Dehesas

Land of plenty for cranes and pigs

© Gunther Willlinger
The dehesas are one of the last barriers holding back the spread of deserts to the North. © Gunther Willlinger

Corresponding in a way to central European meadow orchards with their high-stem apple, pear, plum and cherry trees are the extensive Holm Oak and Cork Oak groves, known as dehesas in the South-west of Spain. And indeed these two natural areas are connected via migration: many summer residents of the meadow orchards such as Redstart and Common Wood Pigeon spend the winter in Extremadura. For Cranes, too, the dehesas with their wealth of food are a veritable land of plenty. Every autumn around 60 000 cranes arrive to winter here.


Green barrier against the desert
Dehesas are also particularly worth protecting from a global perspective. In this arid, hot area of Europe the evergreen Holm and Cork Oak woods are one of the last barriers fending off the creeping formation of desert towards the North. This vegetation ensures that the sparse rainfall does not instantly evaporate but rather sinks gradually into the ground replenishing the ground water.


The shift from extensive to intensive use
The dehesas developed when what were originally dense oak forests were used for pasture for pigs, cows and sheep. While cows and sheep grazed, the pigs feasted on the nutritious acorns preventing dense regeneration and in this way over time the woods took on a park-like character with dotted stands of trees.
With the development of intensive animal breeding many farmers gave up this near-nature form of production. This had grave consequences for these fragile habitats: the result is that most of the dehesas are over-mature because the naturally regenerating saplings are eaten by the large numbers of animals grazing there.

Many land-owners transformed the dehesas into irrigated monocultures which will in the long run leach the soil and lower the ground water level. If, on the other hand, the land is left unworked the dehesas become scrubland and are often destroyed in bush fires.


Time for a turnaround in land use
Together with our Spanish partners we have been campaigning for years to preserve this extraordinarily valuable ecological resource. Alongside direct nature reserve projects we are above all trying to exert influence on national and European agricultural policies: a turnaround is needed in order not to lose even more valuable habitats for Crane & Co.!

 

 


What EuroNatur and its partners are doing to protect the dehesas:

  • Passing on knowledge: together with our partners we counsel and train farmers and representatives of local government in managing the dehesas properly and discuss future perspectives.
  • Backing positive model initiatives: we give support to organic extensive-grazing livestock farms in Extremadura.
  • Developing concepts for nature protection: working with our partners we are developing suggestions for ways to support the dehesa economy.
  • Exerting pressure: we are campaigning by means of nature conservation lobbying on national and European levels for the preservation of traditional forms of farming such as the dehesa tradition.



What we have so far achieved - A selection of successes

  • In cooperation with EuroNatur the Fundación Monte Mediterráneo (FMM) has worked out a catalogue of suggestions for support programmes with which dehesa pattern of farming is to be supported. In the summer of 2006 the FFM presented this catalogue to the Andalusian government. And met with agreement there: The Ley del la Dehesa, the Dehesa Bill, of the regional government now contains important elements which are based on the suggestions made by EuroNatur and FMM.
  • Together with our local conservation partners-in-nature we have carried out many measures to prevent young oak saplings from being damaged by browsing. In this way we have been able to regenerate over-mature stands of trees and secure them lastingly and in doing so to restore ecological value to deteriorating dehesas.

 

Sponsors: Hermsen Foundation, EuroNatur donors and sponsors


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