Why Barcelona is recruiting sheep and goats to fight wildfires

It's a rustic scene - sheep and goats graze placidly while a shepherd keeps watch. But this is Barcelona's biggest public park, not the countryside.

Why Barcelona is recruiting sheep and goats to fight wildfires
A sheep grazes at the natural park of Collserola, near Barcelona on May 12, 2022. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Since April, Barcelona city hall has employed 290 sheep and goats to munch undergrowth at the Collserola National Park on the outskirts of Spain’s second-largest city.

The aim of the pilot scheme is to reduce the risk of wildfires by clearing vegetation in an environmentally friendly way. It also helps educate the Mediterranean port city’s 1.6 million residents about the countryside.

“The biggest challenge is re-educating people about rural life,” said Daniel Sánchez, one of the shepherds, as he took the animals out to graze.

The 36-year-old moved to Barcelona from Sant Llorenc Savall, a town some 50 kilometres (30 miles) further inland, to look after the herd. He sleeps in a shed in the park near the sheep and goats.

The 8,200-hectare (20,262-acre) park is 22 times bigger than New York’s Central Park and eight times larger than the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.

Its viewing points offer sweeping vistas of Barcelona, and hiking trails make it popular with joggers, cyclists and people out for a walk.

“Every year it catches fire,” said Sergi Dominguez, a 52-year-old maintenance worker who was in the park walking his dog.

Spanish shepherd Daniel Sánchez, 36, herds his flock of sheep and goats at the natural park of Collserola, near Barcelona on May 12, 2022. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

‘High risk of wildfires’

The sheep and goats “eat the scrub and that is the best thing that can happen”, added Dominguez, pointing to the dry vegetation. He said he hoped the flock would return next year.

The project ends in June. If it is deemed a success, the authorities may expand it to other green areas.

Ferran Paune, the biologist and livestock farming expert in charge of the project, said the area posed a “very high risk of wildfires”.

“We are in a Mediterranean zone. On top of that, it’s overcrowded, with many urban areas and people living in woodland,” he added.

The aim of the pilot scheme is to reduce the risk of wildfires by clearing vegetation in an environmentally friendly way, while also helping to educate the Mediterranean port city’s 1.6 million residents about rural life. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

“This natural park could burn completely in just eight hours, which could cause a very serious problem — people needing to be evacuated or being injured.”

The goats and sheep appear to have adapted “perfectly” to the urban park, Paune said.

But Sánchez, who gave up a career as a lighting technician a decade ago to become a shepherd, said he was “getting tired” of the city noise and the night-time light pollution.

“I think I hear a sheep screaming and then I realise it’s actually an ambulance siren,” he said.

“Or I want to listen to the herd and there’s a hospital helicopter coming in to land.”

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Catalonia to impose water restrictions to fight drought

Catalonia's regional government has put 515 municipalities with 6.6 million inhabitants on high alert for drought. Here's what residents should know about water restrictions.

Catalonia to impose water restrictions to fight drought

The lack of rain and high autumn temperatures have meant that several reservoirs in the northeastern region are currently only at 33 percent capacity, resulting in Catalonia facing drought.

The Ter-Llobregat system, the Darnius and the Baodella reservoirs are all affected by the low water levels.

Restrictions on water consumption will be applied across 515 municipalities affecting 6.6 million inhabitants, the councillor for Acció Climàtica (Climate Action), Teresa Jordà, announced on Monday November 21st.  

“Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 22nd) we will declare a drought alert in the Ter-Llobregat basin. There will be 26 counties in alert,” she said in an interview with Ràdio Catalunya.  

According to the Catalan Drought Plan, the Ter-Llobregat system goes into alert when the reservoirs fall below 210 cubic hectometres. This is already happening and this Tuesday, November 22nd the Interdepartmental Drought Commission will meet to declare a drought alert.

The restrictions will come into force when the resolution of the director of the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) is published in the Official Gazette of the Government of Catalunya (DOGC), which is thought to be scheduled for the end of the week.

READ ALSO – IN PICTURES: Drought in Spain intensifies as Roman fort uncovered

What will change?  

When the restrictions have been approved, water consumption will have to be reduced for agricultural, livestock, industrial and recreational uses. Specifically, agricultural consumption must be restricted by 25 percent; for livestock by 10 percent; for industrial uses by 5 percent; for recreational uses involving irrigation by 30 percent and for other recreational uses by 5 percent.

For now, there won’t be any restrictions on the domestic supply of drinking water, but there will be a few limitations on the general public. 

  • You will not be allowed to fill your swimming pool. 
  • There will be restrictions on how much you can use to water your garden.  
  • Those who have a garden are advised to water it every other day and only during the cooler hours to ensure the survival of trees and plants.  
  • You are also not allowed to fill ornamental fountains or clean the streets with water from the general supply.
  • A maximum of 250 litres of water per day per person is set (a five-minute shower uses on average 100 litres).  

Up until now, there were 301 municipalities with water restrictions. These included areas around Llobregat Mitjà, Anoia Gaià, Empordà, the Serralada Transversal, Banyoles, Prades Llaberia and the Fluvià de la Muga, which have all been suffering from drought in recent weeks. Now the Ter-Llobregat system and the Darnius and the Baodella reservoirs have been added.  

The Ter-Llobregat system supplies drinking water to more than 100 municipalities in the Alt Penedès, Anoia, Baix Llobregat, Barcelonès, Garraf, Maresme, La Selva, Vallès Oriental and Vallès Occidental regions, with a population of around five millions of inhabitants.

The Drought Plan has been in place for over a year, as the Ter-Llobregat system was in pre-alert phase since February 2021.  

In these last nine months, the Catalan Agency of Water (ACA) has implemented measures to slow down the decline of water in reservoirs.  

According to Climate Action, the production of desalination plants has been boosted, which have gone from 20 percent to 90 percent of their capacity and have contributed more than 54 cubic hectometres to the system.

This contribution has made it possible to mitigate the decline of water levels in the reservoirs and avoid greater restrictions than currently seen.  

“If today we are at 34 percent of reserves, without the desalination plants we would have stood at 27 percent,” sources from Climate Action have stressed.