It is increasingly difficult for shepherds to make a living these days, and without them the landscape and biodiversity they help to produce would be seriously affected. Ways must be found to increase the earnings of shepherds and to compensate them for the work they do. In Catalonia for instance there is a pilot scheme which pays shepherds to graze forests thus cutting down the undergrowth and reducing the risk of fire. They are also employed to detect and warn about fires.
Another way forward is the great initiative by a group of Aragonese shepherds in the Medinaceli and Calatayud area. Ser Pastor por un Día, offers you the chance to go out for a morning or afternoon with a shepherd and a biologist and learn about the different skills involved in shepherding, mastiff dogs, local sheep breeds, shearing, lambing and the landscape they help to create. Knowledge of some Spanish is probably a must. Tel: 659 834 121 or visit Ser Pastor por un Día. I intend to sign up one of these days.
Update: The Guardian newspaper has since picked up on this story:
Stressed out city folk have found a new way to unwind – becoming a shepherd for the day and tending flocks of sheep. Caring for lambs at a remote hillside farm has become popular for urban Spaniards who want to rediscover nature.
Jesús Valtueña, a 44-year-old vet and sheep farmer, charges urban visitors €10 (£8) a person a day to tend a flock of 1,200 Aragonese sheep at his farm in Monreal de Ariza, in north-eastern Zaragoza province.
“The point is for people whose families may have had some connection with the countryside in the past but who now live in cities to come and re-establish that connection, perhaps showing their children sheep,” says Valtueña.
“Most of the people who come here live in the big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona and are stressed out.”
City dwellers and their children flock to the farm in January, May and September, the lambing season. When they arrive at the Pastores por un dia (Shepherds for a Day) venture they meet Valtueña’s eccentric partner, Miguel Garcia, a 20-year-old goat de-horner, or descuernacabras – the man who by tradition clips and trims the horns to stop goats wounding each other in fights. Garcia believes he can tell the sound and timbre of the bells on each and every sheep in the flock.
Half the lure of the farm (pastoresx1dia.com) is that Valtueña and Garcia let the flock roam and graze over various fallow fields and pastures, a traditional method of shepherding typical to the area for hundreds of years. It is not so typical now, however. Valtueña is the last shepherd in the area, his neighbours having turned to easier-to-manage cereal crops.