Around 263 mares and 28 stallions will prevent forest fires on Cabreira Mountain. The initiative joins REN, the municipality of Vieira do Minho, ACERG - Associação de Criadores de Equinos da Raça Garrana (the Garrano Horse Breeders Association) and APOSC - Associação Para o Ordenamento da Serra da Cabreira (the Cabreira Mountain Territorial Planning Association) aiming to help prevent fires in that mountainous region, while creating conditions to protect this local endangered species. It includes the creation of a system of improved pastures, drinking troughs for the horses and the placement of GPS devices on dominant mares and stallions. The undertaking also has the assistance of APOSC which, through its teams of forest fire fighters, supplements any work not done by the Garrano horses in the corridors of REN's power transmission lines.
Through an agreement signed by the four entities, REN will be responsible for building a fence, along certain specific sections, to keep the horses from easily reaching National Highway 103 during times of less food supply on top of Cabreira Mountain, thereby making road accidents less likely. To complement this initiative, REN will create a system of improved pastures, and plant native shrub species in select areas, helping to keep the animals from having to travel to more hazardous areas to find food, while helping to enhance biodiversity. REN will also be in charge of creating drinking troughs for the animals, as well as for placing GPS devices on dominant stallions and mares, in order to monitor them.
Since these horses spend more time in the higher parts of the mountain, this is where they will primarily look for food. Given that each one eats an average of 20 to 25 kg of food each day, the 263 mares and 28 stallions that live on Cabreira Mountain will clean around 7,000 kilos of vegetation each day, substantially lowering the risk of forest fire. This natural vegetation control will be overseen by teams of APOSC firefighters, whose three brigades will supplement any work not done by the Garrano horses in REN's corridors.
The decision on the placement of these infrastructures will be coordinated by ACERG in conjunction with REN, and is part of the association's strategy to protect the sustenance of this breed, while contributing towards the region's socioeconomic development. This agreement will also be part of the Vieira do Minho City Council's forest fire prevention policies, namely by including it in the Integrated Rural Fire Management System.
According to António Cardoso, Mayor of Vieira do Minho, 'this partnership finally achieves a long-time wish of ACERG and APOSC, since it will significantly lower the accident rate on National Highway 103. Everyone knows that this highway has countless horses along its edges, where acorns are the Garrano horses' favourite food. These animals climb down the mountain in search of this food, and since there is no physical barrier keeping them from doing so, they often access the highway and cause accidents, some of which are serious. Through this partnership, REN will be solving a highly challenging problem for the municipality of Vieira do Minho'.
ACERG Chairman João Paulo Ribeiro sees 'the completion of an old project of the association, thereby solving a serious problem: the fact that these horses can access a busy road, National Highway 103. This partnership agreement will also safeguard the good reputation of the Garrano horse, an ancient breed that coexists in the territory with another protected species, the Iberian wolf'.
According to Rui Dantas, from APOSC, 'Cabreira Mountain will end up a winner with this partnership. We are extremely pleased with the implementation of this project, since one of the association's main goals, from the beginning, has been to preserve, enhance and promote the territorial planning of Cabreira Mountain'.
According to João Gaspar, in charge of the area of Sustainable Networks and Easements at REN, 'it is our conviction that prevention is the best way to prevent forest fires. Every year we clean thousands of hectares surrounding our infrastructures throughout the country, giving firefighters and civil protection teams the ability to fight fires. The ability to combine this aspect of prevention with helping to preserve the Garrano breed is something that REN is truly proud of. We would like to thank ACERG, APOSC and the Vieira do Minho City Council for joining us in this experimental project where they will be managing around 100 hectares'.
A Breed with Palaeolithic Roots
The Garrano breed, together with the Lusitano, Sorraia and Terceira Pony, is one of four breeds of horses native to Portugal. It has existed in the Portuguese territory since the Quaternary period, making it a relic of Palaeolithic fauna. Since 1994, the Garrano breed has been subject to a conservation and genetic enhancement program managed by ACERG, under the guidance and coordination of DGAV - Direção Geral de Alimentação e Veterinária (Directorate-General for Food and Veterinary Matters). As regards the degree of risk of genetic erosion among native breeds, the Garrano breed is classified at the highest level for the threat of extinction (Level A - Very high risk).
The main goals of ACERG, founded in 1990, are to protect this breed, by promoting its existence as a means of integrated rural development, enhancing the mountain ecosystem's profitability and helping the establishment of populations.
APOSC was created in July 2003 for the purpose of disseminating, promoting, enhancing and developing the territory of Cabreira Mountain. By exploiting the mountain's resources in a sustainable manner, and through its excellence in technique and science, engaging surrounding communities and municipalities, it promotes territorial development and creates value for future generations.
The Vieira do Minho City Council sees the forest, farming and tourism as three priority strategic areas for its territory. The revitalisation of Cabreira Mountain and its assets is considered a strategic goal to be pursued.
REN, within the scope of its sustainability, community support and fire prevention policies, works constantly in its easements throughout the country in conjunction with AGIF - Agência para a Gestão Integrada de Fogos Rurais (the Agency for Integrated Management of Rural Fire), ICNF - Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests), ANEPC - Autoridade Nacional de Emergência e Proteção Civil (the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority) and the municipalities where electrical lines and gas pipelines allocated to the concession of the Portuguese National Electricity Transmission Grid and the National Natural Gas Transport Network are installed. In the past five years, REN has cleaned more than 38,000 hectares (9,000 hectares in 2021), and has replanted more than 3.6 thousand hectares in easement areas, boosting biodiversity and resistance to forest fires.