Site of Community Importance (SCI) of the Southwest Coast
118.267 hectares (land area = 99.457ha + marine area = 18.810ha)
The Portuguese Southwest Coast is one of the few European areas where one may still observe wild coastal zones and some well-preserved habitats, holding forty nine natural habitats, amongst which 25% are considered priority by the Habitats Directive (92/43/CEE). These facts, along with the existing ecological diversity and several endemic species, allowed the Southwest Coast of Portugal to be internationally recognized as a ‘Site of Community Importance’.
The intervention area of the Project LIFE CHARCOS is the Site of Community Importance (SCI) of the Southwest Coast, located in the coast of the Iberian Peninsula, more specifically in the southwest plateau of continental Portugal.
This is a coastline stretching for about 125Km, according to a North-South guideline, with a variable width between 5 and 15Km. The coastline is characterized by cliffs, whose altitude never exceeds 150 meters from sea level. This area is also designated as a costal plateau due to its slightly wavy landscape and absence of sharp slopes - except for the valleys near the water lines (ravines). From an administrative point of view, the project area includes part of the districts of Beja (NUT II Alentejo) and Faro (NUT II Algarve), particularly respective municipalities of Odemira and Vila do Bispo. In legal terms, the whole area lies within the Natural Park of Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast (PNSACV in portuguese).
Most of the northern part of the territory, located in Odemira municipality, has other land usage such as the Hydro-agricultural Operation for the Irrigation Perimeter of Mira (AHPRM in portuguese), which occupies its entire area of around 12,000ha. Despite the traditional agricultural explorations of family nature being declining, the AHPRM is mostly used today by intensive explorations, specialized in mechanized precision agriculture and large scale productions. It can be seen by the amount of greenhouses for floriculture and red fruits that are settled. Plantations of protea, crops of baby vegetables, and fields of grass mats is a more common landscaping characteristic of this part of Portugal. The production of bovine cattle is also relevant. The areas not included in the AHPRM and also located along the coastal wetland and often have an extensive usage associated with coastal woods, enabling rotation between agricultural and fishing activities.
The Southwest Coast SCI has a large diversity of habitats, including marshes, cliffs, dune and lagoon systems. Amongst them one should highlight coastal cliffs due to their singularity and surrounding areas which are exposed to sea winds that carry salty mud and where one may find endemic communities occurring only in this Site. The SCI thus represents a coastal area with an extraordinary landscape and ecological quality, where its conservation is highly important. The Southwest Coast SCI has 49 natural and semi-natural habitats that are listed in Annex B-I of the Habitat Directive, out of which 11 are considered a priority for conservation. There are also 15 species of Fauna listed in Annex B-II of the Habitats Directive that are present in this SCI, as well as 28 species of Flora listed in Annex B-II of the Habitats Directive, out of which 6 are considered a priority for conservation.
Amongst the group of priority habitats found in this area one should emphasize the Mediterranean Temporary Ponds (3170*), which during long time in the past were the dominate elements of the Southwestern Portuguese landscape; hence, their perseveration was compatible with the traditional soil usages. However, the last two decades witnessed their degradation and accentuated regression of its distribution area. Nevertheless, the SCI of the Southwest Coast represents the area in the Portuguese territory with the largest number of MTP’s - which today are mostly located in cores within the municipalities of Odemira and Vila do Bispo).
Several scientific and academic studies carried out in MTP's within the Southwest Coast SCI provide evidence for the biodiversity conservation importance and its natural values, both in terms of fauna and flora. On a regional scale this area is of the utmost importance, since it contains some habitats considered as ‘biodiversity hotspots’, which are vital for many rare and endangered species.
Therefore, the Southwest Coast of Portugal SCI hosts an extraordinary natural heritage which includes MTP's and associated biodiversity. This fact may be used to boost sustainable local development, such as sustainable touristic activity.