The overarching goal of the project was to undertake research for using vegetation to combat desertification, using a desert monitoring approach in the defined target areas (Murcia and Tuscany) to develop a spatially integrated plan. Furthermore, the project has thoroughly identified the characteristics of soil for reducing soil erosion and sediment movement. This approach is critical to find the correct solution for soil recovering of these degraded fields. The applied methodology has been based on the connectivity concept which was very innovative at this time (2004) and which has gained widespread acceptance in landscape studies.
To achieve the major goals of the project, a thoroughly data analysing process has been carried out to determine the main factors which are implicated in the process of desertification. The project was developed under the coordination of the University of Portsmouth, in United Kingdom, and funded by the European Commission in the FP6 STREP (Global Change and Ecosystems domain). The period of duration of this project was 39 months, from 1st. February 2004 until 30th. April 2007.
The main results obtained from this research have been the development of patterns of sediment connectivity for different types of landscape, the identification of suitable plants (roots) and their resistance to climate and water flow, and the advice on how plants can be used to reduce soil erosion and sediment connectivity. To do that, different research steps were attained: first, identifying and characterising the places where erosion is more severe (erosion hotspots); then, an identification of species growing in the erosion hotspots; finally, and assessment of the most effective plant species for controlling erosion. The main case study was developed in the Cárcavo catchment of Region of Murcia, SE Spain
The approach developed at this time (2004-2007) was very innovative, by considering the concept of sediment connectivity, and by using vegetation in key landscape locations to solve soil erosion problems. Making use of vegetation is a sustainable strategy and many experts recognise the need for more research to fulfil applications. The strategy developed has the advantage that it targets key points in the landscape and does not use up agricultural land. The test fields were located in Spain but the basic idea could be transferred into other climate settings, as the project has developed new knowledge for application in Mediterranean countries regarding vegetation and landscape processes. Even more, the conceptual idea could be used in other kind of climates. According to the dissemination of information, practical guidelines have been both published in Spanish and English on the best locations to put the plants and most suitable species to mitigate desertification processes, to be used by land managers. As these guidelines are already available and accessible, the project reaches level 9 in the TRL scale.
Farmers, landowners, land managers and regional advisers are the main target groups for this research. The results are also interesting for EU and UN environment policy making. The consortium would like to continue this research carrying out a demonstration project to validate obtained results. Implementation of a demonstration scheme was not possible until the research results were obtained but these are now available.