Traditional activities

The primary activities that the RURALtXA! project is focused on promoting are the various types of extensive grazing systems for cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. Specifically in Galicia, this includes traditional management practices for wild pony populations. In general, these are all low-intensity livestock grazing systems, which are highly adapted to the local conditions.

In addition to having well-known benefits for biodiversity, these systems also have the advantage of being largely based on grazing with local breeds, taking advantage of semi-natural vegetation types during much of the year, with low levels of supplementation by other feed sources.

Traditional livestock management systems based on extensive grazing, as nature-based solutions for effective habitat maintenance, exist in all of the project’s pilot areas.

Cattle and horses

Raising cattle for beef production is a predominant activity in these mountainous spaces, and it has been increasing in recent years. The currently existing practices include the use of natural grassland vegetation for grazing, usually in combination with other sources of pasture that have lower value in terms of conservation. These management systems have also been changing in recent years, but the use of heathlands and grassland habitats has always continued during at least part of the annual cycle. In Galicia, the most commonly used cattle breeds are the one known as Rubia Galega and various crossbred types derived from it, while in Euskadi, the most common breed is known as Pirenaica. In some areas, protected indigenous breeds such as Cachena, Vianesa, Terreña, and Betizu are used, which are characterised by their rugged nature.

The beef from these breeds is highly valued in the market, but there is no system that can add value for production using sustainable management systems or those that make a positive contribution to habitat conservation. In Euskadi, there is labelling with the “Euskal Okela” protected geographical indication.

In northern Galicia, in the pilot areas located in Serra do Xistral, Monte Maior, and Serra da Faladoira, the traditional livestock management system consists of a combination of extensive grazing of cattle raised for beef production, which benefits the local economy, and free-ranging wild horse populations subject to traditional management practices, which provide indirect benefits by making the heath and bog habitats more suitable for use as cattle grazing pastures.

In Euskadi mountains, herds of horses being raised for meat production are also commonly found, generally from the indigenous breed known as the Basque Country Mountain Horse.

Sheep and goats

In Euskadi, in the mountainous areas where the RURALtXA! project is being implemented, there are long-standing traditions of grazing smaller types of livestock, especially sheep from the highly specialised Latxa breed which is used to produce cheese labelled with the Idiazabal designation of origin (DO). In earlier times, the shepherds lived in mountain cabins, known as bordas, during the summer months to remain with their flocks, milking the sheep and producing cheese. This is a traditional practice that has now almost disappeared, except in relation to some flocks still being managed in this way in the Aralar and Aizkorri mountains, where significant investments are now being made in order to preserve the production of mountain cheese, which is marketed with the Mendiko Gazta label.

What now typically occurs is that the flocks of sheep are taken up into the mountains during the months of June and July after milking has ended, and they remain there until October. This reduces the need to manage the flocks, although it also means that the sheep are given less direction by the shepherds, which can result in damage to the grazing habitats. In addition, the occasional presence of wolves in recent years, in some mountain areas such as Sierra Salvada, Arkamo-Gibijo, and Gorbeia, is causing a progressive decrease in the numbers of livestock grazing in these habitats.

Traditional management of wild ponies

Populations of wild ponies are present in the pilot areas located in Galicia, specifically those in Serra do Xistral and Serra da Groba. These animals are commonly referred to in the Galician language as bestas. The continuing use of traditional practices to manage these ponies promotes conservation of the local habitats, while at the same time preserving a population of horses endemic to the northwestern Iberian Peninsula. The ponies provide ecosystem services that include reducing forest biomass, conserving priority habitats such as Atlantic wet heathlands, improving the quality of pastures used for cattle grazing. In addition, these traditional management systems have a significant cultural and ethnographic value, especially in relation to the traditional roundup event known as a curro or rapa das bestas. These events have great potential for encouraging ecotourism activities.

Currently, the economic use of these animals primarily consists of selling foals for purposes of meat production. In the past, however, the most sought-after product was the hair from the horses’ manes, collected during the famous rapa das bestas events, and which was used to manufacture mattresses, cushions, etc. Also, after being tamed, some of the ponies were used as work animals for farming, carrying loads, or transportation.

It is also worth mentioning the correspondence between these Galician ponies and those from the Pottoka breed in Euskadi, which have similar characteristics and ruggedness. However, that breed does not have a very significant presence in the areas covered by the RURALtXA! project there.


A jar of honey can concentrate all of the sights, aromas, and subtle characteristics of a landscape. Beekeeping and honey production can also be a way to bring together habitat conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Although this is not a very widespread activity in the project’s pilot areas, honey produced from heath vegetation is a highly valued product, with enormous potential for contributing to the bioeconomy.

Other activities

With minor but still significant presence activities as the cultivation of medicinal plants, harvesting of birch wood in Serra do Xistral in Galicia, for use as firewood when producing San Simón cheese, and a wide range of other activities that have developed over the course of history, which reflect a profound degree of human knowledge about these potentially hostile natural environments. These are activities that have helped the local people survive over time, and the RURALtXA! project is now hoping to convert them into a competitive advantage.