Olivares Vivos demonstrates the high ecological value of olive groves to preserve in Europe

Olivares Vivos extends its study on olive grove biodiversity from Andalusia to Portugal, Greece, and Italy, and its results reaffirm its potential for the conservation of natural heritage. In the four countries, more than 330,000 records and over 1,600 taxa related to species from 990 genera and 279 families/subfamilies of birds, pollinators, bats, ants, spiders, and plants have been obtained.

The results were presented at an event at the International Olive Council (IOC) with an experiential closing: the “Taste for Biodiversity” cocktail featuring Olivares Vivos extra virgin olive oils and olive grove plants, accompanied by chef Marco Reguera, specialized in healthy eating and gastronomic value.

The Mediterranean olive groves still represent an important refuge for Europe’s flora and fauna, being a strategic crop for th conservation of natural heritage at national and continental levels. This is demonstrated by the results of the study developed by LIFE Olivares Vivos +, coordinated by SEO/BirdLife, in four countries: Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece.

“Today we take another step towards that necessary change in the agri-food model. And we do it with science, because thanks to data, we can propose productive systems that generate profitability while promoting biodiversity. Olivares Vivos crosses borders and, now more than ever, supports the Europe that society needs, one that goes hand in hand with nature as the only guarantee for the future,” says Asunción Ruiz, Executive Director of SEO/BirdLife. 

The study, conducted by the University of Jaén and the CSIC Experimental Station of Arid Zones, has put biodiversity thermometer and found that, despite the serious deterioration it has suffered after decades of agricultural intensification and landscape simplification, there is still remains a significant number and diversity of species.

Intervention by Asunción Ruiz during the presentation event at the IOC headquarters

Results of the more than 1,600 recorded taxa

In the four countries, more than 330.000 records were sampled, detecting more than 1.600 taxa (at the species and/or morphospecies level) covering 990 genera and 279 families/subfamilies of all the analysed groups: birds, pollinators, bats, ants, spiders, and plants.

Among the results of the study, it appears that biodiversity in olive groves increases from east to west, with a peak on the Iberian Peninsula across all studied groups, except for bats.

“There is also a geographical and regional segregation in the identity in the taxa (species, genus), indicating a notable renewal of them along this geographical gradient, which contributes to increasing overall diversity. This is consistent with the geographical and deforestation gradients characteristic of the Mediterranean,” explains Pedro J. Rey, Professor of Ecology at the University of Jaén and leader of the research in this project.

The results are also relevant to understanding the consequences of an increasing aridity of the climate on the diversity and composition of biological communities in olive landscapes.

Furthermore, the findings of studies carried out by Olivares Vivos in Andalusia (LIFE project 2015-2021) highlighted that agricultural intensification seriously impacts biodiversity through the homogenisation of agricultural landscapes and the loss of natural habitats, as well as through intensive agricultural practices such as persistent cover removal and pesticide use. The new studies are endorsed on a continental scale, as this pattern is consistent in each of the four countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece) and in the 10 studied regions (including the Portuguese Alentejo, Extremadura, and Castilla-La Mancha, semi-arid Andalusia and the Valencian Community in Spain; Lazio and Tuscany in Italy; and Crete and Peloponnese in Greece).

Biodiversity measurement in an olive farm in Jaén.

Looking at the Iberian Peninsula

“With these new data, Olivares Vivos has brought togheter the results of both LIFE projects, obtaining the most comprehensive view of olive grove biodiversity in general and, in particular, in the Iberian Peninsula, which, with more than 3 million hectares, hosts more than 50% of the European olive groves,” said Rubén Tarifa, CSIC technician and coordinator of the fieldwork.

Thanks to this computation, Olivares Vivos has recorded a total of 825 plant species in Spain and Portugal, 12% of the total Iberian taxa; 142 spider genera, which are 32% of those inhabiting the peninsula; 285 types of wild bees, 28%; 192 bird species, 32%; and 20 different types of bats, which make up 57% of Iberian bats.

The extensive sampling effort in the Iberian Peninsula also allows addressing aspects related to the distribution of biodiversity along climatic gradients, as well as making inferences about the future of this diversity in the face a realistic scenario of increasing aridity. To this end, Olivares Vivos selected four farms located in Granada, Almería, and Alicante under semi-arid conditions, also considering another in the southeast of Jaén, for which information was already available from the previous project in this type of environment, and compared their biodiversity data with those obtained in farms under more favorable cultivation conditions.

This comparative analysis has revealed that those farms in more arid climates show the highest levels of flora and fauna diversity. In this regard, the main factors determining variation in biodiversity levels and composition are the same: the management of the herbaceous cover and the complexity of the landscape, which shape overall biodiversity

“This makes us optimistic about managing biodiversity in olive landscapes in the face of increasing aridity due to climate change, as the agri-environmental scheme of the Olivares Vivos model, which is already working to recover biodiversity in relatively mild conditions, can also do so in semi-arid conditions,” says Francisco Valera, CSIC scientist at the Experimental Station of Arid Zones.

Process of identifying a spider

Facing the challenges of the field

In addition to its intrinsic value for quality of life, biodiversity is essential for addressing the environmental challenges of agriculture. Climate change, water scarcity, loss of fertile soil, pests, and the increasing dependence on chemical inputs or, in summary, food security, depend on biodiversity and its ecosystem services. Without cooperation with nature, it would be difficult to overcome the socio-economic challenges associated with market globalization, generational replacement, and lack of profitability.

Olivares Vivos not only recovers biodiversity, but also turns it into profitability. Together with the research team from the University of Jaén specialized in markets, we study how to introduce biodiversity into the market and convey this added value to consumers. It is not just about the environmental health of agricultural operations, but also about enhancing their competitiveness by integrating biodiversity into their business model. For this, we have another project partner, Juan Vilar Consultores, to measure the competitiveness of Olivares Vivos.  

“It is true that sustainability is fully integrated into business and political discourse, but it is time to move to action. And for this, Olivares Vivos is a proven effective tool to start this path. Because biodiversity, in addition to being a fundamental pillar of sustainability, is its best indicator. Biodiversity is the sustainability that can be seen, smelled, heard, and felt,” says José Eugenio Gutiérrez, director of LIFE Olivares Vivos+.  

The Biodiversity Guest

The results presentation event featured the participation of Jaime Lillo, Executive Director of the IOC, who stated, “Today we present the results of the largest study on olive grove biodiversity conducted to date, framed within the European Union’s LIFE project, Olivares Vivos+. This initiative demonstrates that agriculture, biodiversity, and the environment can mutually strengthen each other, particularly in a context where we all have to face the challenge of climate change..

Additionally, participants included Francés Boya, Secretary General for the Demographic Challenge at the Ministry of Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge; Paz Fentes, Deputy Director General of Herbaceous and Industrial Crops and Olive Oil at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Isabel Uceda, Deputy for the Environment of the Provincial Council of Jaén; José María Martell, Vice President of Scientific and Technical Research at the CSIC; Nicolás Ruiz, Rector of the University of Jaén; and Asunción Ruiz, Executive Director of SEO/BirdLife.

To celebrate the Sustainable Gastronomy Day and consolidate the union between sustainability and profitability, the AOVE brands with the Olivares Vivos seal, accompanied by olive grove plants, featured in the cocktail “The Taste for Biodiversity” led by chef Marco Reguera, specialized in healthy eating and gastronomic value. He highlighted that these olive groves not only produce high-quality olive oils but also grow interesting wild herbs and vegetables among their olive trees, which are valuable for culinary recipes.

Still life with the oils participating in both LIFE Olivares Vivos projects.

LIFE Olivares Vivos+ 

Since 2015, with the funding of two LIFE projects, Olivares Vivos has developed and implemented an innovative olive farming model born from the consensus between farmers, scientists, and conservationists. Now, through the LIFE Olivares Vivos+ project (2021-2026), efforts are being made to accelerate the dissemination of the model in the main olive-growing regions of Europe, extend it to other products (such as table olives), and transfer it to other crops like almond trees, vineyards, and rainfed herbaceous crops (Secanos Vivos). Work is also being done to adapt the model to the cooperative sector through the Operational Group Cooperalive, and to study the effect of herbaceous covers in olive groves with the Operational Group Coverolive.

The LIFE Olivares Vivos+ project is developed by SEO/BirdLife as the coordinating partner, along with the Provincial Council of Jaén, the University of Jaén, the Experimental Station of Arid Zones of the Spanish National Research Council (EEZA-CSIC), the University of Évora, the agricultural and forestry cooperative DREAm-Italy, the Hellenic Agricultural Organization, and Juan Vilar Strategic Consultants. The project is funded by the LIFE program of the European Commission and is additionally co-financed by the Provincial Council of Jaén and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development of the Regional Government of Andalusia, as well as with financial support from the Spanish Olive Oil Interprofessional, the Regional Government of Castilla-La Mancha, and the Caja Rural de Jaén.



La Sociedad Española de Ornitología es la entidad conservacionista decana de España. Desde 1954, sigue teniendo como misión conservar la biodiversidad, con la participación e implicación de la sociedad, siempre con las aves como bandera.

SEO/BirdLife es la representante en España de BirdLife International, una federación que agrupa a las asociaciones dedicadas a la conservación de las aves y sus hábitats en todo el mundo, con representación en más de 100 países y más de 13 millones de socios.

Es el socio coordinador del LIFE Olivares Vivos+.