Regenerative Design at Herdade do Nicolau: A Holistic Approach to Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry

The Nicolau estate, located in the Guadiana River watershed, on a strip of land between this great river and Chança, is a typical reflection of the landscapes of the left bank of the Guadiana: a landscape dominated by holm oak and cork oak trees, whose monotony is broken by a diverse topography.

This property, approximately 500 hectares in size, is also fortunate to cross the origins of its history with the roots of the current owners’ family. They have managed to value the potential, importance, and quality of these landscapes in the eyes of new generations. Based on this intergenerational connection between people and lands, a Regenerative Structural Planning project was developed.

For this location, a design was developed around three main axes: Natural Infrastructure and Landscape Hydration; Integration of existing activities, such as livestock and hunting; and Development of forest production.

To reach the most detailed point of the design for each area, a “macro” division of the territory was first made. Four major production areas were selected, those with the best aptitude for production. These areas, more suitable for the desired productions, influenced choices regarding the main access routes.

In the background, the regeneration of the soil and landscape hydration is a direct necessity and consequence of the current state of ecological degradation of the land, especially at the level of soils and hydrology. Therefore, a network of ponds was developed, divided according to their importance:

1. Priority ponds;

2. Less priority ponds, to determine, facilitate, and prioritize financial investments more efficiently. The natural infrastructure network, as always, brings an ecological architectural structure of the natural landscape, benefiting the entire landscape, water cycles, and promoting biodiversity and ecological services.

Regarding the question of productivity and economic profitability of the property, it is related to two fronts: hunting, already present, seeks to be benefited, particularly through the development of an ecological/natural infrastructure, improving access and conditions for the reproduction of game species (deer, rabbits, wild boars, etc.); forest production and regeneration of the montado, the latter with low diversity from the perspective of the age of individuals and soil coverage that reveals overgrazing, low soil permeability, among others. However, this problem can always be transformed into an opportunity.

Here, the montado is approached as a basis for forest regeneration, using this cover as a shelter for a new series of vegetation, chosen based on forest profitability criteria.

Regarding silviculture itself, it is aimed at the correct selection of species, the potentialization and regeneration of favorable areas for the most profitable species – through landscape water planning, mainly – and finally, it aims to develop a regenerative silviculture model.

On the other hand, in addition to silviculture, hunting, and general regeneration of the territory, the regeneration of pastures and permanent soil cover, combined with practices that take into account topography and the mitigation of erosion factors, is an elemental aspect in the dry Alentejo climate. In this aspect, the fundamental role of livestock and holistic and/or sustainable pastoralism is naturally redefined: pastures should be concentrated outside the structural vegetation zones (water lines, ridges, and most water retention points).

Undoubtedly, this estate, in the early stages of regenerative production and sustainable silviculture, will be the talk of the town! Let’s stay tuned!

This project team:

Project Director and Initial Drafts: Nuno M. Santos

Designer: André Mestre

Estimations and timeline: André Mestre and Nuno M. Santos