PROBAAL is a grass-roots environmental association based in the East Algarve region of Southern Portugal and has a particular concern regarding environmental issues in this locality.
Over recent years, this relatively unspoilt area has undergone increasingly aggressive land clearance and seen the emergence of larger numbers of monoculture plantations and plastic greenhouses.
The rapid growth of unsustainable large-scale agriculture is putting an increasing strain on the water resources of this dry region.
Alongside this, the wide implementation of Solar power plants across the territory is also contributing to the artificialisation of the landscape and putting much natural land at risk of destruction.
PROBAAL exists to contribute to the protection of the natural resources of the region, namely water, land and biodiversity.
The PROBAAL story began when a mining company now known as Tecnovia cheaply bought 21 plots of land, spanning the valley between the hills of Leiria and Ondas, in the parish of Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo .
PROBAAL was first formed in the year 2000 by a Portuguese lawyer, named Maria do Carmo Sennfeld who wanted to protect the area to the South of Cerro do Leiria from a quarry. The group commissioned a hydrology and geology report that proved the quarry would damage the aquifer, so in 2001 the quarry licence was refused, and PROBAAL fell quiet.
Then in 2007 the PDM was altered for 5 hectares of the ecological reserve land purchased and in 2009 a brita quarry started to operate there, so PROBAAL re-formed to challenge the quarry and also supported residents’ concerns regarding a wind turbine project, the erection of a mobile phone antenna and electricity pylons.
”About two dozen residents in the hills of Tavira demonstrated on Friday in front of the Town Hall building against the quarry that has been operating since the end of 2009 next to their homes and in an area classified as a National Ecological Reserve (REN).”
PROBAAL gave the community a voice and in due course, the quarry was ruled in court to be illegal, neither the wind turbines nor phone antenna were erected, and some pylon locations were altered.
”An injunction has suspended stone extraction in a zone of “maximum infiltration” of the Peral-Moncarapacho aquifer system. The Administrative and Fiscal Court of Loulé ordered a halt to limestone extraction at the Cerro Leiria quarry, licensed by Tavira council, giving grounds to residents who objected to the industry in an area classified as a national ecological reserve (REN). Following the court decision, the municipality notified the Tecnovia group company to “suspend any and all material operations it is carrying out”.
There followed a decade of peace in the valley…
In February 2021 a plan was discovered to build a 69MW solar power plant on the same piece of ecological land that had been threatened by the quarries, thus PROBAAL was reactivated for a third time – as all the same reasons reamained as to why the land should be protected from inappropriate developement.
For the following two and half years the group worked to find out more information about the Central Solar Fotovoltica de Estoi project and to prepare the community for what would be thrust upon them at some unknown moment; the 42 day public consultation period.
During this time PROBAAL wrote letters and asked questions, they talked with the community at the monthly markets.
They invited people to the visit the land and collected signatures on a petition, they also held a public meeting, held fundraisers and built a website.
On 19 th May 2023, the moment PROBAAL had waited for came and turned into 62 days of ceaseless communication, during which a community woke up to the wolf at its door. A time when it became understood by many, that no one will protect your interests but you and that because animal, trees, and water have no voice, we had to raise ours.
PROBAAL has learned a lot so far on this journey; it has learned that people don’t always leave it to others to defend nature and their communities, that it’s worth getting to know our neighbours and that it’s quite difficult to explain how an aquifer works.
Above all, PROBAAL understood that the power of people coming together is extraordinary and can create miracles.
The founding president is now in her 93rd year and the PROBAAL group intends to continue its work in the future, fighting to protect the Barrocal region’s natural heritage, namely water, biodiversity, land and people.