Reconnecting spaces of the Natura 2000 Network with living sheeptrails

Relevance of the project actions

February 26, 2021
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The LIFE CAÑADAS project has begun its ecological conservation and restoration work in the Community of Madrid. Actions are focusing on the network of livestock tracks of the siliceous arches lithological unit, which extends in the form of a strip across the central area of the region from southwest to northeast. The predominantly agricultural and urban landscape of this region makes the conservation and recovery of multifunctional livestock trails, capable of acting as ecological corridors and reservoirs of biodiversity, especially critical. In total, work is underway on 62 sections belonging to the municipalities of Alcorcón, Boadilla del Monte, Brunete, Colmenar Viejo, Cubas de la Sagra, El Molar, Griñón, Humanes de Madrid, Leganés, Madrid, Majadahonda, Moraleja de Enmedio, Móstoles , Navalcarnero, Quijorna, San Agustín de Guadalix, San Sebastián de los Reyes, Torrejón de Velasco, Tres Cantos, Valdemorillo, Villamanta, Villanueva de Perales, Villanueva del Pardillo and Villaviciosa de Odón. These points can be located on this interactive map. By clicking on them, you can see the type of performance.

The diagnostic work carried out for the Community of Madrid as a whole allowed us to document various degradation factors that affect the aforementioned region. Among them, the invasions by other uses (agricultural, urban, industrial), the degradation of the soil due to the uncontrolled traffic of motor vehicles, or the impoverishment of the vegetation due to the abandonment of livestock use are noteworthy. Fortunately, we also identified some well-preserved and properly grazed sections, which are very useful to adequately define the reference state to which we wish to bring the sections under restoration. Thus, Mediterranean grasslands rich in species are the hallmark of livestock roads in good ecological condition, and therefore the restoration of degraded stretches will focus on the recovery of this type of habitat. These grasslands not only allow the maintenance of livestock use, but also contribute to carbon fixation, host a rich edaphic fauna, and favor the presence and diversity of interest groups such as ants, coleopterans or wild bees. Along with grasslands, the presence of other elements that provide spatial heterogeneity and increase the possibilities of use and refuge for a wider biodiversity is also desirable. Among them, it is worth highlighting the scattered trees, the bushes on boundaries and steeper areas and anthropic elements such as walls or pylons, of critical importance for the herpetological fauna.

Marking of sections under restoration by plowing the compacted soil.

In the sections in which the soil shows a marked deterioration process due to compaction and erosion, the first measure has been to organize road traffic, delimiting a single road and blocking the passage to the spaces under restoration. Subsequently, the substrate was decompressed by plowing, which will favor the infiltration and aeration of the soil, as well as the rooting of the herbaceous vegetation. In a second phase, which will begin in April 2021, these sections will undergo a process of crushing or flocking with sheep, which will allow the fertilization of the soil and the incorporation of large quantities of seeds through the excrement of the animals. During the following years, a moderate livestock use will be maintained, which will favor the evolution towards a pasture rich in species.

In other sections the ecological deterioration is a consequence of the disappearance of extensive cattle ranching. It must be taken into account that in this area we do not have wild grazing herbivores that can replace domestic livestock, so their disappearance is ecologically problematic, and leads to a marked process of plant supply , characterized by the loss of species and the excessive accumulation of biomass. In these cases, the recovery of a good ecological state requires the recovery of livestock use, which will be carried out over the next few years thanks to the participation of the collaborating herds of LIFE CAÑADAS in Madrid.

As a complement to these two main lines, LIFE CAÑADAS is carrying out other more detailed restoration actions. Since in a large part of the network the main problem is the usurpation of the own space of the livestock routes, we have built dry stone walls next to the boundaries, which will facilitate the protection of the road. These walls also play an important role as a refuge for invertebrate fauna, reptiles, micro mammals and more demanding plant species in shade and humidity. We are also carrying out actions in favor of wild bees, consisting of the installation of nests associated with some low walls and planting of woody species of interest to these insects, in collaboration with the GREEN BEE project, co-financed by the Biodiversity Foundation.

Finally, LIFE CAÑADAS works on other sections in which there are no actions or these are not very apparent. Several of these sections are in a good state of conservation, and what we intend is to protect them and use them as a reference for monitoring ongoing actions. In other cases, the state of conservation is not ideal, but the sections must remain unchanged to provide a control that allows evaluating the effectiveness of conservation actions. In some cases, small fences will be installed to prevent the entry of livestock, and thus be able to discriminate the specific effects of controlled grazing and grazing.

All restoration actions are accompanied by a detailed monitoring plan based on soil, fauna and flora bioindicators. This plan, which will be developed over the next few years, is based on initial measures prior to the interventions and is highly dependent on the preservation without intervention of the control sections. The restoration actions underway also have a permanent evaluation system that will allow us to implement modifications or adaptations to incidents that may arise throughout the life of the LIFE project.