|Extramadura Uplands, Spain – Goat Grazing and Orchards
The uplands of northern Extremadura range from approximately 400 to over 2000 metres above sea level, occupying the foothills and southern slopes of the Iberian Central System.
The landscape is a rich mosaic of habitats of European conservation importance such as Iberian grasslands, meadows, heaths, matorral and oak woodlands. Extensive grazing by goats, sheep and suckler cattle maintains the mosaic structure, prevents the development of homogenous, dense vegetation and the build-up of dry plant material, thus reducing the risk and intensity of forest fires.
The mosaic farmland supports numerous species of European importance, including marsh fritillary, Iberian sooty copper, African grass blue and southern festoon butterflies; lesser mouse-eared bats, and reptiles, such as the spectacular Iberian emerald lizard. Red and black kites, booted and short-toed eagles also rely on the mosaic of open habitats.
At low to mid altitudes, the landscape is interspersed with olive groves and tree crops such as figs, chestnuts and cherries. Land parcels are small and mostly on terraces with stonewalls. The olive, fig and chestnut trees are mostly old and managed with low intervention.
The orchards are valuable for many bird species including finches, the little owl and the blue-winged magpie. Where the understorey is allowed to flourish in the spring, there are very diverse populations of flora and invertebrates. The trees, stonewalls, terraces and patches of scrub provide valuable habitats for invertebrates, birds, mammals and reptiles.
Holdings are mostly small, with over 90% having only 1-10 hectares, and orchards are generally combined with other sources of family income. Livestock farming is more often full-time, and though holdings are small, graziers may have large flocks and use of large common grazings. Most land is unfenced, so goats and sheep must be shepherded. Cattle can be left unattended, if visited regularly. Seasonal movement of livestock is carried out on foot.
Trees Robijns, trees.robijns(at)birdlife.org
More intensive land uses of very limited biodiversity value are also present, including tobacco and intensive fruit crops, such as raspberries in polytunnels. These farming types are more profitable and receive the main attention from the regional government and farm advisory services.
The HNV farming systems generate very low incomes, and economic returns have declined continuously since the 1980s. Livestock farming is labour intensive and the returns per hour of labour are very low. These types of farming are declining, leading to a loss of the semi-natural farmland mosaic. The likely result is a simplified landscape of dense forest and intensive crops, less attractive for tourism and more vulnerable to destructive wild fires.
The CAP Single Farm Payment in Spain uses the “historic” system. This means low-intensity orchards and livestock systems receive very low payments. Agri-environment measures in Extremadura have developed slowly over the last 20 years, with the main focus on schemes for integrated and organic crop production, and only minor measures for HNV farming. There are no schemes for upland grazing, hay meadows or traditional orchards. LFA payments are not available to part-time or very small farms.