Natural wealth through tradition

© Hans-Joachim Mathlage
Traditional drovers' roads (cañadas) are of great ecological importance. © Hans-Joachim Mathlage

Over centuries transhumance – or the seasonal movement of people with their livestock - has left its mark not only on the landscape but also on the culture of the Iberian Peninsula. When, in spring, the  inland vegetation began to dry out shepherds set off with their flocks to the mountainous, lusher areas in the North of Spain. The cattle breeders followed a path wherever they could find pasture for their animals and in this way prevented overgrazing and erosion of grazing grounds.

Huge green net
For the long trek the shepherds used traditional drover's roads the so-called cañadas. Till today large stretches of these traditional grazing paths have remained unchanged and are of great ecological importance: the green network of the cañadas form a huge system of connected biotopes  which serves untold plant and animal species as habitats and paths to roam along.

Transhumance was rationalized out of existence
Until the middle of the twentieth century twice a year several million sheep, goats and cows “commuted” between their summer and winter quarters. When Spain joined the EU, farming became more and more determined by EU-agricultural policy: factory farming and monocultures  gradually ousted the traditional transhumant culture and the cañadas were gradually forgotten.

New impulses
In 1992 together with Spanish partner organisations EuroNatur started “Project 2001”.The goal was  to re-establish the ten most important cañadas as routes for droving and in this way to revive the form of transhumant farming. Even if it has not yet been possible to re-introduce transhumance across the country we have managed to achieve important first-step successes. For instance since 1995 the cañadas have been put under conservation order and may not be built on. In future it will mainly be a matter of thinking up new perspectives for transhumance. EuroNatur is working on the political level particularly for targeted support for sustainable forms of farming such as transhumance.

What is EuroNatur doing to revive transhumance?

  • Backing positive model initiatives: we give support to organic extensive grazing livestock farms in Extremadura.
  • Starting up regional market systems: we are developing concepts for more effective marketing of the products from organic farms.
  • Creating the political preconditions for change: Together with our partners we are campaigning for ecological and socially just re-orientation of European agricultural policies to secure long-term improvement of the framework conditions for land users and nature conservation.

What EuroNatur and its partners have so far achieved:

  • We have created the foundation of factual knowledge needed: nature conservationists have accompanied the flocks alongside experienced shepherds. They have documented the ecological state of the route of the drover's road in detail, noting all unpassable places.
  • We have gained allies: By involving the local people we have been able to start up important nature conservation projects. For instance we have been able to convince some landowners to tackle the creeping destruction of the cañadas.
  • Awareness has been raised: many Spanish people have adopted the movement with enthusiasm. Revival of transhumance became a national event reported in detail in the media.
  • Protection is now statutory: In 1995 the Spanish Parliament decided to enshrine the old common law protection of the cañadas in modern Spanish statutes. Since then any form of building or use of the drovers' roads – other than for driving herds - has again been forbidden.
  • Alternatives have been highlighted: we have worked with our partner organisations to start up initiatives in which cañadas can become a focus for ecotourism. In particular leisure activities such as hiking, cycling or day expeditions on horse-back along the ancient drover's roads offer a unique combination of culture and nature. 

Partner: MURUNA Spain

Sponsors: EuroNatur donors

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