Overview of study sites in grazing land

Authors: Conceptión Alados, Erea Paz, Frederico Filliat, Maite Gartzia, Constantinos Kosmas, Ahmed El Aich

Editor's note 14Jun2012: Text extracted from D711 section 8.4

To analyze the main drivers and responses to LEDD in grazing lands three grazing land study sites have been selected: Asterousia Mountains, Crete (Greece), Middle Atlas (Morocco) and Central Pyrenees (Spain).

Locations of the LEDDRA grazing land study sites

The Asterousia study site is located in the central southern part of Crete island (Greece) covering an area of 56,147.4ha, where livestock is important part of the environment and contributes significantly to the economy of the area. The climate is semi-arid characterized by an annual rainfall changing from 500 in the lower elevation areas to up to 1250 mm in the upper mountainous areas. Natural vegetation in the area is threatened not only by overgrazing but also by deliberate or accidental forest fires. Under these conditions of poor vegetation cover in combination with the steep slopes and shallow soils, soil erosion is a major issue of land degradation and desertification in the area.  Moderate erosion characterizes a great part of the area, while some areas are characterized as severely or very severely eroded. The majority of the Asterousia Mts are characterized as fragile to desertification (51.4% of the total area), while almost all the rest of the area is characterized as critical to desertification. The population of Asterousia has decreased steadily over the last 60 years changing from 9,000 in 1961 to 6869 people in 2001. Population density has decreased from 23.2 inhabitants per km² in 1961 to 17.7 inhabitants per km² in 2001. The primary sector is the most important economic sector in the area although its importance is decreasing. Tourism activities are increasing in the rural and coastal areas.  Only 3.4% of the total population has a university degree, while 43.9% have primary education only.

The Spanish Central Pyrenees study area is located in the Pyrenees mountain ranges, north of Spain, covering an area of 138,364 ha. Average annual precipitation ranges from 1270 mm precipitation under 1200 m to 1520 mm above it. Grazing activity was very common in the area since the Middle Ages. The grazing system was based on the extensive exploitation of summer grasslands and the movement of the livestock to the Middle Ebro valley in winter (transhumance), which allowed the optimum use of pastures. The study area has one of the lowest population density (4.45 inh. km-²) in Spain, and much lower than the Aragón Community area (28.20 inh. km-²). Between 1930 and 1990 the population declined significantly, although the last decade (since 2000) it has increased due to the enhancement of rural tourism activity. These changes are causing important alterations in the land cover; mainly, growth of the forest area and reduction of the natural grass and cultivated area, which, according to farmers, are significant problems.

Comparisons between municipalities with and without ski resorts revealed a population increase of 60.4 percent between 1970 and 2008 for those municipalities with ski resorts, while the municipalities without ski resorts have lost 26.6 percent of their population in the same period (Lasanta 2010). A loss of 43 percent of livestock was also reported for the same period in municipalities with ski resorts, as opposed to an increase in livestock of 31.8 percent in municipalities without ski resorts. Competition between stockbreeding and tourist development has been reported in the Pyrenees in the (Laguna and Lasanta 2003), where movement of workers from the primary sector into tourism was observed. The GDP from agriculture, industry and services declined in the study area in the last 10 years. In the last 20 years the service sector has increased and it constitutes the main economic activity.

The Timahdit study site is located in the Middle Atlas (Morocco). It covers an area of 58,780ha. Breeding of small ruminants in the Middle Atlas is carried out using extensive methods basing their foraging on free pastoral resources of forest and common lands. In the study site, 53.2 percent is collective land, 21.3 percent is privately owned, and 25.5 percent is nationally owned forestland. The collective lands are covered generally with shrub and grassland vegetation types and provide excellent summer pasture. However, these lands are commonly used throughout the entire year. The study area includes four fractions (tribal subdivision): the Ait M’Hamed, Ait Hcine ou Hand, Ait Ben Hcine and Ait Ben Yacoub. The constant and excessive grazing is a major range problem leading to overutilization and depletion of forage resources. Indeed, historically, the ecological integrity of the Middle Atlas pastoral system depended on mobility that relied on institutions developed by people living in these areas to regulate land utilization (Benchrifa 1990; El Aich and Waterhouse 1999). Institutional changes that led to the conversion of the region to open access systems resulted in an increase in the duration of use of the grazing areas. In addition, under demographic pressures and economic changes, these systems are becoming more sedentary. Sedentarisation in the summer rangelands of the LEDDRA study site Ait Arfa du Guigou is a consequence of the break down in the double transhumance that regulated the use of the land resources (Bourbouze 1999; El Aich and Waterhouse 1999). In the past, the double transhumance concerned the lowlands in winter and the highlands during summer. Conversion to agriculture of the lowlands reduced the grazing areas and caused a breakdown of the double transhumance system. Consequently, herders reduced their mobility and settled in the summer on high grazing lands. Surveys conducted to assess the history of the settlement of herdsmen on Ait Beni Yacoub rangelands indicated that settling started early in the century, but it was during the period 1960-1970 that the first pick of the settlement was observed. Even though settlements on rangelands were forbidden to preserve natural resources by government law, herdsmen continued to construct camps on rangelands with a higher rate during the last 30 years.  The settlement of herders had a large negative impact on rangeland resources since it increased the duration of the grazing season and, thus, the grazing pressure. Grazing pressure reported for these rangelands varies between 1.6 and 6.3 ewes per hectare depending on the grazing location (Belkhou 2002; Laroussi 2000). The management of most herds is oriented towards subsistence rather than towards optimization of the production. Economic performance is weak.

Table 1. Environmental and socio-economic characteristics of the three study sites

(Central Pyrenees)
Surface 138364 ha 61700 ha 56147.4 ha
Topography 20% of the surface located above 2,200 m, 35% between 1,600 and 2,200 m. The lowest parts, between 550-900 m (5.3%) are located at the valley bottoms.
Very steep terrain with more than 40º (12% of the study area). Only 8% of the area is <10º slope, located at the lowest parts.
Elevation in the study area ranges from 1500 m to 2450 m Topography in Asterousia Mts is mainly characterized by steep slopes with very steep cliffs. The highest peak, Kofinas, is 1231 m.
Climate Mountainous climate highly correlated with the altitudinal gradient. The average annual temperature under 1200 m is 11ºC, and declines to 5ºC above 1200 m.  Average annual precipitations ranges from 1270 mm precipitations under 1200 m to 1520 mm above it Mountain Mediterranean climate with precipitation ranging from 800 mm at Jbel Hebri (1900 m) to 400 mm at Timahdit village. The region is characterized by cold winters where temperature could drop in January, which is the coldest month, to -2.5°C as minimum average and + 9.8°C as maximum average. Summers are very hot with maximum average of 31°C and 13.6°C as minimum average. With Mediterranean climate, 23% of the Asterousia Mts receive 500-750 mm average annual rainfall. The majority of the area (50.8%) receives 750-1000 mm. Rainfall above 1000 mm is estimated for an area of 25.2%. Average annual temperature ranges between 15-18°C for 69.0% of the territory. The lowest annual air temperature 12-15°C is estimated for 11.5% of the Asterousia Mts area.
Geology The geological material of the Axial Pyrenees originated from the Palaeozoic constitutes the high granitic peaks of the study area (Balaitus 3144 m). The Inner Pyrenees ranges are calcareous sedimentary material, with the highest peak of the Pyrenean, Monte Perdido (3,355m). Basaltic band overlying calcareous or dolomitic parent material  
Soils More than half of the study area is dominated by acid materials, although Monte Perdido (3,355m) is the highest calcareous mountain of Europe. The majority of Central Pyrenees study area is composed of different types of Inceptisol soil.   The area is dominated by shallow soils of moderately fine-textured, 87.1% of them are Leptosols
Land cover type Most of the area is public land (82%) with some degree of protection (62%). The agricultural zones that are located in the bottom of the valley are around 4% of the study area. Forest ecosystem occurs below 1,600 m of altitude (the 45% of the study area) whereas above 1,600 m belong to Mountain ecosystem (55%). Grassland dominates above 2,200 m altitude. Agricultural areas are around 4% of the area. 51% of the lands are common (rangelands), 23% are state land. Agricultural land occupies 20 % of the territory. Only 26% of the land are private. Most of the area is dominated by private grazing land 79 %. 11% are agricultural areas and 60% are grazing lands. Vegetation characterized by typical Mediterranean macchia dominated by grasslands (41%) and sclerophyllous and sparse vegetation (36%).
Human system The Central Pyrenees study area has lost more than half of the population during the XXth century. The study area has the lowest population density (the lowest of Aragón and one of the lowest of Spain) and much lower than the Huesca province and Aragón community. The GDP of the study area declines in the last 10 years. In the last 20 years the service sector has increased, being the main economic activity. The agricultural activity has declined and has a residual character. Industrial activity has virtually disappeared. Economic activity is limited to the services sector, heavily dependent on foreign tourism.
The educational level indicates that the population has studied some tip, but 8% of the population, probably the elderly, is illiterate.

The study area represents 3% of Aragon Autonomous Community, but concentrates 33% of the tourist offer of the total Aragon. The kind of tourism is quite different in the Sobarbe and Alto Gállego regions. The Sobrarbe is predominantly rural tourism and camping, while Alto Gállego is dominated by hotels.
Ait Arfa du Guigou, where population duplicated during the last XX century, changing from 5.7 to 11.7 inha. km-².

Rangelands are usually common lands continue to be managed by the same Dahir of the 27 of April 1919. Until the 1930, the Ait Arfa du Guigou hand no permanent dwellings and few cultivated fields. They followed transhumant cycle with their herds, wintering with their neighboring tribes in lower – lying areas (“Azarhar”), and passing the rest of the year in the mountainous area they inhibit today. Cultivation of lower areas and government policies to settle the Berbers broke down the transhumant cycle.
Population density in Asterousia has decreased from 23.2 inhabitants per km² in 1961, to 21 inhabitants per km² in 1971 reaching in 2001 17.7 inhabitants per km².
The primary sector is the most important with 35.1% of the total occupations, but with a sharp decline of -20.5% since 1991, but due to the limited availability of tourism, services related jobs increases only slightly.

The dominance of the primary sector combined with the decrease of the employed and the increase of the dependent and the old, demonstrates clearly the economic decline of the area with few new jobs and a continuing depopulation.

The level of education is dominated by primary education (43.9%). The illiteracy rate is 9.6%. Only 3.4% are university graduates.

The data obtained from the study sites will be used to assess the interactions between biophysical and socio-economic components in grazing land. Social and economic factors together with physical and climatic conditions are the main driving forces of landscape changes and biodiversity conservation (Turner et al. 1996), especially in human-dominated landscapes such as rangelands, where livestock pressure is a key factor for vegetation community dynamics. But the influence of livestock management on LEDD is not homogeneous. The differential use of preferred areas results in uneven distribution of animal impact, causing heavier impact on preferred areas and lower or even no impacts on more inaccessible areas (Pueyo et al. 2006; Pueyo and Alados 2007). In consequence, the study of drivers, impact and responses require of a spatial approach to be fully understood. Based on the available data collected, the key variables and processes that determine the stability and resilience of the SES will be identified. In order to do that, it is necessary to introduce a historical perspective, allowing the comparison of different scenarios of land use and management practices on landscape dynamics. The evolution of social (traditional knowledge, social networks, etc), ecological (biodiversity, productivity of natural resources, e.g. biomass) and economic (income, economic structure, etc.) factors is investigated across temporal scales and in relation with socio-ecological resilience.

Table 2. Important land and ecosystem degradation and desertification (LEDD) issues identified in the grazing land study sites

LEDD issue Study site
(Central Pyrenees)
Environmental impacts Increase of bare soil   + +
  Woody encroachment +    
  Deforestation     +
  Biodiversity loss + + +
  Urbanization of rural areas +    
  Land desertification   + +
  Fire risk +    
  Ecosystem fragmentation + + +
  Ecosystem homogenization + + +
Socio-economic impacts Loss in pastures productivity + + +
  Loss in farmer’s income +    
  People migration +    
  Land abandonment +   +
  Transhumance breakage + + +

Table 3. Important planned and unplanned responses to LEDD in the grazing land study sites

Type of intervention Planned – direct – formal Unplanned – informal
Physical/technological Decree 38/2006 of grants and assistance from the Local Fund of Aragon includes aid targeted to the municipalities in terms of action Areas of Influence

Socio-economic Protected Areas, Wildlife Refuges and Game Reserves.
Abandonment of the uses in the landscape

Breeders change

Livestock housing
Economic Decree 228/2004 is to regulate the granting of subsidies to those promote programs, activities or investments for the conservation and improvement of the natural and promoting sustainable development, training, outreach and environmental awareness, livestock environmental improvement, promotion of recycling and reduction, control and minimization of hazardous waste and air emissions.

Royal Decree 1229/2005, which regulates subsidies in the areas of socio-economic influence in Ordesa National Park

ORDER of January 21, 2011, the Minister of Agriculture and Food, laying down measures for the presentation of the "Joint Application" of aid from the Common Agricultural Policy in 2011
Increase number of animal per farm

Increase number of settlements (Morocco)

Diversify income (from tourism in Spain, from agriculture in Morocco)

Increase touristic sector
Social   Increase farmer associations

Loss of human bonds

Loss of traditional knowledge
Institutional Regulations (LAW 45/2007 of 13 December for sustainable rural development)

LAW 42/2007, of December 13, Heritage Nature and Biodiversity.

LAW 5 / 2007 of 3 April, the Parks Network

Law of the Autonomous Community of Aragon 15/2002 of 27 June, which frees management of pasture use in the Autonomous Community of Aragon.
Educational/ communication Improve road networks

Increase educational infrastructures
Increase level of education
Research National and regional research plans  
2014-11-28 10:49:18