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Devesa de Rogueira is a small forest in the east of Galicia in northern Spain. Walking the steep paths surrounded by a huge diversity of plants and animals, old tree stumps are occasionally visible among the trunks of countless trees. They are reminders of the timber that was once the basis of the local economy. Here you may even encounter a brown bear, a species that had previously been absent from these woods for decades. More than 70 years ago, local people decided that the value of the forest lay not in the timber they could extract from it but in the fauna and flora it contained and the ecosystem services it provided.
That far-sighted decision resulted in a unique reward: in early 2020, Devesa de Rogueira was the first forest in Spain and the second in Europe to receive the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) verification for ecosystem services.
FSC certificates come in two varieties. One recognizes the chain of custody that offers guaranteed compliance from harvest to final consumer. The other recognizes sustainable forest management. Verification of ecosystems services extends sustainable forest management that demonstrates a positive impact on carbon sequestration and shortage, water cycles, soil conservation, recreation, and biodiversity conservation. It guarantees with verified data that the forest is well-managed.
Devesa de Rogueira – made up of 21 different types of woodland – hosts 900 species of plants, including 25 orchids and more than 400 species of fungi. Apart from the brown bears, there are roe deer, martens, weasels, polecats, wild cats, wolves, foxes and scores of birds, amphibians, and reptiles. It is, according to the FSC certificate, “a unique natural enclave in Galicia” and is managed by the people who live there.
There are about 30 individuals who, in some sense, “own” the woods that cloak the mountain. These comuneros (community members who live in the neighbouring forests) have taken care of the forest for many years since the decision to stop harvesting timber, enabling it to develop a rich and complex ecosystem.
Yews, oaks, holly, chestnut and birch are among the trees that clothe the slopes, binding the soil. Countless streams tumble over small waterfalls, between enormous old trees cloaked in clematis and encrusted with mosses and lichens that speak to the clean air. A spring, the Fonte do Cervo, sparkles all-year round, its water believed to grant those who drink it a wish.
José Antonio Castro is one of the comuneros. He was the last person to be born in the tiny hamlet of Moreda, more than 40 years ago, but left to become a welder in the nearby city of Lugo.
“For our parents, it was a victory that we left here,” Castro says. “Life was hard.”
At the start of the pandemic, though, something clicked and made him return. The town, he said, was no better than Moreda, and so he came back.
“We want to live as we used to live in the Devesa and preserve it,” he says.
He raises a small herd of around 44 strong, local cattle, which graze in the woods. The cattle provide an income and good meat for local people and are also an integral part of woodland management. They open clearings for new growth and help to maintain a balance between open areas and closed forest canopy. Most importantly, they clear the vegetation that can fuel forest fires. José Antonio remembers people once fighting four days and nights to keep a fire from destroying the forest. With cattle on clean-up duty, “if a fire comes, it doesn’t devastate the forest”.
Last summer, a fire hit the area with a catastrophic impact on the surrounding forests and villages, but did not affect Devesa. This is strong evidence that using the same approaches that comuneros adopted can make forests more resilient to fires.
But while the burgeoning ecosystem and the FSC certificate it obtained are a source of pride, that alone is not enough to maintain the Devesa de Rogueira.
Lola Castro — José Antonio’s sister – is mayor of Folgoso do Courel, the main village of the area. She is under no illusions.
“The Devesa da Rogueira is a legacy and natural heritage, and we believe that the responsibility to conserve it should be shared,” she explains. “Our populations need economic support to boost our local economy, since our goal is to preserve these forests, share them with society and for future generations, just as our ancestors did.”
FSC certification is a vital tool to attract that support. Annual audits and monitoring ensure responsible management of the forest.
Gonzalo Anguita, executive director of FSC Spain, says “our mission is to connect forest owners with companies, organizations and administrations, enabling the creation of strategic alliances of high value in society”.
Agroamb, a waste and agricultural management company in nearby Lugo, is one private company that sees supporting Devesa de Rogueira as an ideal way to demonstrate its commitment to a circular economy.
Josefa de Leon, head of competitiveness at Agroamb, says “investment in ecosystem services is an excellent opportunity to protect the natural heritage of our environment. It is truly rewarding to support projects that foster Galician rural development.”
Lola Castro welcomes Agroamb’s contribution and hopes it will be the first of many to come.
“Rural development, population settlement and local economic activity represent a basic need without which conservation would not be possible,” she says. “The FSC Certification of Ecosystem Services is a source of pride for the community members and a way of demonstrating that our activity is necessary to maintain, care for, and preserve our forests.”
Her hope now is that other organizations will join Agroamb in valuing the work that goes into protecting and improving ecosystem services in Devesa de Rogueira.
The example of Devesa de Rogueira should encourage other community-managed forests to seek FSC verification for their ecosystem services, which will in turn encourage companies and others to turn their pledges for sustainability into concrete action.
Would you like to integrate this project into your climate or corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy by sponsoring the work of these forest communities?
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
See the summary of this and other ecosystem services projects in Spain in the Ecosystem Services Showroom.