Forests of Tetraclinis articulata – a species of evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family – are a priority European habitat. Its distribution area on mainland continental Europe is restricted to a population in the Region of Murcia. Other European populations can be found in Malta and in the Spanish territory of Melilla on the African continent.
The Murcian population was estimated to be 8 455 individual trees, spread over 557 ha in four sub-population areas. Nearly all (96%) of its distribution area was included in Natura 2000 sites. Unfortunately, despite the protection offered, a 2011 forest fire affected 59% of the total surface of this habitat. Its conservation status in Murcia is now poor.
The natural recovery of this habitat faces several threats including: intense competition from Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) to recolonise the space; difficulties of the younger individuals to sprout; overgrazing of the area; fragmentation and isolation of the populations; and uncontrolled cutting of the trees for ornamental uses.
The LIFE-TETRACLINIS-EUROPA project aims to improve the conservation status and long-term sustainability of the priority habitat Tetraclinis articulata forests in the Cartagena Mountains of Murcia, Spain. As well as increasing the surface area of the forest type, it aims to combat the genetic erosion of the tree populations and reduce future threats.
The project plans to reforest significant areas of Tetraclinis articulata as well as to carry out selective clearing of the competitor species Pinus halepensis and additional invasive species. Planting will be organised to improve the genetic diversity of local tree populations as well as to maximise the mitigation of climate change. To further prevent long-term genetic erosion of the species, the project will clear old artificial plantations of Tetraclinis articulata when their genetics are not appropriate.
To reduce the threat to forest areas from human activities, the team will work on both public awareness and control of public access and use of the forest. They plan to construct fences to control grazing and close inappropriate trails, while improving official trails and roads.
Finally, the project hopes to promote scientific research into the forest habitat to improve understanding of how best to conserve it in the long term. It will also introduce a specific programme to monitor its conservation status.