Rewilding – the natural way to avoid too many fires in Western Iberia

August 22, 2013

The period from July to October is a risky one in Western Iberia every year. You cannot imagine how high the temperatures can get and how scarce the rains most often are. This means a great risk of fire. Even if fire is a natural phenomenon here and has always been, the frequency has increased to very high and dangerous levels that are not natural. Not because of the climate, but rather because of humans and their habits.

Dehesa forests with Holm oak (Quercus ilex) and French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) in Campanarios de Azába nature reserve, Salamanca Region, Castilla y León, Spain
Dehesa forests with Holm oak (Quercus ilex) and French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) in Campanarios de Azába nature reserve, Salamanca Region, Castilla y León, Spain

People and nature witness and suffer. In Western Iberia, the abandonment of agricultural land has been combined with a huge decrease of livestock, and as a consequence, the obvious role of the herbivores has disappeared. Grazing lands turn into dense, dry bushland. The scrub growth is an excellent combustible. The land abandonment simply means a lot more bush growing under the trees, and that makes the heat of a fire much higher and more severe than if there was just grass burning. Using the words of the scientists:

“Wildfires are a common feature of Mediterranean-climate regions and they have long played an important role in the ecology and evolution of the flora. The long summer drought produce extensive areas of dry biomass with highly flammable conditions and once ignited, the stand structure contributes to rapid fire spread. However, human settlement and associate activities have impacted natural fire regimes in these landscapes.” (Keeley et al. 1989, Minnich 1989)

Up until now, mankind’s most usual reaction has been to promote and develop very expensive and complicated programs to prevent fires.

How could Rewilding Europe contribute to prevent summer fires or make them less frequent and less severe for the ecosystem?

The answer is short and easy: through natural grazing!

Natural grazing by large herbivores is another key natural process in the Mediterranean ecosystems, as well as being the most suitable way to mitigate the fire threat in the summer.

Rewilding Europe is actively working to increase the presence of these large herbivores in Western Iberia. Working first of all in two areas; the Biological Reserve of Campanarios de Azaba (Spain) managed by Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre (FNYH) and the Faia Brava Reserve (Portugal) managed by Associação Transumância e Natureza (ATN).

Over the past two years ATN and FNYH have begun to release four different kinds of herbivores in these two core areas: Retuertas horses and Sayaguesa cows in Campanarios and Garrano horses and Maronesa cows in Faia Brava. They have quickly started filling their amazingly efficient role, the bush clearing and preventing fire brigade job.

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