Transhumance restoration in Eastern Bulgaria as Traditional and nature -friendly livestock husbandry practice
The project in Kotel Mountain is supported by Small Grants Program of Global Environmental Facility
Restoration of Long-Distance Transhumance in Eastern Bulgaria, as Traditional and Nature-friendly Practice
Name: Restoration of Long-Distance Transhumance in Eastern Bulgaria, as Traditional and Nature-friendly Practice
Grantee: Fund for wild flora and fauna, Bulgaria
Location: SE Bulgaria, Kotel Mountain
Grassland category: Mobile patorialism and transhumance practice
The Transhumance has been implemented for centuries at Balkan Peninsula, but recently it has been almost forgotten in Bulgaria. Now, very few farmers are practicing short-distant pendulous movements of their herds, from mountains to the valleys in winter and back in summer. This kind of vertical movement is similar to the Transhumance, but no long distant horizontal movements are applied. Transhumance is believed to be more economically effective and of highest nature conservation importance. As avoid overgrazing in the lowlands and keep the mountain pastures opened. Many species of plants, birds and mammals are threatened of extinction due to habitat loss. This is especially well documented regarding the pastoral habitats in mountains and lowlands. Species like Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, European Souslik Ц all listed as Vulnerable in IUCN Red list, are highly dependent on the existence of open habitats that are well grazed and so the diversity of plants and insects is high. The Saker Falcon, recently listed as Endangered on Global level, is also highly dependent on the presence of open well grazed habitats in the mountains and lowlands. The traditions of implementing Transhumance have been totally lost during the Communistic period in Bulgaria due to the nationalization of economy including the livestock breeding.
Many people believe that the Transhumance is not applicable in the modern world. But the conservationists in Spain and France have shown that the Уfirst worldФ countries are now developing projects and restoring Transhumance with the help of some new-millennium advantages (e.g. cell phone communication, solar panels for electricity, heliportage of animals and medicaments etc.). So, being familiar with the problems of livestock breeding in Bulgaria and the success of restoration of the Transhumance in Spain and France, and the still practiced transhumance nearby Macedonia, FWFF decided to restore it in Bulgaria as well. FWFF possesses 250 sheep in Kotel Mountain, a sheep shelter and is renting and owning 250 hectares of mountain pastures and meadows for the need of its livestock compensation program. In the frame of Balkan Vultures Action Plan, FWFF is implementing a project to stop the conflict between farmers and wild predators as compensate the affected farmers with a live animal from its herd. This way it is believed the illegal use of poison will be reduced and this will greatly benefits predatorsТ and vulturesТ conservation. Using the presence of the herd, consisted mainly of Karakachan Sheep- an ancient breed, FWFF has decided to develop the current project proposal and to increase the impact of its herd.
The project is designed to promote and recover the Transhumance as an attractive, economically-efficient and environmentally friendly way of livestock breeding in Bulgaria. The project team uses wisely the unique potential of FWFF because of its possession of an Eco-farm and a middle-scaled size of sheep and goats herd in a typical pastoral landscape of Kotel Mountain. The organization also has great expertise in management of pastoral habitats and the problems of farmers with predators. In light of these advantages, there is a list of activities to be implemented in order to achieve projects goals, such as: attracting farmers in extensive breeding of sheep, goats and cattle; studying of traditional transhumance paths; organizing transhumance of FWFF sheep and goats herd (by track or on food) to the winter pastures of Eastern Rodopi and back to the summer pastures of Kotel Mountain; support of the vultures colony in Eastern Rodopi with additional potential food; attracting and training of young people for shepherdТs job through organizing A shepherd school for 12 students in the Eco-farm of FWFF and renovation of the farm; organizing of traveling photo exhibition promoting the Transhumance; a book and a movie explaining and promoting the Transhumance. The project was envisaged to take 18 months and it is being implemented in the area of Kotel Mountain and the Eastern Rodopi, summer and winter pasture habitats, respectively.
The first step for restoration of long distant Transhumance was a preparation of an action plan. FWFF team passed along the old-known road from Stara Mountain to Eastern Rodopi and Sakar and Strandja Mountains. The exact path was mapped and the property of the land was checked. Mainly state property and municipal property lands were chosen for reestablishment of the path. We chose the area of Eastern Rodopi for the first experimental wintering of FWFFs offspring sheep because it is of highest conservation importance, the winter is mild and our partner BSPB (Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds) has been active in this area for more than 15 years. Also the chosen area is the last home of Griffon and Black vultures in Bulgaria due to the relatively adequate food- base in the area. First movements of the herd have been done in the autumn of 2006 by truck. The return to Kotel Mountain was made again by truck in the spring of 2007. Still the own movement of the herd is planned for the autumn of the 2007 when the number of the herd is to grow enough for the purpose and better publicity of the event. FWFF attracted the first tourists, eco-volunteers and journalists to explore the short distant experimental herd movements in Kotel Mountain. As the interest to the Eco-farm of FWFF and the transhumance is increasing and there are six international volunteers for the project. A Shepherd school was organized by FWFF in Kotel Mountain. Renovation of the shepherds house of the FWFFs sheep shelter was provided and furniture needed was purchased. The house for the shepherd family in the farm was renovated and an additional dining room and bedroom were renovated and equipped for the need of the shepherds school. The renovated house would be important in hosting eco-volunteers and other shepherds who would like to use the pastures in the Kotel Mountain during the summer period. Six young people were trained so far in shepherd skills of two one-month trainings. This practice is planned to continue after the end of the project too, as FWFF will provide free training, accommodation and probably meals for the selected trainees. Trainees with remarkable performance receive recommendations to work as shepherds in farms that produce bio-products and/or practicing transhumance. An exhibition, booklet and video production promoting the transhumance and to attract more farmers to co-operate for implementation of the transhumance in Bulgaria are currently in preparation.
Launching of actions is an adaptation of the traditional practices to the contemporary circumstances of life style. Restoring of the transhumance and the extensive livestock breeding in area with high environmental values as revising some of the ancient characteristics with the new ones is the essential technology of the project.
Results and Impacts
The Global impact of the project is more easily expected in creation of a model and dissemination of the successful practices for implementation of Transhumance and a projected future increase in the number of herds practising transhumance and related habitat management. The direct impact of the project as seen by the management of the FWFF sheep herd include about 150 hectares in Kotel Mountain and about 200 hectares in Strandja and Eastern Rodopi Mountains. In Kotel Mountain, the pairs of the Corncrake (Crex crex) that breed in the meadows, are grazed by FWFF sheep herd in the post-mowing period show twice bigger breeding success than those breeding in meadows that are not grazed but only mowed. This is perhaps related with the natural fertilization of the meadows by the sheep faeces and thus reaching favourable grass cover and insects diversity and abundance as food for the Corncrake.
Since the FWFF sheep herd is pastured during the summer in Kotel Mountain the habitat for the European Souslik (European Ground squirrel) (Spermophilus cittelus) is more and more restored. Thus even re-introduction of this globally threatened species is foreseen in the area. The management of the pastures in lowlands as a habitat of the Souslik and its potential return in Kotel Mountain benefits three other Globally threatened species which include the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug), Polecat (Vormela peregusna) and many others as it is a main item in their diet.
The Transhumance provides possibility for keeping larger numbers of livestock animals due to minimized outcomes for their breeding. The larger sized herds are providing more food for the carnivorous and scavenging species (most of which are threatened vultures, eagles, wolves, bears etc.) while the sheep are giving birth (placenta, remains, or dead newborns) or even when old and week animals die on the pastures.
The impact of the project will increase in future with increasing the number of the animals and farms that are involved in the Transhumance. Since the beginning of the project FWFF succeeded to attract five more farmers with about 300 sheep and 50 cows to practice Transhumance.
Three species of birds have returned to the area of Kotel Mountain, where the FWFF sheep herd is grazed during the summer period.Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanuis minor), Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) and Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo ruffinus) breeding pairs have been first time recorded in the mountain since the 1950s.All these three species require steppe like habitat with optimum grazed pastures, which are less and less available in the mountains of Bulgaria. In the same time it is obvious that the numbers of the insectivorous birds and mammals around the farm of FWFF have virtually increased their number and are much more abundant now.These include swallows (Hirundo rustica, Delichon urbica, Hirundo rupestris), hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor) etc.
The management of certain habitats is possible through management of the pastoral activities. The Transhumance is believed to be one of the very well adapted systems to natural conditions of pastoral system that supports the management of the pastures in lowlands and in the mountains. In addition, transhumance is of highest importance for the local community that is facing economic problems in the mountains. Effective livestock breeding is one of the possible solutions for the local people to exploit in sustainable way the mountain ecosystems. While the lowland communities are benefited by the fresh mountain pastures and the water sources for livestock breeding in the hot summer months. The lowland and the mountain communities benefit from the restoration of the Transhumance as their area is less exposed to degradation and erosion.
In the frame of the project, FWFF has attracted six more farmers in extensive breeding of their livestock in cooperation with FWFF, three of the sheep owners- co-operators are young and just started involved with FWFF. About 40 employees, trainees, workers and project staff were benefited financially by doing their job in building construction, milking, herding, training, managing the project, etc. About 50 % of employed people are representatives of the minorities in Bulgaria (Karakachan, Roma and Turkish).
With respect to the National benefit, Bulgaria has got one more place managed by using sustainable and nature-friendly practices and one more traditional and agri-environment practice is restored on the national level demonstrating good results to the wider audience.
The project helped FWFF to grow its impact over the ecosystems and local community. The farm building was repaired and transformed for shepherds school that also is used for eco-volunteers lodging. Six young men were trained and attracted into the shepherds job, with special attention to the extensive and nature-friendly approach of livestock breeding. Extension of pasture area managed by FWFF is about 350 ha.There was collected priceless data for the nomadism in the Balkans now and before as transhumance paths, practices for milking and lamb breeding, etc. Recently, FWFF team possess the greatest expertise for co-existence of wildlife and livestock and the problems solution as NGO in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian society for the protection of birds
the long- distant transhumance has been lost, as the Communistic period for Bulgaria has started in the latter part of the 1940s, In the frame of the current project, FWFF is a pioneer and the first experimenter in applying of the practice and transporting of sheep herd about 300 km from/to winter/summer pasture areas. Also the first time Bulgarian authorities (veterinarians, foresters and environmental inspections) were pushed to answer and suggest real and legal decisions of how to do transhumance by not breaking the laws, now we have written proof of these.
A new wave of nature conservation movement in Bulgaria has been growing recently- those of providing real economic models to people on how to make business and support, at least not change, nature habitats. Since doing extensive livestock breeding and transhumance FWFF has increased peoples trust to environmentalists. Having profits or losses, suffering from livestock’s diseases, natural hazards or authorities’ neglect to farmers, talking and really caring about the price of milk, meet or wool are things that make stakeholders listen to FWFF’s statements carefully and with high respect.
What is more, FWFF team tries to change attitudes and public perception of the shepherd’s job, as it is still having very low reputation among young people. Thus, without making undue unfair competition, FWFF pays to shepherds’ staff adequate and one of the highest wages for this kind of occupation in the region, trying to make them feel respectable and encouraged to develop the professional skills.
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