Xistopedia

It’s the community that makes it happen

It’s the community that makes it happen
villages and territory
On 18th June 2018, the community of the Aldeia do Xisto of Ferraria de São João, in the county of Penela, came together to mark one year of the ZPA- the Village Protection Zone.

On 18th June 2018, to mark the first anniversary of the savage fire, the community of the Aldeia do Xisto of Ferraria de São João, in the county of Penela, came together and invited some friends to honour its memory, celebrate life and confidence, and share what has been achieved since then. And it has been a lot.

It’s impossible not to have a lump in your throat as you drive through the landscape still, riddled with black, twisted trunks. A year has passed and the memories still pulse and bring tears to the eyes. It is inevitable, and perhaps it will always be so, especially on every 17th June, like this first one of 2018, as we head to the Aldeia do Xisto of Ferraria de São João, in the county of Penela.  There, more than partners, we have friends. They were lucky where others were not, because the fire also licked their houses and threatened their lives. It chills me to think about it. It leaves us with a fear in our blood that can only be fought by resisting and celebrating life together. That’s what this community decided to do just two days after the fire passed, while the land was still smoking. The villagers decided that they never wanted to relive these traumatic moments and organised themselves to protect the village.

The owners of land adjacent to the village agreed to uproot thousands of eucalyptus trees and plant indigenous trees that are more resistant to fire,

in an orderly manner, forming a 100-metre strip around the built area. Hundreds of surviving cork oaks and oak trees have also been maintained, with a view to the joint and sustainable use and management of the land in this area. The ZPA - Village Protection Zone was set up, a project supported by the Penela Council and ADXTUR - Schist Villages Tourism Development Agency

Make it happen... and support everything that happens there

That morning, the meeting point was at the Mountain Bike Centre, just at the entrance of the village. Friends of Ferraria de São, owners of the land, officials from the Penela Council and ADXTUR - Schist Villages Tourism Development Agency joined the meeting. The first formal act was the unveiling of the plaque that informs all visitors of what has already been achieved in over a year of the ZPA. There you can see a diagram of the village and the adjacent replanted land. The ZPA has a total area of 15ha, with 9ha having been reforested. This took about 15 community meetings involving 77 landowners with 255 identified plots of land (up to March 2018). 70 to 80 thousand eucalyptus and pine trees have been uprooted and 500 cork oaks, oaks, strawberry trees, holm oaks, chestnut trees, walnut trees and cherry trees have been planted, in addition to the 1,000 existing cork oaks. Gestures of solidarity were legion, so the work could depend on some 500 volunteers in 17 activities undertaken in the village.

“We have supported what this community is doing here from the beginning and we will continue to support it”, said Rui Simão, the coordinator of ADXTUR. Luís Matias, Mayor of Penela, said that Ferraria de São João “was showing the country an example” of “love for the land” and of taking its destiny into its own hands, “not waiting for public bodies”. “That is also a great responsibility”, he concluded.

One of the most emotional moments of the day took place during the solemn planting of a cork oak tree in memory of the victims of the fire on 17th June 2017. The whole group helped with hoes and buckets of water. Words were few. The children were the ones who were most involved, showing the will to look forward, to sow for the future, and to honour the departed with the joy of keeping the land alive.

A minute’s silence was observed before a walk around the village, where the work of residents and volunteers is clearly visible. The land is clean, you can see the addition of tubes protecting the recently-planted trees, interrupted only by some recovering trees, which are still scorched. These are cork oaks and other trees that have resisted and not been uprooted.

Communion

The day ended in the centenary cork oak grove, one of the village’s landmarks and the only area not touched by the fire. If other evidence were lacking, this is undeniable. This is a magical place, where you can feel the very strong presence of nature, a protective embrace under that dome of branches and leaves where the light outlines a mosaic on the floor of stones, moss and vegetation.

It is from here that the immovable tranquillity of this village springs, here we connect to the matter that moves us, and here we are at home.  It was here that all the people came together in communion, for an outdoor mass, paying homage to the victims and celebrating the joy, strength and trust that continues to unite the community of Ferraria de São João.

Text and photos: Bruno Ramos

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