Sustainable Tourism in Monchique

With its diverse habitats and wildlife worthy of special protection, the Monchique region of the Algarve in Portugal is designated part of the EU's Nature 2000 programme

However, mass tourism (which first began to grip the coastline with the opening of the international airport at Faro in1965) now threatens this mountain region. The area is already suffering from urban modernisation which is out of character with the traditional architecture and from rural degradation.

Large scale eucalyptus and pine planting for the paper industry in the 1970s brought short term financial gains to the detriment of flora, fauna and the natural balance of nutrients in the soil. Understandably, the Algarve is fighting for its market share of holiday makers in competition with other European and Mediterranean resorts. Four million tourists now come through the airport each year (it is designed to cope with double that capacity).

Portimao, the coastal urbanisation closest to Monchique, is the fastest growing conurbation in Portugal, reflecting the spread of tourism along the coastline.

Tourists who take afternoon trips to the mountains in jeeps from the coast are more likely to inflict long term costs on the area whilst providing a small minority (often external companies) with the profit from their visit.

Whether there is an increase or decrease in mass tourism the concern is that further pressure will be put on the hill area. More visitors would overwhelm the limitations of the mountain ecology, fewer visitors would create a complex urban-rural unemployment scenario among the local population in which neither the traditional village structure nor modern urban opportunities were available.

With this in mind, local residents have combined with the Portuguese Institute of Ecology to promote sustainable tourism and forestry in Monchique. They want to attract visitors who are interested in nature and health, and who are likely to stay in the area for three or more days at a time, using local shops and really benefiting the local people. These tourists would be looking for activities such as walking, swimming, cycling, angling, horse and donkey riding, art, cultural and heritage tours, natural history study and sustainable development tours - and also peace, quiet and rest.

The means through which the residents feel they can preserve and propagate the natural environment is through the development of a Bio-Park Network. A Bio-Park enables trees and wildlife to flourish in a synergistic relationship with commercial forestry and tourism. A Bio-Park Network is a series of indigenous nature reserves, decentralised botanical gardens, arboretums, small lakes, resting sites and access points all connected by a series of planted trails and walkways.

Development of such a network would fulfil the Nature 2000 objective to maintain the wildlife corridors between natural habitats whilst permitting sensitive economic development of the region.

To ensure the success of the project a partnership is being created between the Monchique local authority, the rural development organisation Vicentina, the local environmental action group A Nossa Terra, the ministries of Agriculture and Environment, the University if Faro and INPECO (Instituto Portugues de Ecologia). The creation of this partnership has been funded under the LEADER II programme.

Portugal currently has a policy of 'Quality Tourism' that is essentially aimed at getting fewer, richer visitors to stay in luxury accommodation. The Monchique proposal is a further stage of evolution away from mass tourism, but it is one in which people, business and local government can realise a unique and outstanding example of sustainable development at a time and in a place ideally suited to such a project.

Leave a Reply