Skip to main content

Saint Louis University Header Logo Center

Menu Search & Directory

SLU-Madrid Student Volunteers Aid Ecological Restoration Project


Earlier this spring, a group of 20 students ventured to the mountains outside of Madrid to take part in the ecological restoration of the hills of Robledo de Chavela, an area whose biodiversity has been ravaged by fire and adversely impacted by years of logging.

The students from SLU-Madrid’s Human Rights Club and the campus’s “Introduction to Oceanography” course led by Mónca Pérez-Bedmar, joined ecological restoration students from the Universidad Aútonoma de Madrid to log data on the survival of the pines and oaks planted there by mountain engineers in an effort to rehabilitate the area that was once a lush, biodiverse forest.

“Walking up to the burned section of the hills, there was a distinct visual contrast between the unburned land which was full of trees of all different kinds, juxtaposing the brown shrubs slowly sprouting in the damaged zone,” Adrianna Wong, a student studying abroad at SLU-Madrid from the University of San Francisco, said.

As part of the April 6 effort, the students walked down a straight path in the restoration area, noting any hole that either contained a healthy tree, a dry tree or a dead tree.

The data the student volunteers collected showed 253 healthy pines, 92 healthy oaks and 450 empty holes. Of 22 caged plants, all survived but one.

Once covered in lush greenery, the hills of Robledo de Chavela were cleared to make room for pine trees, which, once planted, grew quickly and were harvested for their resin.

A 2012 fire subsequently decimated the hills. Due to the lack in variation of plant life, the fire spread quickly, burning 1,200 hectares of trees and scrubland. The flames consumed not only the pines, but also animals and their habitats. The absence of diversity where the pine trees were planted contributed to the area’s lack of resilience and biodiversity after the fire.

Restoration projects, like the one SLU-Madrid students participated in, have worked with the Community of Madrid in various attempts to rehabilitate the Robledo’s hill country. Mountain engineers planted hundreds of pines and oaks to speed up the regrowth of the forest.

After a day of data recording, the group planted some new trees. Using hoes to break up the dirt and create small holes, students placed and securely covered the trees with soil.

Project managers will return weekly to take care of the new plants and to continue the restoration of the Robledo hills.

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

Video by Adriana Wong and Maude Wilkinson. Story by Katie Gortz, SLU-Madrid Marketing