The west of the Iberian peninsula is of great bio-geographical interest with many endemic species. Many of the region's ecosystems are a result of traditional human activity that respects the environment and over millennia has modified the original landscapes in a harmonious way. One of these activities is transhumant cattle rearing - transhumance is the seasonal movement of people with their livestock over relatively short distances. Herders would take advantage of winter grazing in the southwest and summer grazing in the high pasture land of the north.
As a result of this activity, a system of north-south tracks – drover roads – was established in the west of the peninsula. Known as The Silver Route, these drover roads are divided into two branches: one goes from Huelva (Sierra de Aracena) to Zamora (Sierra de la Culebra) across three SPAs and 17 IBAs; the other one is parallel to the first but 100 km to the east and crossing three SPAs and 14 IBAs.
These drover roads are of great ecological interest. Since they cross areas of such great natural value - SPAs, IBAs and Natural Parks – they can act as suitable corridors to connect the most interesting habitats and ecosystems of the region.
This LIFE project had two phases, which are here presented as the same project: LIFE93 NAT/E/011500 and LIFE94 NAT/E/001164.
The LIFE ‘Project 2001’ aimed to maintain traditional activities related to transhumance, which are compatible with nature conservation and to promote the recovery of habitats along the drover roads in western Spain. It thus sought to create ecological corridors for the protection of species threatened with extinction.
To enable the maintenance of traditional human activities, the project intended to rent or purchase pasture land and restore habitat, including through afforestation and improvement of pastures.
Awareness-raising and education activities were to be an important part of this project, including meetings, work camps, media work and construction of an information centre.
LIFE project 2001 succeeded in maintaining traditional transhumance and promoting a change of attitudes and the law around this activity. It had a positive impact on valuable habitats.
The project purchased three estates in the provinces of Cáceres and Salamanca encompassing 345 ha. More than 7 000 ha of grazing land were leased in the northern high pasture lands. The project team restored several traditional constructions in the purchased areas and carried out censuses of flora and fauna.
The project recovered sections of the drover roads: 7.5 km in the Cañada Real Leonesa (Royal Drovers Road of León); and 3 Km in the Cordel de Talaván. This work consisted in cleaning up rubble and controlling erosion by sowing with grasses and lineal reafforestation of the drover road. Similarly, two "majadas" (traditional sheepfolds) used for livestock in areas of mountain pastures (Sierra de Gata) were fitted out.
The main project action consisted in going over the Royal Drovers Roads of the centre and west of the Iberian Peninsula every year with transhumant livestock belonging to and managed by the beneficiary. Over 7 000 sheep in several flocks covered the drover roads of la Plata, León, Zamora and Segovia. This traditional transhumant livestock management allowed the maintenance of the roads and the mountain pastures in areas where neglect is a fire risk factor.
The sheep spent the summer in the rented northern pasture lands of Leon, Zamora and Asturias and returned to Extremadura during the autumn. The sheep spent the winter in the purchased low-lying land along with endangered native breeds of cows and hens. To achieve this, the project established the co-operation of 20 people, from the project director to the shepherds, and a large number of volunteers.
In 1996, for the first time, there was a "trastermitancia" - a short-haul transhumance of 100 km - involving cattle that went from the Cantabrian coast to the mountain grasslands of Palencia (National Reserve of Fuentes Carrionas). It involved 50 cattle of the "tudanca" breed, which is threatened with extinction.
To improve grazing land along the drover roads and on the summer pastures in the rented areas, the project cleared matorral over 100 ha, cut 10ha, planted 5 000 oak shoots and restocked 1 000 bushes in hedge formation. These measures contributed to the spontaneous regeneration of oak trees and patches of scrub.
The project also conducted research on wetlands and steppes associated with the royal road in Cuenca and installed three feeding stations for the black vulture and one for the griffon vulture. As part of broad habitat conservation efforts around the royal drover roads, the project maintained a peat bog and repaired fences.
An information centre in Nava de Fuentes was restored and the beneficiary produced a large amount of publicity and educational material and events. An initiative was undertaken with a German travel agency to offer a volunteer holiday experience of transhumance, an idea which won a prize at an international tourism fair. Each year in October, a popular celebration took place when the sheep passed through Madrid to demand the conservation of the drover roads.
The project actively advocated for the inclusion of transhumance in the Spanish Programme of Agri-environmental measures and hired a lawyer to deal with over 56 complaints that came up around changes in use or invasion of the roads. The project contributed to a new Spanish "Act 3/1995, of drover roads", which aims to conserve transhumance. In 1995, the project received a special mention at the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and the Environment's national environmental awards ceremony.