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Reforestation for regeneration

The experience of the Alvelal association in south-east Spain

Josephine Condemi
a story by
Josephine Condemi
Reforestation for regeneration

Regenerating one million hectares by 2034 by balancing nature and agriculture is an ambitious challenge: the Alvelal association pursues it through a precise socio-environmental strategy that ranges from bioacoustics to drone seeding. Here’s how

Fingers pluck the strings of an acoustic guitar while the river water flows. The chirping of birds joins the crowing of the rooster, the sound of cattle bells, and the voices of shepherds, fading to snaps of fingers and claps of hands in flamenco rhythm. The awakening has an increasing intensity. And the crescendo continues through all six tracks created by the British collective Sound Matters1 , who have recorded sounds and sonified data in the Andalusian and Murcian territories where the Alvelal association operates, in the southeast of Spain.

From soil to sound and back: in the track “Soil Composer”, data recorded over five years on a piece of land becomes electronic music. The synthesiser reproduces nutrient values, the depth of the reverb reflects moisture levels, and the frequency of filter interruption mirrors temperature. The resulting harmonic complexity is the sonic reflection of increasing microbial activity. The recurring data patterns correspond to recurring patterns of electronic sounds, in a mathematical interplay that makes one immediately feel what happens when the area reserved for the forest in a piece of land expands, intensifies, or is newly established: life regenerates

What does regeneration mean?

«Many years ago, I decided to challenge myself with the idea of regenerating our land in a holistic way: not only in natural, social, and economic aspects but also through inspiration, giving hope that things can change» says Antonio García. «This is where art comes into play.»

Since 2017, Antonio García has been involved in audiovisual communication for the Alvelal association, combining his skills in communication and development cooperation. After living abroad for years, he felt the need to return and contribute to his homeland.

Discover Alveal

The Alvelal association operates in an area spanning four provinces in southeast Spain: Granada and Almería in Andalusia, and the Altiplano and Northwest in the Murcia region. These provinces share the Altiplano Estepario, a semi-arid steppe plateau that transitions between the Mediterranean forest and the desert.

In 2014, the association became a partner of the Dutch NGO Commonland, which aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded landscapes worldwide by 2040. Alvelal secured €400,000 per year for 20 years to invest in one million hectares following the “4 Returns” methodology: inspirational, social, natural, and financial.

This methodology divides the landscape into three different zones: natural, agricultural, and economic, each with specific regeneration actions. For the natural zone, measures to protect biodiversity and restore wetlands and forests are expected; for the agricultural zone, regenerative agriculture, forestry, and soil restoration paths; for the economic zone, the creation of added-value business models for the people who live in the territories.

Today, Alvelal includes 519 people and 356 associated farms and has reintroduced 368,000 native plants of various species on public and private lands since 2015. The association’s former president, Elvira Marín, is now heading the Aland foundation to export the 4-return method throughout the Iberian Peninsula.

By 2034, the challenge is to transform the landscape of one million hectares by balancing nature and agriculture: restoring 25,000 hectares of natural corridors to connect existing natural parks, supporting the transition of 600 businesses into biodiversity hubs, reversing youth depopulation, and combating desertification and climate change. But what does regeneration mean?

«It is still a difficult concept to use because it is so manipulated» García emphasises. «I believe that if we continue to support the current lifestyle, we will die soon. I believe regeneration starts with this awareness of change, which sometimes means stopping, downsizing to allow life on Earth to continue

A movement that starts from within: «We want to regenerate the landscape, the mountains, and everything else, but I believe the most difficult work is regenerating one’s inner self: what you think, how you move, how you react, how you speak to other people,» reflects García.

«I see many people who want to regenerate the land, but do not regenerate themselves. And so, they think that in 3 or 4 years at most, they will achieve results that require at least twenty. This sometimes caused me anger in the past, then I realised that maybe that was the problem: we look at the outside and not the inside».

«Everyone has their own timing, but I think we live in a moment, as humanity, where we need more understanding and mutual help,» García underscores. «I believe in this kind of cooperation, especially when it is shown that the practices are good and effective.»

Technology and research for forests

In an ecosystem, everything is connected: fresh water, clean air, and soil fertility, on which the survival of living species depends, are the products of the interactions of those very species with the surrounding environment. It is not possible to isolate one element without considering the impact that element has on all the others.

In forests, for instance, trees play a fundamental role. Through the chemical process of photosynthesis, driven by sunlight, they convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. The former nourishes the plant and the soil, while the latter is released into the atmosphere, both benefiting other living beings. But a forest is not just trees, nor trees of a single species: it is the result of millennia of adaptation and co-evolution, based on biodiversity among different species that form a delicate and polyphonic balance.

This means, for example, that planting a tree species that requires a lot of water in a semi-arid area causes drought, just as planting invasive species creates a monoculture that “silences” the ecosystem, deeply altering it. Sometimes it may be more appropriate to plant bushes and shrubs that provide food for birds and insects or to create ponds to retain water.

Chirivel, a town in the province of Almería, Spain, is home to a particular type of juniper that is over 600 years old and has been recognised as a Natural Monument by the Regional Government of Andalusia. El Cortijico is its high mountain area, located in the Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park: at over 1600 metres altitude, it is characterised by strong winds and significant temperature fluctuations between summer and winter.

For the past six years, the Alvelal association has been trying to promote the natural regeneration of the area: in 2019, native trees and shrubs were planted; in 2020, the geolocalised direct sowing of over 40,000 acorns and seeds of trees such as native juniper and pine, as well as shrubs like hawthorn, began. In 2021, direct seeding was complemented by drone seeding: 500,000 encapsulated seeds of black pine, Aleppo pine, and broom were aerially sown in specific soil points. These seeds were first subjected to specific treatments to encourage germination at low temperatures and to retain moisture even during transport, which involves more exposure to sun and wind. The black pine seeds were already encapsulated with symbiotic fungi, mycorrhizae, which help their establishment in the first years of life. In 2022, 15 ponds were constructed, which were damaged by torrential rains and rebuilt in 2024, along with the planting of 8,000 new plants of native species and 22.5 kilos of acorns, accompanied by biodegradable protectors to shield them from herbivorous fauna. 

«We don’t want to go back to the Neolithic era, knowledge is always welcome if used well» smiles García. «We have research projects on carbon capture, the quality of organic almonds, and green infrastructure. We use various types of sensors to monitor the land, in addition to drone seeding. Technology,» he concludes, «can help build a better future.»

Sources:; All rights reserved.

The development of data sonification, the reproduction of data through sound, is helping to expand the soundscape2 in which we are immersed. In particular, the data recorded by sensors measuring temperature, humidity, and microbial activity in the soil that become electronic sounds are a new form of geophony3 or sounds produced by the earth, which together with biophony emitted by living organisms and anthrophony of humans forms the ensemble of sounds in an environment.

Bioacoustics is already used to measure the health of an ecosystem: the more populated the soundscapes are and the more they cover various audio frequencies, the less biodiversity is at risk. In a regenerating landscape like those Alvelal works on, the music can change in a crescendo.


  1. Founded in 2014 by sustainability expert Mike Edwards and music producer Harry Coade, Sound Matters is committed to creating a listening culture to improve communication for individuals and organisations. ↩︎
  2. To read more on this issue, see Schafer R. M. (1977). The Tuning of the World, New York: Knopf. ↩︎
  3. On geophony, see Bernie K. (1987). Bioacoustics: Habitat ambience and ecological balance, Whole Earth Review, 57: 14-18. See also Pijanowski B. C., Villanueva-Rivera L. J., Dumyahn S. L., Farina A., Krause B. L., Napoletano B. M., Gage S. H., Pieretti N. (2011). Soundscape Ecology: The Science of Sound in the Landscape. BioScience 61 (3): 203. doi:10.1525/bio.2011.61.3.6 ↩︎


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