From joy with love, 2023

a story about Milvoz for “Riding the Heatwave”

Crossing the Alentejo unfolded in warm hues as I biked through cork oak groves and pine forests. As an inexperienced traveller, apprehension grew within me as I approached the steep hills of Coimbra. The truth is, the distance shortened and my fear dissipated after each ascent, but na sense of disappointment began to occupy that void. This was because, while pedalling there, the orange turned into dry green and the scent of gum rockrose gave way to the essence of eucalyptus.

Coimbra, like much of the Portuguese territory, is an area dominated by severely degraded habitats and extensive monocultures, especially eucalyptus. In addition to the well-known high risk of wildfires, these plantations are also associated with a decrease in biodiversity, which in turn increases the risk of soil erosion. If this sea of eucalyptus trees is alarming, then discovering punctuated green patches of native forest that proudly withstand these invaders gives us that feeling of a sailor when he finds land after months of sailing.

One of these land reefs is called Bio-Reserve Senhora da Alegria (Lady of Joy), a native vegetation cover and a place where I felt like a biologist again. Starting at the top of the hill, the descent was made by the sounds of the great spotted woodpecker and the blue tit, through a Mediterranean forest adorned with cork oaks and arbutus trees. There was a stop to photograph Solomon’s seal fruits. The neighbouring Portuguese oak and chestnut trees told us that we were in a more humid area, leading us to the Polomos stream, home to a great diversity of reptiles and amphibians, such as the water lizard, the Iberian frog, and the famous Lusitanian salamander. It was on the bank of this same watercourse that I photographed one of the emblems of this bio-reserve, the Campanula alata. If there is an abundance of biodiversity in these approximately 2 hectares, it is due to the love of the people of Milvoz, who aim to value the natural heritage.