trees have fulfilled their function, the Mediterranean woodland starts to return to its natural state. By cutting down the first trees, other young ones appear below: holm oaks and Pyrenean oaks, (also known as rebollo, melojo or, in some parts of Spain, roble).

This is native flora has grown in the shade and shelter of the others, and has also served as a defence against cattle and wild fauna. The cork oaks which have emerged are also exceptional quality, because their branches are high and the cork is in good condition. “We've uncovered the native woodland and undergrowth,” said Miguel.

The reforestation works have provided about 3,000 tonnes of wood and kindling which is sold by the Junta de Andalucía, which then uses the money it receives to subsidise the reforestation and other forestry works. The trunks are taken to a sawmill in Vélez-Malaga to make planks; and the kindling goes to power plants in the province to produce electricity. “The less this costs the authorities the better. We're looking after public money” said Antonio Pulido.

In addition to the natural regeneration, and as a way of reinforcing it, about one thousand other trees have been planted as a means of artificial reforestation. They are different species, including walnuts, maples, rowans, hackberries, stone pines, bay and even cherry (they used to exist in their wild state in this area, but their origins are unknown).

Future plans

José López Quintanilla, head of the Department of Natural Environment Projects and regional coordinator of the Pinsapo Recovery Plan, says experiments are being carried out with a view to the future, looking for the species which adapt best, because chestnut trees are reducing in number, affected by wasps and, especially, a chancroid fungus which can kill a tree in barely two months.

The jewels of this part of the project are the 230 holly trees which can already be seen above the protective netting which is placed around them to stop wild animals or cattle eating the new shoots. This is an endangered species and there were already a few adult trees in the area, so the aim is to increase the population.

The technicians from the Environment department are hoping to be able to create a mosaic of species, so that in the future the sight of the characteristic colours of the Genal Valley is not lost, and at the same time diversify the economic profits (wood, fruits) and offer farmers alternative options if the chestnut sector becomes very depleted. A greater diversity of flora will also contribute towards tackling climate change. It can be summed up in one phrase: “What we are doing is also a form of R+D+i”.

holly trees have been used to reforest the Genal Valley, and about 1,000 others including maples, cherries, hackberries, walnuts, rowans, stone pines and bay trees.

tonnes of wood have been produced from this campaign, used for making planks and to produce electricity at power plants.

cubic metres of biomass per hectare are produced in the Genal Valley each year, the highest density in the whole of Spain. In this area, the pines used in the first reforestation are now up to 35 metres tall.