Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

Using donkeys to protect sheep from wolves

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Interesting Galician short news item about a farm which is using donkeys to protect its flock of sheep from wolves, an idea taken from the use of donkeys to protect livestock from leopards in Namibia. Donkeys it seems, unlike most breeds of cows, will face up to wolves rather than run away.

Ripped by forestman
Casa Grande de Xanceda the eco-yoghurt farm

Poison in the Spanish countryside

Sunday, January 4th, 2009
Poison is killing Spanish wildlife, it’s official. According to a study carried out by Ecotoxicología, with figures confirmed by the government, the number of dead animals found is only the tip of the iceberg. The study has revealed that in the last 15 years almost 7,000 animals included in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species have perished even though the practice of setting poisoned bait in the countryside has been banned since 1983. In general terms of species affected, the bodies recovered account for only between 5% and 15% of the estimated total of deaths due to poison. The author of the study and director of a forensic wildlife laboratory, one of six such centres in Spain, Mauro Hernández says the figures represent the minimum amount of casualties. Every year at least 800 animals are admitted to his laboratory alone. In the case of the Spanish Imperial eagle, the study believes that for every bird found poisoned another possible nine could be undetected. The problem is proving a stumbling block for many recovery and reintroduction programmes.
The method of setting meat laced with poison is aimed at predators in competition with man such as foxes and wolves but is indiscriminate in its killing. Even a small quantity ingested can weaken an animal and leave it vulnerable to death by other means such as collision with traffic or overhead power cables, or drowning because one of the effects of the poisons most commonly used is severe thirst. Most recent cases have been the discoveries of a Lammergeier and an Iberian lynx, both in Andalucia. 
As in a previous study by WWF/Adena, “Poison in Spain, 1990-2005“, the blame is mainly directed at a small proportion of the hunting and farming communities, the administrations of which are both trying to combat the problem from within. Temporary closure of hunting reserves where poison has been discovered has been found to be insufficient but stricter penalties should help. Two hunters were recently succesfully prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison for setting poisoned bait on a hunting estate in Lérida, Catalunya. To supplement the national SOS Poison hotline campaign, a network of predator control managers is to be established. Let’s hope that tighter regulations on the selling of the noxious substances follow.
News from El País.
SOS Poison
More information from the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Climate change affecting wine in Spain

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Climate change is beginning to affect vineyards in Spain. The start of the grape harvest has moved forward 11 days in the last 20 years. This is increasingly seen as a major threat to the wine industry in Spain and elsewhere. According to the experts, until now the changes to grapes caused by higher temperatures (fruitier flavours, higher acidity and higher concentrations of alcohol) have generally had a positive impact on the taste of wines. But if temperatures keep rising in Spain, wines could soon taste very different, ruining some vintages.

Shepherd uses wild boar to control his sheep

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Appros of nothing in particular, a story here from the Olive Press about a shepherd in Granada who uses a wild boar to control his sheep. Read

Galician wolf predation prevention

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Iberian wolf, Canis lupus signatus, by Carlos Sanz

Interesting news from Galicia. An environmental collective, Fegama, are calling for a more positive and effective management of the Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) in their region by encouraging man’s coexistence with the species rather than continuing with the age-old battle against it. They suggest that instead of the present, negative method of paying farmers compensation for damages to livestock caused by wolves (often a long, drawn-out affair), that a system of subsidising farmers in areas shared by the wolves would be more beneficial to both. Subsidies would be used to pay for preventative measures such as livestock guardian dogs and fencing to protect flocks from the Galician wolf population of some 70 family packs. They are going to start a campaign of education to dispel the fear caused by myths surrounding the animal and to promote awareness of the important role that wolves play in the region’s biodiversity by keeping down numbers of their natural prey, for example Wild boar and Roe deer, two species that are potentially destructive. As always, prevention is better than cure.

News from La Voz de Galicia

Read about Iberian wolf conservation management on IberiaNature forum

Spain second in Europe in BSE cases

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Europe has still not managed to eradicate Mad cow’s disease (BSE). last year 174 cases were detected, 65 in the UK and 40 in Spain. 500,000 animals were tested in Spain last year El País + EU reports here in English
The removal of livestock because of BSE has had a huge effect on Spanish wildlife. See archive on iberianature

Conservation work camp in the Picos de Europa

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

The Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos is organising a work camp in July with volunteers in the village of Bejes, Cantabria. The camp is centred on helping the maintenance of traditional livestock farming in the Picos de Europa as an essential element in the conservation of the biodiversity and the recovery of the lammergeyer in the Cantabrian Mountains. Volunteers will help in sheering the sheep which are taken up to the high pastures in the summer. The camp involves three days working with the shepherds, two days learning about the fauna and flora of the Picos and one day’s rest. Knowledge of some Spanish is highly recommendable. More information from FCQ.

History of the dehesa

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

This article from the latest Environment and History makes fascinating reading.

Spanish Wood Pasture: Origin and Durability of an Historical Wooded Landscape in Mediterranean Europe

Spanish dehesas, the most extensive wood pastures in Mediterranean Europe, are a vivid example for demonstrating that the impact of rural communities on forests has not always been a bad thing. Environmental history is vital for understanding this cultural landscape. This article first analyses the origin of the dehesa. The border logic and the medieval Reconquest are elements that undoubtedly played a decisive part in its genesis; but, for the significance of Roman influence in Spain, it is necessary to consider the question of the possible existence of dehesas in Antiquity. The second aspect concerns the spreading of this landscape from the Middle Ages onwards. Dehesas are usually linked to the large properties owned by military orders, but most of all the spreading of the dehesa was favoured by the rise of transhumance from the thirteenth century onwards. Finally, the article emphasises that the durability of the Spanish wood pasture can be explained by a combination of several factors: insecurity along the border, the fact that transhumance was the most important industry in Spain for many centuries, and the protective laws adopted by the rural communities in order to protect their dehesas. Vincent Clément See also dehesa

Be a shepherd for a day

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

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 ( 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.

Electric fences against wolf attacks

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Electric fences stop 97% of attacks by wolves on livestock according to this article from EFE. In an experiment in 30 sheep farms in Spain, only three attacks occurred with the death of just one sheep during a year. Mastiffs are effective, though less so, with a 69% reduction in livestock injuries and deaths. The results were presented at the meeting Conviviendo con el lobo: Prevención de daños en Europa Meridional held in Segovia this February.