In Portugal, huge swathes of agricultural land were abandoned by owners, making way for vast forest areas. As the country’s paper industry is well-established and hugely profitable, intensive monoculture of maritime pine and eucalyptus trees developed rapidly. Although crucial to papermaking, eucalyptus trees are also very invasive and highly flammable. Portugal has experienced some major heatwaves over the past few years, which have caused a surge in major forest fires that are increasingly intense, destructive and lethal.
I was very moved by these fire-ravaged landscapes. The devastation is awful. Because when trees burn down, all the life that coexists around them dies too.
For the Yves Rocher Foundation, Spanish photographer Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, member of the VU agency, visited the forests affected in the region of Monchique in the south of the country, to document the devastation left behind and to meet the people doing all they can to bring the fires to an end. Marta, founder of the Futuro organisation, has chosen to look to the future and, most importantly, to act. Since 2011, she has been planting trees relentlessly in the metropolitan zone around Porto. Supported by the Yves Rocher Foundation, she has already planted over 100,000 trees.
Children are highly receptive to discourse about environmental protection, and love getting their hands dirty for a good cause. They run around, climb trees and build their confidence while having fun outside. And they also pass this positive message on to their parents.
In the south of the country, the Monchique region of the Algarve is mainly covered with pine and eucalyptus plantations. It burned in the summer of 2018. For over a week, firefighters battled day and night to overcome the colossal flames.
A region devastated and left mourning by Portugal’s most deadly fires in June 2017, between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiró dos Vinho. The areas affected by the fires were quickly replanted with eucalyptus trees, which doesn’t bode well for the future.
The greenery of the eucalyptus trees stretching out into the horizon is actually an illusion. This highly flammable tree is responsible for spreading forest fires throughout the country, increasing the threat to the chestnut, mimosa, cork oak and other local tree species that make up the region’s true ecological heritage.
Preschool teacher Cédric regularly takes his class to the heart of the forest to introduce the children to trees and nature, and to pass on a sense of respect for the environment. He also gives them the chance to participate in activities that help prepare plants for the Futuro nursery.
Marta Pinto, winner of the 2013 Terre de Femmes Award, is also a partner of the Plant for the Planet programme. She does her work through Futuro, an organisation she set up to limit the spread of eucalyptus trees and invasive plants while encouraging native trees to flourish.
Portugal has experienced some major heatwaves over the past few years, which have caused a surge in major forest fires that are increasingly intense and destructive. The rise in the number of fires and the growing number of eucalyptus plantations are a cause-and-effect phenomenon.
The Parque das Serras de Porto park in Valongo has secured a place in the Natura 2000 network thanks to its rich natural heritage. Marta Pinto is involved in a scheme to protect this natural site, which is surrounded by eucalyptus trees. 17,000 local tree species have already been planted here
The paper industry is well-established in Portugal. Turning rural flight to their advantage, manufacturers have grown the eucalyptus trees they need to make paper. This species is incredibly invasive, but more crucially, its leaves, bark and oil are highly flammable.
70% of the land in Vale de Cambra, south of Porto, is forest. Here, fires are on everybody’s minds. In 2016, 3,600 hectares of forest burned down, but the local authority is finding the resources it needs to combat this scourge. Twice as many employees have been allocated to forestland upkeep.
Since 2011, Marta Pinto and her organisation Futuro have grown nearly 75,000 saplings in nurseries, while managing and planting around 174 hectares across the 2,000 km² that make up the metropolitan zone of Porto.
Juan Manuel Castro Prieto: a peaceful force to be reckoned with.
With his distinctive style midway between documentary and artistic photography, Castro Prieto brings a human touch to these fire-ravaged environments. This rigorous photographer works with light, employing the delicate sensitivity for which he is now renowned. He channelled his talent, rigorous work ethic and high-impact approach into capturing images for the Yves Rocher Foundation on a trip to Portugal to highlight this natural environment struggling to survive, aided by the kind souls that this master of photography has managed to immortalise, telling their stories through his heartfelt lens.
Large-format view cameras evoke another era. Using this technique to capture these planted trees is a nod to their longevity. They will long outlive us.
Born in Madrid in 1958, as a child, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto was fascinated by the outline of his bedroom door’s keyhole as the light from the living room streamed in, casting a shadow on the wall. “I was introduced to the concept of a dark room from a very young age,” he recalls. “That’s where I found my calling. From that moment on, I was obsessed with photography, absolutely fascinated and enthralled by it.”Today, he works with a large-format view camera, a demanding technique that perfectly reflects this artist’s personality. A meticulously precise photographer, Castro Prieto does not consider himself to be a photojournalist.