La Vera, Extremadura, Spain
Goats are herded daily on extensive, unfenced pastures, both public and privately rented. This work takes most of the farmer’s day. The pastures are typically mid-altitude mosaics with a highly diverse vegetation of scrub, trees and grass, including several Natura habitats. The photo shows an area where juniper scrub (habitat 5210) is expanding.
Hay meadows were once widespread but now survive mainly in one or two valleys with traditional irrigation systems and suckler cattle.
Hay meadows in a semi-natural state have disappeared almost completely due to abandonment since the 1990s. Grassland patches maintained by grazing (priority habitat 6220) in the mosaic of scrub and woodland are vital for many butterflies and birds, but do not show up in the SAC habitat mapping. No measures have been taken for their conservation and they are gradually being lost as grazing declines.
Cows spend the summer on high-altitude pastures, including species-rich nardus grasslands (priority habitat 6230). These areas were previously used by large flocks of transhumant sheep, whose disappearance since the 1980s has allowed large-scale scrub encroachment. Unlike goats, the cattle can be left to graze unattended, but they will tend to concentrate on more palatable vegetation.
Cattle and goats mostly spend the winter at lower altitudes in either public or privately rented pastures. These include dehesas (habitat 6310) and other wood pastures.
Many goats and cattle still move on foot (typically taking one or two days) from lower to higher altitudes according to seasonal forage availability. This means that many farmers manage two completely separate areas of pasture, often both in common use, which presents many administrative difficulties in terms of permissions for animal movements and TB controls.
Goats are milked morning and evening, mostly by hand, a very labour intensive task.
These tree crops are cultivated on small terraced parcels forming part of the landscape mosaic. They tend to be under increasingly intensive management, or abandoned.
Pastures are degrading due to decline in grazing animals, especially goats. This leads to scrub encroachment, loss of Natura 2000 habitats, and increasingly devastating wildfires. Vast areas of municipal common pastures have no management plans or strategy for their future, but farmers are not allowed to clear scrub because of environmental rules.
Most of the upland pastures are in Natura 2000 and need to be grazed, but due to a combination of EU, national and regional policy decisions they are not eligible for Pillar 1 area payments, agri-environment or Natura 2000 payments. The Pillar 1 headage payment for goats is the lowest in the EU (€8), as is the mountain areas payment. Farmers have no incentives for grazing these pastures, making it impossible to meet Natura 2000 objectives.
Traditional cheese-making has been outlawed by rigid interpretation of food hygiene rules, so farmers must depend on a volatile wholesale milk market instead of adding value to their own product. Modern alternatives for producing artisan on-farm cheese are blocked by rules that treat cheese-making as an industrial systems, including urban planning and environmental rules.
The EU requires eradication of TB in animals, so Spanish authorities are implementing a severe campaign of slaughtering goat flocks with suspected infection. This is wiping out goat farming in La Vera. But there are no controls on TB in wild fauna, so new flocks are quickly re-infected from key vectors such as the expanding population of wild boar.
Pastoralists and their families have to put up with harsh living conditions, including very basic accommodation, especially during the summer months in the upland pastures.
Authorities do not recognise the positive role of extensive grazing, and do not attempt to understand the challenges it faces. There is a lack of dialogue between administration and pastoralists and an absence of coordination between different authorities in their policies towards pastoralism in mountain areas.
QUERED is a national association of artisan cheese producers working for the adaptation of rules and bureaucracy to the reality of artisan cheese dairies, including in La Vera. In 4 years of campaigning they have achieved legal reforms that are improving the situation for farmers who want to start adding value to their milk.
The HNV-Link team is working with pastoralists and authorities in Garganta la Olla to develop a strategy for maintaining sufficient grazing activity to conserve the range of Natura 2000 habitats that dominate the landscape of this municipality. This includes practical proposals for clearing scrub in certain areas of municipal land, and ensuring they are then grazed regularly. And using RDP funds to invest in better living conditions for pastoralists.
A new farmers’ association of La Vera pastoralists is trying to build dialogue with the regional authorities. HNV-Link is supporting the initiative and gathering support from the municipalities.
Use CAP options to provide incentives for maintaining goat grazing
HNV-Link is discussing with regional authorities how to make more innovative use of CAP and RDP options, adapted for communal grazings, including agri-environment-climate and Natura 2000 payments. Good innovation examples - see Bulgaria, Ireland, France and other countries.
Adapt the TB control programme to local situations
HNV-Link is discussing options jointly with regional authorities and farmers for adapting TB control to local to the needs of local farming system, with more flexibility on the issue of immobilising flocks, and addressing the problem of wild fauna vectors. A new working group has been set up. Good innovation examples - see UK.
Creating multi-actor strategies for sustaining pastoralism
HNV-Link is encouraging the municipal and regional authorities to discuss, in collaboration with pastoralists and other experts, an integrated strategy for maintaining extensive pastoralism in La Vera. This is the first time the municipal councils have been approached with such an idea. Good innovation examples - see France.
La Vera is a district in the north-east of Extremadura occupying the southern slopes and foothills of the Gredos mountains, ranging from approximately 400 to over 2000 metres and bounded to the south by the river Tiétar. The upland landscape is a mosaic of grassland, scrub and forest, the result of extensive grazing by goats, sheep and suckler cattle. Most of the uplands of La Vera are designated as SAC ES4320038: Sierra de Gredos y Valle del Jerte. This site covers over 40,000 ha, of which 40% is within the district and includes a large part of the HNV farming system.
- Quered cheese makers’ campaign
- Farmers building dialogue
- Finca Casablanca Dehesa farm developing a sustainable model
- Pastando Garganta - a local HNV-Link project
Relevant for La Vera from other areas:
- Spain - MOSAICO participatory project
- Spain - Plan 42 integrated programme
- Bulgaria - Natura 2000 payments
- France - Intercommunal pastoral pact
- France - Collective approaches
- Romania - Integrated Natura 2000 management plan
- UK: TB Control plants