Portugal's threatened rural landscape earns protective designation

June 24, 2017, 9:37 a.m.
The great bustard bird is a steppe species
Photo: Peter Gyure/Shutterstock

An area in the Baixo Alentejo region of southern Portugal has been deemed so unique that it must be preserved, thanks to UNESCO. Biosphere reserves are selected for their ability to balance the needs of people and nature.

The newly minted Castro Verde Biosphere Reserve is home to some 200 species of bird, including the great bustard or Otis tarda, (shown above) a charismatic steppe species with around 60 percent of its global population found in Portugal and Spain. The area is also home to the Iberian imperial eagle, a raptor species vulnerable to extinction.

But it isn't just birds that make this place special; it's also the people.

According to UNESCO, the reserve "encompasses the most important cereal steppe area in Portugal, one of the most threatened rural landscapes in the Mediterranean region. The population of about 7,200 habitants lives from the extensive production of cereals and livestock rearing."

The combination of being a special place for flora and fauna as well as an important agricultural region helped provide the area with the distinction of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

"Francisco Duarte, mayor of Castro Verde, explained that it is 'an important step by the image it conveys to the outside of the territory, but above all is a commitment by the responsibility we assume addition to present this application to help build a more sustainable planet, fairer and more balanced. We did not stop and we will continue to work for a better land ... with even more will and determination than yesterday'," Lidador Noticias reports.

UNESCO's latest addition of 23 reserves brings the number of biosphere reserves to 669, located across 120 countries, including 20 transboundary sites. The goal is to "harmonize conservation of biological and cultural diversity, and economic and social development, through partnerships between people and nature."

Unfortunately, along with the good news of the new additions around the world, the United States requested 17 of its Biosphere Reserves be removed from the list.