Future technologies impact on the ancient culture of shepherding

escuela pastores picos europa

Modern technologies have made their way into the ancient culture of shepherding, with the trade - crucial to the make-up of so many ecosystems - being brought up-to-date to ensure it continues to be handed down the generations and farms remain viable.

To guarantee the transfer of knowledge and stop the trade from going into extinction there has been a proliferation of “Shepherding Schools” contributing to greater professionalism in the sector and above all, better skills.

Shepherding has for centuries been a key element in ensuring many ecosystems are kept in good condition, and to a large extent the survival of the trade depends on the health of many natural areas.

And shepherds are the first link in the chain: a process that encompasses not only the environment, but the prevention of environmental risk, and the modelling of the landscape, as well as food security, animal wellbeing, land management, and the conservation of culture and tradition.

It may or may not have much to do with the romantic image of ancient farmers guiding their flocks: Batis Otaegi, head of the Escuela de Pastores del País Vasco (Basque Country Shepherding School) is bringing values such as a love for nature and passion for animals back to the foundations of the trade.

"21st century shepherds”

In the Basque Country the Artzain Eskola School (one of the oldest in Spain) is located in the small village of Gomiztegi de Arantzazu, in the Guipuzcoan region of Oñati, and brings together groups of students every year who train or retrain in the trade.

“Update, or the profession dies” said Batis Otaegi to EFE, underlining the necessity he has noticed in recent decades to incorporate modern technologies and scientific knowledge into the primary sector to improve the profitability and viability of farms.

During the interview Otaegi stressed the importance of keeping the rural world alive, and maintaining the harmony that has existed between man and nature for centuries.

But he did not hide his misgivings: among them the fact that parks and protected spaces have focused all their efforts on the protection of flora and fauna, whilst “forgetting a fundamental issue: the people who manage the land” and he went on to stress that “the shepherd is part of the biodiversity”.

“The land would be different without shepherds; different, and not at all healthy” claimed Batis Otaegi.

Schools ensuring the trade is handed down the generations

Similar schools have sprung up around Extremadura, Asturias, Catalonia, Murcia and Andalusia, all of which aim through their courses to transfer knowledge ensuring shepherding is passed down through the generations.

Students have invested over 400 hours at the Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral del Tajo-Salor-Almonte (Tajo-Salor-Almonte Association for Integrated Development) - which incorporates 15 Extremaduran districts - learning about the trade, to ensure the optimum survival of lambs, as well as learning about improving hygiene, and the best feed products to ensure animal wellbeing.

Fernando García-Dory, who works at the Picos de Europa Shepherding School, underlined the importance of re-evaluating shepherding activity to prevent it from becoming extinct, and said that in order to achieve this it is essential to improve financial returns and modernise the trade, without depriving it of its more traditional and cultural characteristics.

In his opinion, these schools have two functions: to equip shepherds with the scientific and legal knowledge they need today, and to share traditional wisdom with those interested in entering into the profession.

The decline in traditional shepherding has advanced in parallel with the deterioration and abandonment of rural life, and the resurgence of these schools is a sign of a renewed interest in rural culture and traditional food industries.

It is also a symptom of the now prevailing conviction among public administrations that the good state of health of many ecosystems, and essential services natures endows us with, will to a large extent depend on us maintaining more traditional activities.

But all experts agree on the importance of 21st century shepherds - the “digital” shepherds - acquiring new knowledge to make their activities more profitable from a financial point of view, as well as being sustainable in environmental terms.”

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Difundir el significado y los valores de la Red Natura 2000 es el objetivo del Proyecto LIFE+ "Infonatur 2000", cofinanciado por el instrumento financiero LIFE de UE y que coordina la Junta de Extremadura, y en el que participan la Diputación de Lérida, el Patronato de Turismo de Gerona-Costa Brava y la Agencia EFE.

Más información sobre la Red Natura 2000 en http://infonatur.gobex.es

[11/06/2017]

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