As in so many other areas of Europe, a lot of the traditional land management, however, will soon be history. Rural depopulation with ageing inhabitants and declining livestock numbers is leading to rapid change of the vegetation cover in the landscapes. This, in turn creates both an opportunity and a challenge for nature conservation. The less intensive land use offers the development of a more natural tree composition with shrubs, but there is also a risk that huge areas will evolve into very dense scrub with much less diversity and more vulnerable to forest fires. There is also a temptation to plant exotic tree species – like eucalyptus or foreign pine species – on the abandoned land, with disastrous consequences for the natural fauna and flora together with a hugely increased fire hazard.
Western Iberia is currently a region without many economic prospects. With a lack of major industries and dwindling agricultural production the regional governments are already investing in a new economy based on culture, nature and attractive landscapes. The re-creation of more natural, wilder landscapes with beautiful wildlife would serve as a vital component in this new identity and a natural part of a better economic basis for the future.
An unprecedented, large-scale opportunity exists for rewilding the border areas of western Spain and northeastern Portugal. More than 1.3 million hectares of land have been set aside for conservation in the form of Natura 2000 areas with a very interesting mixture of natural/semi-natural habitats. Side by side with Dehesas and Montados are mountain ranges – “Sierras” – with cliff loving animals such as vultures, eagles and Iberian ibex together with river valleys inhabited by otters and pond turtles. On the poorer soils on granite rocks the landscape is dominated by smallholdings with cultivations based on olives, almonds, and cereals - also mostly abandoned.