Cultivated mountain slopes in the north of Madeira Island, Portugal

In this thesis the spatiotemporal dynamics of human-landscape interaction in the central northern parish of Ponta Delgada, Madeira Island, Portugal have been analyzed. This area is known for uniquely well-adapted and highly resilient agricultural landscape, consisting of numerous interconnected bench terrace systems. The agricultural terraces in Ponta Delgada parish have been intensively used for centuries, but remain fertile until today. Moreover, they have proven to be particularly resilient against erosive forces, a trait that gains importance with ongoing climatic changes. What structural subtleties have led to the exceptional stability of the terracces? What was the role of traditional agriculture in maintaining soil fertility at a high level and which external resource inputs took place on the terraces? How has the spatiotemporal development of the terrace systems occurred and what were the underlying motivations in former times and more recently?

The analysis of the terraces has shown that meticulous adaptation of the structure of the dry-stone walls, the extent and shape of integrated drainage systems and the layering of the terrace filling has taken place. During the construction of the terraces the natural layering of the soil has been preserved by carefully removing the layers and equally carefully replacing them in the correct order while building up the terrrace filling. Maintaining good soil fertility on the terraces was a main concern for the farming community. Perfectly adapted local farming practices with relatively closed nutrient cycles between the sectors of plant and animal production combined with external input of organic material from the forest ecosystem have allowed to keep the soils outstandingly productive even under very intense land use.



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