A new kind of investor: The green landowner

Via Olive Green: Lisa Tilley reports on a new breed of “green speculator,” who are buying forest land in Galicia (Spain) to protect it from the encroaching concrete

A NEW breed of rural investors has purchased thirty two million square foot of O Ribeiro in Galicia, in order to preserve a forest there and allow for further reforestation.

For Pablo Oitabén it is a lifelong dream that began at Ridimoas, his father’s finca in O Ribeiro. As the woods surrounding the farm became ever threatened by encroaching urbanization, the teacher decided to facilitate some ‘development’ of his own. Hence he began the association Ridimoas, which allows people to buy a piece of threatened forest for as little as 10 euros (14 dollars).

When the project was first underway and the dream became reality, Oitabén hoped to expand the protected area by one hectare per year. However, exceeding all expectations, the project already has 300 hectares – purchased by a group of more than 1,000 “green investors” from as far a field as Venezuela, Switzerland, Germany and Canada, as well as Spain.

Pablo initially intended the forest as a place to bring injured birds to recuperate, as well as somewhere for his pupils to visit to learn about nature and the environment. But the project soon escalated thanks to the eager buyers, as well as grants from the Xunta de Galicia regional government.

1166906302.gifToday, the forested lands around the Beade mountains are so large, it is possible to maintain untouched protection areas to allow the deer, foxes, wild boar and otters to live among the hazels without human interruption.

There is space left over for visitors, and opportunities for dedicated volunteers to get involved with conservation and reforestation projects.

Oitabén was delighted to be involved in a documentary film about wolves, not least because his salary from the project could be channeled into the forest preservation scheme.

This is not the only brush with the big screen Ridimoas has enjoyed: butterflies from the forest were used in the film La Lengua de las Mariposas (Butterfly Tongues). Once again, the funds obtained from this were used to enrich the reforestation project.

Support for the venture has not just come in a financial guise: a mare found injured and abandoned in the region was ordered by the courts to be donated to the Ridimoas forest. The recuperated horse now serves as Pablo’s trusty steed, as he rides around the woods each day to make sure all is in order in the area. During the summer months he has to be especially vigilant in the face of the risk of forest fire.

All the data obtained through observation of the wild animals, timber extracted from the forest, temperatures and daylight hours goes to a log that is sent weekly to the NASA program “Globe” by the local school.

The rest of the time, Oitabén is concerned with haggling with local landowners over the surrounding terrain and making arrangements to buy plots to extend the forest. The ever-expanding boundaries of the protected area show no signs of slowing – under the ruthless forestal development of Paco Oitabén and his devotees, Ridimoas is biting back at the concrete jungle.

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