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Wildfires Tackled by Goats and Sheep

An age-old strategy of fire prevention has been revived to help beat the effects of drought and heatwaves. It also helps nurture biodiversity.


Goat eating forest undergrowth to help prevent fires

Swapping sirens for bells and equipped with voracious appetites, Barcelona’s newest firefighting recruits began delicately picking past hikers and cyclists in the city’s largest public park earlier this year. The four-legged task force had just one mission: to eat as much vegetation as possible.


Their arrival turned Barcelona into one of the latest places to embrace an ancient strategy that’s being revived as officials around the world face off against a rise in wildfires.


The idea is simple: wildfire-prone areas are handed over to grazing animals, who chomp and trample over dry vegetation that could otherwise accumulate as fuel for fires. Whether the animals are semi-wild or overseen by a shepherd, the beneficial result is a landscape dotted with open spaces that can act as firebreaks.


The grazing has brought about other benefits: the animals carry seeds and fertilise as they move through the terrain and their relatively indiscriminate feeding habits nurture biodiversity by curtailing the competitive advantage of some plants.


Other parts of Spain adopted the strategy nearly two decades ago, when the southern region of Andalusia began paying shepherds to traverse its overgrown plains and valleys with their animals. The regional programme has since swelled to include more than 100,000 animals, saving officials an estimated 75 percent of the cost of having the land mechanically cleared.


In Barcelona, plans are now under way to expand it to as many as three flocks and potentially more of the city’s green spaces. The animals ended up tending 72 hectares of the park, said Eloi Badia, the Barcelona city councillor for climate emergency and ecological transition. But they also transformed the city in other, more subtle ways. “There was this boom of residents who wanted to visit the animals, it became the quintessential family activity,” he said. “So it also had this social and cultural impact.”

 

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