The “Herdade da Ribeira Abaixo” (HRA) is the Field Station of the cE3c, The overall goal of the Field Station is to provide a location and other facilities for studants, researchers and visiting scientists to undertake their research in the área of Ecology. The HRA is located in one of the largest areas of cork-oak (Quercus suber) woodland (“montado de sobre”), na important ecosystem of SW Iberia due to its economical importance, as well as to its biodiversity. This was the main reason for its choice by the CBA.
The 221 ha Field Station is located in the eastern os Serra de Grândola (Baixo Alentejo), 100km south of Lisbon, between the altitudes of 150 – 240m. The Field Station has two recovered buildings – one for the accommodation of researchers and students (with 8 beds) and another (the “Ecoteca”) for teaching and research. The latter is a multi-functional space that includes laboratories, offices, na exhibition room and a conference room.
The HRA is located in the county of Santa Margarida da Serra, the least populous county of Grândola, with a population density of less than 10 inhabitants/ km2. The first census of this County that includes most of the Grândola Hills and the HRA dates back from 1513. By that time, the main church of Santa Margarida da Serra was already built and there were more than 100 inhabitants in the surrounding regions (Silva, 1997). During the following three centuries the population increased very slowly, stabilizing during the 19th century at around 500 persons. This low population density is very probably related with the poor soil quality and weak precipitation, which do not allow intensive agriculture. For instance, all of the farms that were registered in 1794 were still unchanged in 1995, which may mean that a family could not be supported by smaller holdings. The biggest changes in the resident population took place during the 20th century – a marked increase until 1940 and a marked decrease from 1950 to the present. This population decrease, which also happened in other rural areas in Portugal, is due to the emigration of the younger generations to the main towns.
The history of human occupation of the HRA followed the same pattern: from 1 house and 4 inhabitants in the early 19th century to 3 houses and 13 inhabitants in the early 20th century and finally to its abandonment around 1970. Since then, there was no permanent occupation of the HRA (Silva, 1997). António Inácio da Cruz, the last landowner created the António Inácio da Cruz Foundation, that administered the property after his death in 1955. This Foundation was extinct in 1977, and the property reverted to the Portuguese State. Today, the HRA is a state property owned by the Ministry of Agriculture (“Direcção Geral de Hidráulica e Engenharia Agrícola” - IHERA). The Faculty of Sciences of Lisbon, through a contract signed with the IHERA in 1993, is allowed to use it for educational and scientific purposes. The official opening of the main building occurred on the 5th October 1996, while the “Ecoteca” was inaugurated on the 10th October 2001.