Pro-Biodiversidad: Shepherds as biodiversity conservators in Natura 2000

Extensive sheep farming in mountain areas in Spain has reached a crisis point due to strong competition from intensive production systems. This has led to a 70% decrease in the numbers of sheep, goat and cattle in the area since 1997, with dire consequences for both the farmers themselves and biodiversity. The problem is particularly acute in northern Spain and is further exacerbated by the presence of wolves. Much of the Picos de Europa mountain range - straddling Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y Leon - has been designated as Natura 2000 sites, but is suffering from rural abandonment, loss of pastures, loss of food sources for scavengers, and risk of fire.

The Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos decided to tackle this problem by creating a special certification brand, Pro-Biodiversidad (Pro-Biodiversity), to support the extensive sheep sector, halt rural abandonment and improve conditions for biodiversity (in particular for scavengers). To obtain the brand, farmers must comply with a number of good practice requirements. These are regularly audited by an external firm.

Since its launch in 2015 the brand has been a resounding success. In 2017, three commercial agreements were signed with large supermarket chains to sell their produce and, in 2018, an additional agreement was signed with Paradores de Turismo (an important chain of high-quality touristic hotels in Spain) to include their branded products in their restaurants. An agreement was also reached with slaughterhouses to use livestock by-products to feed scavengers, such as vultures.

So far, 40% of all extensive sheep farmers (20 farmers) in Picos de Europa are participating in the Pro-Biodiversidad brand, and many others are keen to join the scheme. The farmers are have seen a 45% increase in their revenue and are now guaranteed to sell all of their annual production at a fair price. In addition, 28 174 Kg of animal by-products has been used to feed scavengers.

The brand has also been highly beneficial for biodiversity, helping to maintain grassland areas, feed wild scavengers as well as reduce the risk of fires and land abandonment.

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