Biologist Milène Matos works deep in the heart of Buçaco Forest to protect the unique flora that flourishes there. A colossal undertaking recognised by the Yves Rocher Foundation in 2015.
Picking her way through the forest, Milène Matos remains as passionate and fascinated as ever, her ears pricked to the slightest birdsong, the rustling of leaves and even the silent thrum of the insects hiding beneath the foliage. Milène is an ardent defender of the many life forms that thrive here in this ancient forest in the Buçaco mountain peaks, right in the heart of Portugal. And it is this ecosystem that her work aims to protect.
Rumour has it you’re the best at telling the tale of Buçaco Forest!
The monks gave humanity a truly spectacular gift when they laid the foundations of their monastery here on 7 August 1628, choosing to live in harmony with nature. Today, this 17 hectares of forestland remain untouched. It’s a treasure trove. Our treasure trove. This forest is as authentic and unspoiled as it was several centuries ago. It’s an oasis of invaluable biodiversity. Some endangered, incredibly rare amphibians have made it their home. We’ve recorded 11 species of insects that only live here, in the Buçaco Forest. There are 25 different species of bats across Portugal as a whole, and our forest alone is home to 16 of them.
How does Buçaco Forest differ from Portugal’s other forests?
The paper sector is one of Portugal’s biggest industries. Everywhere you look, manufacturers have grown eucalyptus trees to make paper. But these trees aren’t suited to the country’s native environment. They deplete the soil and consume huge amounts of water. When you look around you, everything looks really green. But in reality it’s a desert, and an environmental catastrophe. Buçaco Forest is surrounded by eucalyptus trees that stretch as far as the eye can see. Our forest is a little stronghold, an enclave of biodiversity we have a duty to defend.
Before removing a tree or some plants, I apologise to nature first.
Does defending nature go hand-in-hand with removing invasive species?
The grounds encompass around 700 plant varieties. 400 of them are indigenous and 300 are classed as invasive, often imported from other regions by humans. These plants prevent or restrict other indigenous plants and trees that are crucial to local flora and fauna from flourishing. Everything we do is mapped out in advance to anticipate our impact on biodiversity. We need to respect nature and all its living things. Everything we do should be carried out with a specific aim in mind. Before removing a tree or some plants, I apologise to nature first.
Inmates trained in forest preservation work alongside volunteers. One of these inmates is 60-year-old Graciano.
Graciano has a gift for working with plants. Before he came to prison he was a farmer. He learnt everything here. To describe him as green-fingered would be an understatement. The plants sense when he’s not around. We do everything exactly as he does, but the results aren’t the same, the plants aren’t at their best. And then they get their groove back when he returns. You see, nature knows how to give back what it receives. Nature soothes you, and never judges.
How has the Terre de Femmes International Grand Prix helped you?
Marta and her fight to save the forest, Lanka’s powerful action in defence of free seeds… All these women inspired me to get involved. The Terre de Femmes International Grand Prix is true recognition of the fight we’re all leading here in the protected Buçaco Forest. Since the prize-giving ceremony in Paris, I’ve done some television appearances and sometimes people recognise me in the street, which is funny. Beyond the recognition, winning the Terre de Femmes International Grand Prix has been an absolute boon to me because it’s enabled me to set up my own NGO to continue our work in Buçaco, and even further afield. Lots of towns have contacted me to ask if I could work with them on their environmental issues.
Ever aware of the richness and fragility of this environment, Milène Matos works tirelessly with an army of volunteers to maintain and preserve Buçaco Forest. To do so, she implements awareness campaigns for the general public, and welcomes visitors of all ages on a daily basis to explain the work she does here and how truly exceptional and vulnerable life in the forest is.