Economic assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services linked to transhumance on the Conquense Drove Road: implications for the management of Mediterranean agroecosystems in the context of global change.

Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, 2010-2011.

The aim of this project was to design an assessment model for the services generated by agro-ecosystems linked to transhumance and study the implications for the system’s socio-ecological resilience, seen as a key input to the design of management policies aimed at consolidating a socially, economic and environmentally sustainable rural development model.

The geographic area covered by the project was the Conquense Drove Road, which includes the large ecosystems interconnected by a network of drove roads that start at the top of the Serranía de Cuenca mountain range in Teruel Province, cross Cuenca and Ciudad Real Provinces, and end up on the southern slopes of Sierra Morena (Jaén Province). This Royal Drove Road is Spain’s last transhumance system still travelled by herds of merino sheep used for meat production (approx. 6,000 head) and cattle (350 head). This system competes with stabled and intensive livestock farming methods and other land uses (particularly hunting and agriculture). It is disadvantaged by the fact that the services it generates are not appreciated as economic, social or environmental externalities.

Our group’s contribution to the project consisted of assessing the role of transhumance in the regeneration of open woodlands (dehesas), the traditional overwintering ecosystems used in transhumance. Many factors have caused a significant decline of transhumance in recent decades. In this study, the vegetative and regeneration state of Holm oaks on farms that are grazed by transhumance livestock was compared with those on farms with a permanent presence of livestock. Results showed that young Holm oaks on farms that use transhumance have a much lower browsing intensity, and consequently, both the area occupied by juvenile Holm oaks and the density of medium-sized adult oaks is greater than on farms with permanent livestock. Results suggest that the lack of Holm oak regeneration in dehesas may not only be due to a high stocking rate, but also to the abandonment of traditional practices such as transhumance. The recovery of this type of practice should therefore be included in the measures used to improve dehesa conservation.