Reconnecting spaces of the Natura 2000 Network with living sheeptrails

Relevance of the project actions

Life Cañadas project: ecology and sustainable pastoralism unite for the recovery of biodiversity
April 29, 2020
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Life Cañadas project: ecology and sustainable pastoralism unite for the recovery of biodiversity

During the last decades, the corridors used by the animals to their seasonal dislocations, known as livestock tracks, or “streams,” have experienced a marked reduction in their use, to the point that in many cases they have been abandoned completely. This neglect causes a loss of biodiversity at all levels, affecting, among other groups, to plants, wildlife, soil, arthropods epigeos and vertebrates. On the other hand, the increasing intensification of agriculture and urbanisation of a large part of the territory makes the natural spaces are isolated from each other. The recovery of the glens opened the door to the creation of a network of corridors of semi-natural vegetation that would connect these protected natural spaces. In addition, the putting in value of the transhumance traditional allows farmers to act as social agents essential to the maintenance and conservation of the livestock and the ecological wealth that house.

The extensive cattle-transhumance, the one in which the livestock performs seasonal movements in search of pastures more productive, it has become an activity that only a few pastors do. This type of husbandry has been gradually replaced by other models of management more intensive, which however carries a high environmental impact. This has led to the disuse, and even abandonment of many livestock routes that transited the cattle in their movements, which has led to a growing deterioration process of these brokers.

The Research Group of Ecology and Conservation of Terrestrial Ecosystems (TEG-UAM) and the Laboratory of Socioecosistemas, both belonging to the Department of Ecology of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) – in collaboration with the Association Field In the Spanish Society of Ornithology (SEO/Birdlife), the Directorate-General of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food of the Community of Madrid and the Directorate General of Forest Policy and Natural areas of Castilla – La Mancha – , just start the project LIFE Dingles, co-financed by the LIFE Programme of the European Union at 60%. The objective of this project will be to make conservation actions and ecological restoration in a part of the livestock of the Community of Madrid and in the Cañada Real Cuenca, in the Community of Castile – La Mancha, with the purpose of recovering their ecological role and improve connectivity between spaces of the Natura 2000 Network. The Natura 2000 Network is the set of protected areas for the conservation of biodiversity in the European Union. These areas, sometimes, they tend to be surrounded by landscapes intensified (mainly areas of crops) or urbanized, with little presence of natural habitats, which causes it to become fragments, isolated from each other. The restoration of the network of cañadas, very extensive in our country, it is an opportunity for the implementation of green infrastructure in these landscapes is intensified, which in addition would facilitate the reconnection between natural areas by creating ecological corridors and facilitate the movement of seeds and other propagules associated to the displacement of the cattle.

The actions will focus on two areas: on the one hand, the Cañada Real Cuenca, who joins the Sierra Morena to the Sierra de Albarracín, where it is still held by some migrating flocks; and on the other the network of drovers roads from the Community of Madrid, to a great extent impaired by neglect, erosion or encroachment by other uses, which has led to a severe loss of diversity in the same. “The cattle, when moved from one place to another, keeps the vegetation in a state more desirable to regulate the accumulation of plant biomass while providing periods of relaxation of the pressure and grass; improving the quality of the soil, and contributes to the scattering of the seeds, increasing the genetic diversity of the populations and biodiversity of communities,” explains Francisco Martín Azcárate, principal investigator of the project and professor of the UAM– “with intensive farming, this ecological paper is” lost". The transhumant pastoralists become, therefore, not only the conservatives of a practice livestock traditional, but also of some ecological corridors of great importance for biodiversity.

In addition to disuse, another factor of degradation of the drovers roads is the encroachment of the same by part of the agricultural activity, which on occasions takes advantage of the abandonment of transhumance, to gain a few meters of land at the expense of the livestock. “The glens are perfectly compatible with agriculture, but they should keep their width to become ecological corridors, effective, in addition to providing a minimum green infrastructure” – concludes the researcher – “The habitats natural and semi-natural streams will also serve to improve the situation of the populations of pollinators in the wild, enhancing the production of certain crops, which in addition to and not depend exclusively on the availability of honeybee, and therefore would mitigate the impact of potential pests, diseases or other threats that can affect these insects”.