10 May 2002

Trees shady business

FARMING in the "dehesa" of southern Spain is all about trees.

Evergreen corks provide a rich harvest of bark, while the local encinas (holm oaks) yield acorns for the pigs. Both provide essential shade from the searing summer sun.

Given the importance of these woods and orchards, grants are readily available to encourage replanting and conservation.

A joint-funded EU scheme pays farmers some k1500/ha (£920) in the first year for planting new trees, followed in each of the next four years with a k250/ha (£153) maintenance grant and a k60/ha (£37) compensation payment.

Strict conditions apply to qualify for grants, including a ban on keeping livestock on newly planted land for the first 20 years. It is obligatory to have fire breaks and every year the farm has to submit a fire plan to the local authorities. Failure to do so would invalidate any insurance policy.

Government permission is also required to prune and burn any branches. This must be completed by Mar 15 each year.

Trees are planted at a rate of 350/ha, with maximum losses of 10%/year allowed during the first five years.

The plantations are inspected every year and must contain at least 100 trees/ha after year 20. El Romeral has about 95ha (235 acres) of subsidised plantations.