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Laurisilva Forest

Madeira Laurisilva Forest - Photo by Virgilio Silva
The Laurisilva (Laurel Forest) dates from the Tertiary period and began to disappear from Europe and the Mediterranean basin about 10 000 years ago. This natural process of extinction evolved due to climatic changes that resulted in a decrease of the average temperature as the last glacier advanced in a southerly direction across Europe. Remnants of the Laurisilva managed to survive in areas that were not drastically affected by these climatic changes such as the Macaronesian archipelagos of Madeira, the Canary Islands and the Azores. Madeira has managed to conserve thousands of hectares of this primitive forest located mainly on the mountains, slopes, deep valleys and steep ravines of the north.

The Laurisilva is found primarily at an altitude between 300m and 1 300m and is home to an incredible variety of rare flora such as the Til, Vinhático and Barbusano trees to rare fauna including many endemic invertebrate species as well as endemic vertebrates such as the Long Toed Wood Pigeon or “Pombo Trocaz” and the Pterodroma Madeira also known as the Freira da Madeira, Zino’s Petrel or Madeira Petrel. Indeed, the greatest natural value of the Laurisilva in Madeira is its wealth of biological diversity. This area represents about 16% of the island’s surface. The Madeira Laurisilva forest is considered to be the largest of its kind in the world and was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on the 4th of December 1999 in Morocco.

Conservation of Madeira’s natural heritage, the protection of the environment including the fight against erosion as well as scientific research are factors that enjoy high priority. In 1982 the regional government declared more than 60% of the island a Nature Reserve, “O Parque Natural da Madeira”.

The Laurisilva is intrinsically linked to the destiny of Madeira. From the condensation of the fog carried by the north-east trade winds and caught by the central mountain range, the amount of rainfall at high altitudes, e.g. Bica da Cana situated at 1 560m is, on average 2,967mm per annum, to the retention of water in the leaves, branches and tree trunks of this ancient forest, the slow seeping of the water into the soil from whence it wells up again after encountering impenetrable layers of rock, the precious water is channelled to a vast network of “levadas” for consumption by the population, agriculture and the hydroelectric power stations for the production of electric energy.


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