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Castro Verde SPA
Project LIFE Estepárias will intervene in 4 Baixo Alentejo SPAs. Castro Verde, Vale do Guadiana, Mourão/Moura/Barrancos and Piçarras.
Castro Verde Special Protection Area (PTZPE0046)

The Castro Verde Special Protection Area (SPA), created in 1999 and posteriorly expanded, in 2008, is the most representative steppe area in Portugal, with a total area of 85.345 hectares of which around 60.000 hectares are pseudo-steppe.  It comprehends territory from 6 municipalities: Aljustrel (19%), Almodôvar (4%), Beja (12%), Castro Verde (85%), Mértola (8%) and Ourique (3%).

The Castro Verde SPA landscape is mainly composed of slightly undulated plains that cover wide low altitude areas (between 100 and 300 m). The stream valleys and the random quartzite outcrops characterize the landscape.  The soil is not very deep and has very little organic matter, being described as “skeletal soil”.

In this SPA the extensive farming practices are predominant, being the traditional farming system based on extensive dry farming of cereals rotating with fallow lands, which results in an annual mosaic of crops, ploughed lands, stubbles and fallow lands. The fallow lands are generally used as pasture for sheep and cattle.  In this SPA there are also holm oak groves (montados), scrub forests and small olive plantations.
The diversity and abundance of steppe birds is the responsible for the protection status of this SPA. The Castro Verde SPA is the most important area in Portugal for the conservation of steppe birds, in particular of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda) and of the Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni). More than 80% of the national population of Great Bustard (Pinto et al. 2005) and 70% of the breeding population of Lesser Kestrel (Henriques et al.  2006) are concentrated in this region. This SPA is definitely the most important for the conservation of the Little Bustard during the breeding season in Portugal, because more than half of the breeding males estimated for the specie occur here (Silva & Pinto 2006).  

This SPA also holds important populations of Black-bellied sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus) and, furthermore, it is a breeding area for the Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata) as well as the main breeding area of the European Roller (Coracias garrulus) in Portugal.     

During the winter we can find important densities of Cranes (Grus grus), Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), Golden plovers (Pluvialis apricaria) and Skylarks (Alauda arvensis).  There is a regular presence of winter birds of prey such as the Red Kite (Milvus milvus) and the Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus). The fallow lands and pastures are important feed zones for the Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus), the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), the Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) and the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) (ICNB 2006).