Responsible tourism: Walking tour of a cork forest in Alentejo, Portugal
Our ecosystem is quite unique. Managing the forest sustainably is not just a key priority but represents a major investment. In particular, the forest needs to be kept relatively clean while ensuring that it remains a habitat for foxes, wild boar and rarer species such as the Egyptian mongoose. This requires a balance between reducing undergrowth that can damage the trees (and creates fire risk in a area prone to forest fires) but also provides cover for the above-mentioned species. Maintaining the balance is an art and a science that we have honed over the years. The proof of success is the growing number of species helped by the initiative that I will go on to describe.
In the past, fauna was almost eliminated by a government policy that allowed free-for-all hunting. However, in a unique partnership, the estate handed all hunting and access rights to a local hunting cooperative run by local villagers. Under the arrangement, the local cooperative agreed to hunt in a sustainable manner (by reducing hunting days) and leaving a large area as a no-hunting area for breeding. As a result, for the first time in decades, partridges can be seen on the estate and wild boar are abundant. Over 100 species of birds have been logged on the estate.
Our principle contribution to the local economy is through employment and resource-sharing. By continuing to engage in labour-intensive activities such as growing vines and running an active tourism business we are able to offer almost full employment to staff members in a region where the few local jobs as seasonal. In addition, we try to maximise employment by being active in the wine value chain. In addition to hand-pruning vines, we maintain full control of off-site wine making and insist on bottling our own wines with our own staff. Our policy, as a family-owned farm is to farm in a manner that is environmentally sustainable and provides value to the local community through employment and resource-sharing. The Alentejo region is in trouble. Jobs are scarce and economic opportunities are limited. Yet this is an area famed for its artisans, most notably its potters in the local town of Redondo. Tourism can generate increased economic activities with an obvious social impact. Our model of encouraging guests to tour, shop and eat out is aimed at ensuring a degree of social equity, however small. Local communities welcome foreign visitors and their presence is of mutual benefit.