"Olivares Vivos": from impoverished olive monocultures to biodiversity hotspots (Spain).


Spain is the world's most important olive oil producer. But since the 80s, when olive production in Spain intensified, traditional olive groves expanded to large monocultures with low biodiversity, and all other vegetation had to give way to olive trees. Luckily this is now changing. The Spanish Society of Ornitology, SEO Birdlife, started in 2016 with the "LIFE Olivares Vivos" project, an initiative that aims to increase the profitability through restoring the biodiversity. And good results are being obtained.

The University of Jaén and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) carried out the largest study worldwide of biodiversity in olive groves, concluding that olive trees, native to the Mediterranean basin, can play a very important role in aumenting biodiversity throughout Southern Europe. When other native flora and fauna species are allowed to grow and thrive near olive trees, the biodiversity gets restored quite quickly, without too much effort. 

In the Olivares Vivos project, 40 olive groves in Andalucia were studied. Since 2016 onwards, farmers, researchers and volunteers let herbaceous cover regrow, for example in unproductive grove areas (gullies, streams, boundaries, walking paths, etc.), they installed shelter and nesting boxes for animals (birds, insects, mammals) and created drinking ponds. After only three years, there was a 7-12% increase in the number of bird, bee, ant and plant species, while abundancy of creatures had increased 40%. Absolute numbers show 180 bird species, 200 wild bee species, 60 ant species and 750 plant species. One plant species, Linaria qartobensis, is new to science. 

It is generally believed that sustainable farmers make less money, but the Spanish olive grove project and its study prove that this is not necessarily the case. Sustainable farming, productivity and rentability can go hand in hand.



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