Canary Islands: a history of 2500 years of deforestation

8 August 2013
Comments: 0
8 August 2013, Comments: 0

It’s funny how so many people ask us why Tenerife or the Canary Islands need to reforested. The truth is that the islands’ history is a story of intense deforestation that goes back many years.

1950 was the year that deforestation peaked, and when the Canary Islands’ forests were reduced to just one-third of the area they had occupied. More than 190,000 hectares of forest, an area almost as large as the entire island of Tenerife, had been destroyed. Yet not just that: that third that could still be called “forest” was badly damaged by the heavy exploitation of firewood and timber. The forests were wide open and continuously rejuvenated by the tree felling.

As we’ll explain another time, the Spanish settlers were to blame for most of this deforestation. However, recent research has demonstrated that the guanche aborigines also had a major impact on the Canary Islands’ original forests. Studies conducted of the ash deposits left in Guanche caves have shown that they had to start using brushwood for heating and cooking after they used up firewood from the thermophilic forest closest to their settlements.

It has also been shown, by studying the pollen deposits in the now-dry lagoon in the municipality of San Cristobal de La Laguna, that the area underwent an intense change to the surrounding landscape as a result of the aborigines and their use of fire. It went from being a forest with species that became extinct forever, such as oaks and elms, to cattle pastures and copses of colonizing species like the faya.


However, the deforestation process that the Guanches caused was rather slow, because after they arrived, many years passed until they were forced to change wood for firewood because of the shortage of thermophilic forest. It is estimated that while the the Guanches took 2000 years to destroy the area of forest, the Spanish settlers took less than 250 years to match that same surface area and 500 to treble it.

It was not until the mid-twentieth century, when Tenerife had lost more than 65% of its forests and Gran Canaria over 80%, that the restoration work began, gathering pace in the 40s, 50s and 60s and continuing, albeit at a slower pace, until today. In this time around 16,500 ha, hardly 9% of the 190,000 ha of lost forest, have been recovered. At Mirlo we have calculated that, to this day, and without conflicting with other land uses such as farming or urban development, we could recover another 90,000 has.

Apart from enhancing our quality of life and our biodiversity, these 90,000 ha of new forests would help to improve our sustainability indices, as they would absorb 20% of the CO₂ that we emit each year.

With our 2013 project, we’re doing our bit. If we achieve our goal, we’ll plant 29 hectares and take the first step to keep on growing in the future and multiply our ability to make a positive mark.

Join us, change your world. Become a mirlo.

Find out more about Tenerife’s woodlands here

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