The Madrid forest of the Belgians that has cost the State 19 million euros | Climate and Environment

Monte Cabeza de Hierro, popularly known as the Pinar de los Belgas – due to the origin of its owners – has become a state pine forest after its recent acquisition for 18.9 million euros, at 9,372 euros per hectare. The place, located in Rascafría (Madrid) on the edge of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, houses one of the best representations of Scots pine on the Iberian Peninsula and has become a paradise for the black vulture, a protected species. The ghouls have found in the tops of these pines distributed over 2,016.5 hectares the ideal place to reproduce in peace and form one of the most important colonies of the species in Spain that has spread throughout the rest of the mountains. Although the company exploited the wood of the pine forest, the closed seasons (from February to September) and the tree stands where there were nests were respected so as not to disturb the breeding. The 18 couples that remained in 1985 have become 154, 50% of them are within the pine forest, explains Asunción Ruiz, executive director of the Spanish Ornithological Society, SEO / BirdLife, which is in charge of monitoring the vultures .

The Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, and the owners of the pine forest since 1840, have today staged the transfer into public hands in a symbolic act of handing over the keys held in the same farm. After years of tug of war and unsuccessful attempts by the owners for the Public Administration, including the Community of Madrid, to acquire the land, it has been the ministry through the Autonomous Organization of National Parks that has decided to take the step. However, when the national park was created in 2013, the pine forest was not included despite its undoubted ecological value. To carry out the valuation of the lands, the technical appraisal of the land, the wood stocks, the buildings and infrastructures and the environmental and recreational values ​​of the area have been taken into account, the ministry lists.

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Pinar de los Belgas.
Pinar de los Belgas.

The Belgian pine forest was not always private property. From the Reconquest until 1675 it belonged to the Community and Land of Segovia. In 1675, the Crown handed it over to the El Paular monastery, which kept it until it was put up for public auction in 1837 with the confiscation of Mendizábal. It is awarded to Don Andrés Andreu, who in 1840 sold it to Adrien Benoit Bruneau, representative of a group of Belgian businessmen and bankers who traveled to Spain attracted by the real estate business opportunities that were opening up with the confiscation. They founded the Belgian Society of Spanish Farms, the germ of the current company Sociedad Anónima Belga de los Pinares del Paular, says the writer and naturalist Julio Vías, who worked in the pine forest as a young man, in summer, as a guard to control the fires. There he learned to love this pine forest where he spent 10 hours a day, alone, watching the forest. The farm also had a sawmill, which has been operating until now.

Vías considers that the acquisition by the Belgians was “providential for its conservation”, because other pine forests of El Paular disappeared to obtain immediate benefits. “They even rejected substantial offers to rebuild French towns destroyed in World War I because it would have meant cutting down the trees,” he adds. And throughout the next 100 years they continued to be “forerunners and ahead of the times in that regard.” Raptors, considered vermin for decades in the last century, also benefited from this thinking. “Jean Piere Lecocq, director of the company between 1935 and 1967 took measures to protect the black vulture that even today seem advanced to us”, he assures.

Asunción Ruiz, president of SEO / BirdLife, also refers to this environmental benefit. “I remember as if it were today when I started working on SEO and that Juan Vielva [entonces director del Parque Natural de Peñalara] he told me that we could never pay for the sensitivity and affection of the management of this farm “, he recalls. Vielva points out that this sensitivity occurred at the time when Alain Lecocq was running the company. “I was personally checking tree by tree,” he says. A management that, in his opinion, has changed in recent years: “They put heavy machinery in and it has been terrible.” The current head of the pine forest, Nicolás Lecocq, does not agree with these statements and assures that its maintenance was adequate.

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Management alarm voices

The environmental association Arba sounded the alarm over the deterioration of the pine forest. José Luis García, a member of the organization, explains that when he was going to walk through the mountains it seemed to him that the way of handling was “a disaster and an outrage”. “They are quite sensitive places and putting more powerful and larger machinery implies that they do not fit in the same places and that the destruction of soil is going to be greater,” he says. The lack of cleanliness of the forest when the trees were cut became another cause for concern, “because it could become a torch in case of fire”. The association began to send letters to the director of the national park, the Community of Madrid and the mayor of the Rascafría City Council. “They did not respond to us, but we sent press releases to the media and published on social networks,” says Jesús Cruz, coordinator of Arba Valle del Lozoya. As a result of these actions, the Red Montaña association contacted them and “they began to involve other associations and people of great relevance in the defense of the Sierra del Guadarrama.” “And now the news has reached us,” he explains enthusiastically, although they have not been invited to the key-handover ceremony.

Vielva, currently director of the Research Center of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, warns that “this mountain may be a jewel, but for this it cannot be exploited commercially as it was being done until now.” It is a protective forest of the Lozoya basin from which the people of Madrid drink and it must be taken care of, because in these places “the shade of a tree is worth more than its wood.” “It must be declared of public utility and included within the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park,” he specified.

National parks, for the moment, has started “a period of analysis” of the situation to decide its “future vocation” and the actions to be taken to preserve its values ​​”in a way that is compatible with other uses of the mountain” in a similar way to how it is carried out. carried out in the Montes Matas and Pinar de Valsaín ”. And in both there is logging.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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