LIFE Project Cover Photo

The Green Deserts: new planting techniques for tree cultivation in desertified environments to face Climate Change

Reference: LIFE09 ENV/ES/000447 | Acronym: The Green Deserts



A variety of interconnected issues are affecting the impact of climate change. These include increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, traffic-related emissions, soil degradation and subsequent loss of agricultural capacity and land, and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems. One of the most devastating consequences of climate change is the desertification of areas that have previously served as areas of carbon sequestration, food production and landscape conservation. Tree planting can help overcome these problems but innovative planting techniques are required to properly regenerate some degraded areas.


The The Green Deserts project’s main objective was to demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of new tree planting techniques in desertified, poor and/or rocky areas. Innovative ‘waterboxx’ technology (Twinboxx) would be applied to restore the sponge function of degraded soils and reinforce soils’ existing capacities for supporting plant life. Waterboxes would be tested to assess their suitability as a means of capturing rain and condensation for use in cultivating hedera (ivy) plants along roadsides, where the plants are intended to absorb traffic-related air particulates and CO2. The project intended to demonstrate the waterboxx technology’s capacity to improve soils by stimulating the natural capacities of plants; increase success rates of planting in eroded and desert areas to above 95%; reconstruct forests; absorb large amounts of CO2 emissions; restore ecosystems facilitating the planting of indigenous and endangered species in desertified or otherwise damaged territories; reduce water and energy use, as the technology does not require any type of irrigation; restore desertified agricultural land to economic profitability, thus increasing economic opportunities in rural areas and combating their abandonment; and possibly facilitate all-year planting, offering long-term employment and larger time spans for cultivation and reforestation.


The The Green Deserts project demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of new tree planting techniques in desertified, poor and/or rocky areas. The innovative ‘waterboxx’ technology was applied to restore the sponge function of degraded soils and reinforce soils’ existing capacities for supporting plant life. Waterboxxes were tested to assess their suitability as a means of capturing rain.

The project started with the characterisation and selection of species and land as well as with the preparation of saplings using local varieties that have adapted to the difficult climatic conditions. Such analysis was carried out by the University of Valladolid, in cooperation with the other partners. Selections were based on biodiversity and landscape preservation, the potential economic interest of species, and soil and climate characteristics. Almost 60 000 samplings were produced and planted in different locations: León (Autonomous Region of Castilla y León), with alpine conditions and where organic soil is lacking; Riofrio de Aliste (Autonomous Region of Castilla y León), with mining and forestry areas, where quality wood is found; San Mateo de Gallegos (Autonomous Region of Aragón), with semi-desertic conditions; and Viladecans (Autonomous Region of Cataluña), where Mediterranean mountains with long dry periods are found.

Using the waterboxx technology, a new capillary drill for planting was developed by Aquapro, a Dutch company. Prototypes were adapted to local conditions, including biodegradable polymers versions but these proved costly and inefficient from a lifecycle perspective. An alternative solution was to use a paper pulp version and 10 such prototypes were produced. This aspect of the project was especially innovative, as the paper versions were the largest moulded parts ever to be manufactured with the material. Biodegradable waterboxxes were planted together with a control group of standard waterboxes and one without any waterboxes. The planting activities employed a total of 27 501 waterboxxes for the growing of 59 758 saplings.

In general, the results were positive. Survival rates varied in the different plots from 78 to 98%, significantly higher than the control group of 36-62%. These figures assume that intrusion of wildlife in search for water is well managed. It was found that the waterboxx protects the plant against snow, high and low temperatures and landslides. It was also discovered that planting two high trees in the box creates competition problems and the survival benefits of using the waterboxx are greater in hardier species. The project moreover found that for good results well-prepared soil and good quality of saplings are necessary.

However, the reforestation cost of one hectare of land using the waterboxx technique was calculated to be higher than the cost of reforestation using the traditional method on flat land – though the same is not true for mountain areas. Reforestation of mountainous areas implies considerably higher costs due to more labour and logistical difficulties. Given the higher survival rates in areas with steep slopes using waterboxxes plants, the technique does help reduce the costs related to repositioning of, for example, dead plants or weeds. Similarly, the waterboxx could also be an economically feasible method for planting species that have a high added value, such as fruit trees or trees destined for the production of quality wood. All in all, the project concluded that the economic feasibility of the waterboxx technique is directly proportional to the degree of unfavourable physical characteristics, soil characteristics and weather conditions found in the area.

The project has developed and demonstrated an applicable technology that can significantly contribute to diverse environmental and climate action related policy areas in the EU. The waterboxx permits the implementation of new approaches to mitigate climate change from agroforestry by increasing the carbon sequestration capacity of trees and recovered soils and by helping farmers to adapt to climate change – a cross-cutting EU priority acknowledged in the Commission Communication ‘An EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change’ (COM/2013/0216 final). Finally, the project’s outcomes strongly support the goals of the Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection, the new EU Forest Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


Reference: LIFE09 ENV/ES/000447
Acronym: The Green Deserts
Start Date: 01/09/2010
End Date: 31/08/2015
Total Budget: 2,074,518 €
EU Contribution: 1,007,997 €
Project Location:


Coordinating Beneficiary: Fundacion General de la Universidad de Valladolid
Legal Status: PRIVATE
Address: Plaza de Santa Cruz 5 - bajo, 47002, Valladolid, España
Contact Person: Cecilia SEVILLANO
Tel: 34 983 42 32 65

LIFE Project Map



  • GHG reduction in non EU ETS sectors
  • Forest management
  • Soil and landscape protection
  • Natural resources and ecosystems
  • Carbon sequestration


  • reforestation
  • soil degradation
  • forestry
  • restoration measure
  • desertification
  • agroforestry
  • carbon sequestration
  • land use


  • Decision 529/2013 - Accounting rules on greenhouse gas emissions and removals resulting from activities relating to land use, land-use change and forestry and on information concerning actions relating to those activities (21.05.2013)
  • COM(2013)216 - EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (16.04.2013)
  • COM(2006)231 - “Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection” (22.09.2006)
  • COM(2013)659 - A new EU Forest Strategy: for forests and the forest-based sector (20.09.2013)
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020” (03.05.2011)


Name Type
Fundacion General de la Universidad de Valladolid Coordinator
Transfer Latin Business Consultancy, Spain Participant
AquaPro BV, Spain Participant
Sylma BVBA, Spain Participant
Universidad de Valladolid, Spain Participant
Diputación de Valladolid, Spain Participant
Diputación de Léon, Spain Participant
City council of San Mateo de Gállego (Zaragoza), Spain Participant
City council of Riofrio de Aliste (Zamora), Spain Participant