Spain is one of the largest and most bio-geographically diverse countries in Europe, lying at the crossroads between Europe and Africa, with conditions ranging from the oceanic north to the semi-arid south-east, and the sub-tropical Canary Islands. The country is very mountainous, with the highest average elevation in the EU.
Spain has vast areas of low-intensity farming, involving traditional livestock raising on semi-natural pastures, extensive arable systems with long fallow periods, and traditional orchards of olives, almonds and other fruit and nut trees. These types of farming have become known in Europe as "high nature value" farming. For more on these farming systems in Spain and other countries, see our book High Nature Value farming in Europe.
Much of Spanish farmland is still associated with species that disappeared long ago from more intensively farmed regions of Europe, such as the marsh fritillary butterfly, birds such as the great and little bustards, the wolf and the brown bear. The world's most endangered feline, the Iberian lynx, depends for its hunting grounds on the wooded pastoral landscape (dehesas) maintained by traditional livestock farming.
What are the main challenges?
Nature in Spain is threatened by the decline of low-intensity farming, with a parallel process of abandonment on poorer land and intensification on better land. Afforestation has added to the losses in some regions, while major infrastructure projects (roads, dams, building development) have destroyed and fragmented some highly valued landscapes.
While the protection of the biodiversity "hotspots" has progressed to some extent (mainly thanks to EU legislation), the steady loss of High Nature Value farming has not been widely recognised or addressed. Abandonment is accelerating with changes to the CAP, and wild fires have become a major environmental problem, especially in areas that have been abandoned and/or afforested.
The CAP and other EU policies are major drivers of landuse in Spain. But the national and regional governments have made only limited efforts to use positive EU measures, such as agri-environment incentives, to support HNV farming systems, preferring to use funds for intensifying farming, for the processing industry, and for afforestation.
What is EFNCP working to achieve?
There is a growing mobilisation in Spain of interest in maintaining extensive livestock systems, as well as in the sustainability of traditional olive orchards. There are many local projects and associations working to support these activities, and institutions researching the tendencies affecting the farming systems. However, these initiatives often have little engagement with the policies that drive rural land use, especially the CAP, or with the regional and national policy makers that could be doing so much more to make use of EU funds for supporting HNV farming.
EFNCP's aim is to help local, regional and national organisations to engage in influencing policy development both through the EU institutions in Brussels and with national governments. By doing so, we aim to achieve benefits for HNV farming, farmers, and the nature they maintain, on a scale beyond the impact of small local projects.
Current projects in Spain
In Andalucía we have recently teamed up with a new EFNCP member - Pastores por el Monte Mediterráneo - an association of scientists, shepherds and regional government staff who are working to maintain extensive livestock grazing. A key focus of the work is rewarding the essential service shepherds and their flocks provide in reducing the risk of wild fires. We will be producing policy proposals for the regional government based on a consultation with extensive livestock farmers, environmental experts and other stakeholders.
In Extremadura we recently set up a project with local volunteers for monitoring butterfly species associated with upland orchards and grazing systems in the central mountains, with support from Miguel Munguira of Madrid University.
In Navarra (northern Spain) we have been working for several years with the regional government and Gestión Ambiental de Navarra to develop "HNV farming indicators". This involves building up a picture of which existing farming systems are of most value for nature, what are the trends affecting these systems, and how could they be supported through EU policy instruments.
We are working with WWF Spain in three pilot areas of central and southern Spain to identify High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems and develop land management contracts with HNV farmers
In 2012 EFNCP supported a programme of hands-on workshops for school children in the areas of Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park (Almería), and Sierras Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Natural Park (Málaga). Spanish school children learned why we need shepherds. During a total of 3 days of interactive games, participation and demonstrations, the children learnt all about the local landscape and wildlife, and the role of grazing and shepherding in creating and maintaining this landscape.