The RURALtXA! project is performing a series of actions from those focused on diagnosing habitats linked to traditional human activities, to specific tools to support and promote extensive livestock grazing

Analysis of habitats and connected activities

Information is being compiled in order to identify mountainous areas in the northern Iberian Peninsula that have High Natural Value (HNV) systems and Habitats of Community Interest, associated with traditional agricultural and livestock raising practices.

Pilot areas have been established in Galicia and Euskadi, where work is being performed for identification, mapping, and conservation status assessment for Habitats of Community Interest. First, a set of indicators is being developed to determine the conservation status of each habitat (or group of habitats), and the associated traditional activities are also being characterised in order to develop a comprehensive perspective regarding their conditioning factors, needs, and potential, in terms of improving management, commercialisation processes, and diversification of activities or products.

Implementation of the management plan

Management plans are being created for conservation of the Habitats of Community Interest identified in the pilot areas. After being developed, each plan is submitted to the landowners, who are primarily communal groups known as comunidades de montes and parzonerías, with the aim of encouraging them to participate. Their agreement is a required condition to allow the groups raising livestock in these landscapes to join the Working Network and benefit from the integrated system of tools for promoting the local economy. The land stewardship role is being developed as a way to increase local interest in participation in the management plans.

Habitat restoration and monitoring

The activity areas are defined, and ecological restoration and habitat improvement actions are planned and executed in areas where the conservation status has been identified as unfavourable, after reaching a consensus with the local land owners and managers. The repercussions of the demonstration actions on the habitats is monitored using analysis of satellite images captured by remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) and field sampling. These activities incorporate a variety of practices:

  • Vegetation clearing and controlled burning to improve heathland and grassland habitats.
  • Removal of trees growing in heathland and bog habitats, using work practices that have minimal impact on the soil (in Galicia).
  • Improvement of wet heath, bog, and grassland habitats by managing livestock (modifying enclosures, installing cattle grids, water troughs, and mineral feeders adapted to the stocking density), and improvement of infrastructure elements to mitigate habitat impacts.
  • Test usage of GPS collars with virtual fencing, to allow remote monitoring and control of the stocking density, where necessary (in Euskadi).

Analysis of Benefits

The benefits provided by sustainable extensive livestock grazing are identified and enhanced through management, to achieve a favourable conservation status for the habitats. This includes evaluation of ecosystem services such as support for biodiversity, pollination, honey production, and ecotourism, which can be generated by well-conserved and properly managed habitats. In addition, a life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) is performed to demonstrate the value of these activities compared to other more intensive usage scenarios, and including carbon footprint estimates.

Promoting the bioeconomy and working network

This action includes designing and implementing an Integrated System of Tools to promote the bioeconomy, which allows habitat conservation through livestock grazing to become a productive and socioeconomically sustainable activity.

This System consists of a Working Network plus a set of tools that are made available to the producers and landowners who have joined that network.

These are tools that increase the participants’ ability to participate in the bioeconomy value chain, by enhancing the value of their products, improving commercialisation and diversification of their production operations and activities, integrating ecotourism as an activity that is complementary to livestock raising activities in HNV farming systems, and generating green jobs. These tools are specifically implemented based on the needs detected, and they are designed to provide higher levels of training for the local people involved in livestock raising, while increasing their ability to take advantage of the habitat conservation work being performed. They also include tools designed to increase the value of products by developing distinctive seals and labelling; marketing activities to improve commercialisation through short distribution channels; networks of establishments directly selling local products; tools for training and advising; and finally, a tool focused on economic diversification and ecotourism.

Communication and knowledge transfer

Action to make the project known, both in its own geographical area and in other areas with similar characteristics and problems. The aim is to raise awareness about the importance of extensive sustainable livestock activity in rural areas to maintain the population and boost their bioeconomy. It is also intended to highlight the need of maintaining traditional activities for the conservation of High Natural Value Systems and Habitats of Community Interest in mountainous areas of the North of the Peninsula.