Interview

Why this place is special:
Faia Brava, Portugal

Why this place is special:
Faia Brava, Portugal

Photos: Various

Interview: Robert Langkjær-Bain

Image description Image description
Fernando Romão has loved watching birds since he was a boy. Photo: Fernando Teixeira

Faia Brava reserve in northern Portugal is being rewilded. ATNatureza, which manages the site, is working with Rewilding Portugal to bring back lost species and let nature get on with what it does best. It’s a haven for rare wildlife and an increasingly popular destination for birdwatchers and holidaymakers. Local guide Fernando Romão of Wildlife Portugal tells 5 what the place means to him.

I had the privilege of having contact with nature from an early age. I grew up with a passion for birds and I still love to be in the wild looking for them.

Many years later I got the opportunity to work here at Faia Brava. I was fascinated by the project. Before it began, vultures and other wildlife were present in the valley, but the numbers were very low. They have increased over the years.

“The vultures started to fly lower and lower, very close to me”

Fernando Romão

Part of rewilding is bringing back species, and some of the most important ones are wild herbivores. In 2005-2006 they started to introduce local breeds of horses and cows. Now after 15 years of this kind of management we see the decrease of dense bush coverage, and we reduced wildfires to zero. We’ve also seen an increase in insect diversity, and that has a positive impact on the bird population. We’ve seen an increase in the presence of roe deer, which we are hoping might attract wolves.

A griffon vulture – one of the species Rewilding Portugal is helping increase in numbers. Photo: Bruno D’Amicis / Rewilding Europe

We created a feeding station for vultures, which we still manage. At some point we hope to stop this, as soon as we have a stable population of grazers that are controlled by predators. Their kills provide natural food for the vultures.

“The rewilding project has brought life back to the local villages”

Fernando Romão

I remember one time I was driving to the feeding station with a couple of photographers, half an hour before sunrise. As I drove up the hill I could see some vultures starting to fly from the other side of the valley. I took the photographers to the hide and went back to the car to get the containers with the meat. By then several vultures were landing in the surrounding rocks and circling above the place and as I was dropping the meat, some of the vultures started to fly lower and lower, very close to me. It was a mix of fear and amazement. It was really incredible.

Walking the Ribeira de Piscos, Portugal. Photo: Juan Carlos Muñoz / Rewilding Europe

Tracks left by an otter in the Côa Valley, Portugal. Photo: Juan Carlos Muñoz / Rewilding Europe

When I drive people though the reserve, besides showing the birds or the plants, I talk about how the project started, how it was before, and how things evolved until we reached this point.

The region where Faia Brava is located is not particularly touristic. Now people come from all over. ATNatureza’s work with Rewilding Portugal has brought life back to the local villages. They’ve seen more people visiting the area, consuming locally and in recent years we’ve seen the emergence of local tourist businesses like accommodation, people selling things like olive oil and almonds, and the starting of nature tourism businesses focused on Faia Brava and rewilding – like mine.

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