Dehesa: A Spanish Agroforestry Farming System

dehesa system

The DEHESA, called “montado” in Portugal, is one of the most unique landscapes on the Iberian Peninsula. It covers more than 4 million hectares in Spain and around one million hectares in Portugal, Extremadura is the region with the largest dehesa area (almost one and a half million hectares).

The word ‘dehesa‘ comes from the Latin “deffesa ”, a term used in the Middle Ages for lands that were ‘defended’ or ‘bounded’ preventing the free grazing of transhumant cattle.

This ecosystem was created by man to meet their food needs in an environment of scarce resources. Through the clearing of the Mediterranean forest, areas with scattered trees were formed, mainly holm oaks and cork oaks, which allowed the growth of pastures and the use of livestock, agriculture, and forestry.

In the dehesa, pigs, sheep, cattle, or goats are raised in an extensive regime through the use of pastures. Agriculture, in addition to supplying a source of income, helps to control the invasion of the scrubland and provides food for livestock, while the exploitation of trees allows the obtaining of multiple forest products such as cork, acorn, firewood charcoal, and vegetable. In addition, this exploitation system allows other uses such as hunting, fishing, or tourism.

The dehesa, considered by the European Union as a System of High Natural Value, is a model of sustainable development with great ecological, economic and social value.

LIVESTOCK AND AGRICULTURE IN DEHESA SYSTEM

The livestock is vital in the dehesa. In addition to being the main use of these areas, it has great ecological importance, since it contributes to maintaining and improving the pastures on which it feeds. It also contributes to the transport and supply of nutrients, increasing soil fertility.

The livestock use of the dehesa is practiced in an extensive or semi-extensive regime, through free grazing. The animals feed on grasses, acorns, leaves, and small branches of trees. Being necessary the contribution of supplementary feeding only in the periods of scarcity of pastures.

Grazing is carried out mainly with pigs, sheep, cattle, or goats, being very characteristic that in the same farm we find several of these species simultaneously.

The cattle herd is mainly made up of native, rustic breeds, which have evolved adapting to the conditions of this environment and which stand out for the excellent quality of their meat and dairy products. Currently, it is also used to cross with other breeds that allow greater productions.

Porcine-

The Iberian pig is the main pig breed in the dehesa. It is an autochthonous breed that is raised only in some regions of Spain and Portugal, unlike the white or common pig, which is raised all over the world. This breed is a descendant of the Sus mediterraneus, the wild boar that once populated both shores of the Mediterranean and is the last herding pig breed in Europe, which makes it different and unique.

The quality that differentiates this breed from the rest is its physiological capacity to store fat between the muscles, which makes its meat different, of quality, presenting the well-known infiltrations of fat or “streaks”, which enhance its aroma, flavor, and texture. The products made from this meat are healthy and nutritious products, of the highest gastronomic value and the most outstanding of them is undoubtedly the Iberian ham, the most representative product of our history and gastronomic culture.

Iberian pigs are also often crossed with Duroc Jersey pigs, which greatly increases productivity but reduces fat infiltration compared to pure Iberian pigs.

During the last breeding phase of the Iberian pig, known as montanera, the most characteristic exploitation phase of the Iberian pig, the animal roams freely, directly consuming pastures, stubble and, above all, the acorn, fruit of the Quercus rotundifoli forest species a (holm oak), Q. suber (cork oak) and Q. lusitanica(gall). This period begins at the beginning of autumn, in October, with the fall of the acorn from the tree and can last between three and five months. During this time, the pigs carry out a constant exercise that strengthens their muscles and guarantees the quality of the product. During the montanera, the animal will gain 700-1000 g daily and will consume 9 to 12 kg of acorn for each meat replacement. A pig enters the montanera with 90-110 kg and leaves three months later with 160-180 kg. When the contribution of the resources of the montanera is lower, a supplement of cereals and feed is carried out, which reduces the quality of the productions.

After slaughter, exquisite meats and other processed meat products are obtained from the pig. All the manufacturing processes of Iberian products are based on homemade and artisanal practices that have been traditionally inherited since ancient times. However, due to the significant and growing demand, industrialization, mechanization, and improvement of the procedure have been carried out, which has allowed increasing its quality.

The products of the Iberian pig are exquisite pieces of the highest gastronomic value and every day more valued in the world market. Among the elaborated products we find the salchichón, the chorizo, the blood sausage, the morcón, or the bacon, being the noblest products the ham, the shoulder, and the loin, which need long periods of curing to be able to be consumed at their proper point.

Denominations of origin-

Denominations of Origin are a qualification that is used to legally protect certain foods that are produced in a certain area, against producers in other areas who want to take advantage of the good name that the originals have created, in a long time of manufacture or cultivation. They are also the system used in our country for the recognition of superior quality, a consequence of its own and differential characteristics due to the geographical environment in which raw materials are produced, the way in which products are made, and the influence of the human factor. who participates in them.

Producers who make use of the appellation of origin undertake to maintain the highest possible quality and also to maintain certain traditional uses in production. Likewise, there is a public body that regulates the appellation of origin, which authorizes producers in the area who meet certain requirements to display the badge, it is the Regulatory Council.

Iberian pork products are regulated in four denominations of origin in Spain (“ Dehesa de Extremadura ”, “ Guijuelo ”, “ Jabugo ” and “ Los Pedroches ”) and one in Portugal (“ Los Barrancos ”).

Bovine-

The cattle in the dehesa are represented mainly by the rustic breeds Retinta, Avileña and Morucha, and Lidia.

Often these breeds are crossed with stallions of foreign breeds of greater meat aptitude and precocity, such as Charolais and Limousin, in order to obtain higher production.

The exploitation with genetically pure individuals is carried out only by the herds registered in the herd books, whose objectives are to produce males and females destined as parents in other selection herds or the production of quality meat under certain designations of origin.

It should be noted that the dehesa also serves as a refuge for breeds of cows in danger of extinction such as the Blanca Cacereña or the Brenda.

Extensive cattle management does not require much labor, as it is carried out using fences, where the animals graze freely. The punctual contribution of nutritional supplements is only needed in times of shortage of pastures. Due to this form of exploitation, meats are obtained with exclusive characteristics, different from those obtained through intensive bait.

The exploitation of cattle in the Dehesa, provided it is done with adequate densities and management, has a series of advantages :

  • It contributes to the fertilization and improvement of the soil structure since it returns to the ground approximately 80% of the fertilizing elements it ingests.
  • It likes tall grasses so that the grass maintains a certain height and ability to recover quickly.
  • It makes very efficient use of natural resources of any quality, be it hay or by-products of crops that would otherwise be lost.
  • It adapts to marginal forest or scrublands that are not suitable for cultivation, either due to its orography, excess scrub, or poor soil quality.
  • The facilities necessary for its management have a very low cost and are very scarce, with very little labor used, and without the need for a high degree of technification or knowledge.
  • The incidence of diseases is low, with almost zero mortality, except in specific cases of epidemics. These, such as tuberculosis or brucellosis, are periodically controlled by the health authorities.

Among the quality denominations that protect these beef in the territory of the Dehesa is the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

Fighting cattle-

Despite the aforementioned easy management of cattle through free grazing, special mention should be made of fighting cattle, or wild cattle, whose management requires greater technification and labor and requires specific facilities that involve significant investments in the exploitation.

The mayoral, the cowboys, and all the personnel that surrounds the breeding of the fighting bull must have a special qualification and an exclusive dedication due to the characteristics of a semi-wild calf since we are faced with the animal that lives in semi-freedom for the longest. The management of the fighting bull includes tasks so specific and deeply rooted that they have come to be included in the baggage of popular culture and folklore.

The rejoneo and cowboy dressage shows, for example, are a playful adaptation of the country tasks that are carried out on horseback with wild cattle.

For handling it is essential to use the horse in procedures such as the movement of animals, harassment and demolition, or the simple review of the herd.

Other useful animals, although no longer in use, are dogs and halters, groups of oxen of tame breeds, tamed and trained to move around the farm, transmitting tranquility to the wild cattle.

Ovine-

Sheep, due to their way of grazing and provided that their management is adequate, is the one that brings the greatest benefits to the dehesa. It feeds in a less “aggressive” way than the rest of the livestock species, conserving the pastures and trees. Their habit of walking a lot helps to avoid that the same area is always depleted, contributing to the dissemination of seeds and the fertilization of large areas.

The breed of sheep par excellence in the dehesa is the Merina. This sheep has a good capacity for meat production; this quality is sometimes improved by crossing with male meat breeds that also come from the old merino trunk. Sometimes they are also crossed with foreign breeds, to improve lamb production.

A productive characteristic of this breed to be highlighted is its good capacity to produce heavy carcasses, both in purity and by crossing, as a consequence of its late fattening.

To a lesser extent than for meat production, Merino sheep are also exploited for wool and cheese production. It is this breed that has driven the wool industry around the world since ancient times and, although it has a low milk production, it is of excellent quality, which makes its cheeses an exquisite and unique product.

The Merino breed not only has an economic value but also an enormous ecological value , since due to its rusticity it inhabits areas with very poor soils, in which it acts as a fertilizing agent, participating in the ecological balance of the dehesa. The merino sheep, together with the Iberian pig and the Avilanian cows, moruchas or retintas, play a decisive role in the maintenance and sustainability of the dehesa.

The Talavera and the Manchega are Spanish breeds also used in the dehesa, although to a lesser extent than the Merino. The La Mancha breed belongs to the autochthonous entrefino trunk, which has its origin in the primitive Celtiberian sheep that exploited the peoples of the Central Plateau. From this same origin come other races such as the Castilian. The Talaverana breed belongs to the entrefino-finino group, and comes from the crossing of the Merino breed with the La Mancha breed, having achieved a certain genetic configuration and great uniformity. The names of these races were established according to the places of greatest production of each one of them during long periods of time.

Another line of breeds used in the dehesa, especially to improve meat aptitude, are precocious sheep, with breeds such as Merino Precoz, Île de France, Fleischschaf, Landschaft , Berrichón du Cher or Charmoise. These races have two main characteristics in common, on the one hand, the magnificent aptitude for meat production, and on the other hand, they all possess, to a greater or lesser degree, merino blood.

As for foreign breeds, it is the Romanov breed, originally from Russia, the most used, especially in crosses with merino to improve their prolificacy.

Sheep exploitation in the dehesa is carried out in an extensive regime, without or almost without any type of nutritional supplementation for the animals, which must supply their nutritional needs with the different resources provided by the dehesa.

The marked seasonality and annual variability of dehesa production in the dehesa, with production peaks in spring and autumn, can cause periods of shortage in less favorable years in which supplementation with concentrated feed is essential.

Goat-

The goat, a very agile animal adapted to jumping and climbing, has traditionally taken advantage of the marginal lands of the dehesa, since its rusticity and grazing habits make it join the areas of difficult orography and areas of scrubland and scrub that are difficult for others to access. type of cattle.

These animals are characterized by their great rusticity and ability to adapt to extreme weather and terrain conditions. It feeds on the acorn, the grass, the forage, and the ramón or branches of small trees and shrubs, thus taking advantage of all the resources of the system and controlling the invasion of scrub.

With regard to feeding, in the marginal areas of the Extremadura dehesa, grazing resources are scarce and subject to strong seasonality, which makes it necessary at certain times of the year a supplementary feeding contribution to the herd, which is not present. a high cost, to maintain production.

The most common goat breeds in the dehesa are Verata and Retinta (both classified as endangered breeds) and Serrana, in addition to Florida. These autochthonous breeds are usually found crossed with others such as the Murciano-Granada and Malagueña .

The selection of these breeds has been determined by their dairy aptitude, since this is the main use that is given to goats, leaving meat goats normally relegated to inaccessible areas where daily milk collection is not profitable. The Retinta autochthonous breed, despite its great rusticity, has been absorbed by successive crosses since it has less dairy ability than other breeds, its main orientation being meat production.

Equine-

In the dehesa we can also find horses, which find in these areas the right land to do the necessary exercise for their maintenance. Although there is a great variety of equine breeds raised in the meadows, the Pure Spanish Race is the most common.

Its main use is purebred cattle breeding, or for leisure, either for family use or for activities related to rural tourism. They are also used on farms with cattle, meat or fighting, to help in the management of livestock .

On the other hand, donkeys also appear sporadically in the dehesa, highlighting the Spanish donkey. Man used them in the field as pack animals and as horses, but the appearance of agricultural machinery has led to a considerable decline in their populations. So much so that the Spanish donkey is currently in danger of extinction.

Poultry Farming-

Poultry farming is traditionally linked to pastures. Birds, mainly chickens, are raised in many farms for the self-consumption of meat and eggs. Currently, organic poultry production has great potential in dehesa areas, adopting traditional extensive production systems with rustic breeds adapted to the environment.

Among the rustic birds adapted to the weather conditions of our dehesa, the Extremaduran blue hen stands out, an autochthonous breed, undemanding, good laying, and excellent meat.

Another example of poultry farming in the natural environment of dehesa is the extensive breeding of the Pintada, or guinea fowl. This bird has a high gastronomic value, highly appreciated in haute cuisine. In addition, its markedly wild character makes it even the object of hunting activities.

Finally, we cannot forget the extensive breeding of geese for the production and elaboration of patés, given the current boom in this type of product.

Pastures-

The pasture has a great diversity of plant species. The composition and variety of these pastures will depend on the continued effect of consumption and selection by livestock, with livestock management techniques being essential for their conservation.

Most plant species have an annual cycle. They produce seeds that remain in the ground during the summer and germinate in the fall.

Legumes stand out among all of them, for their productivity, their quality, and above all for their ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and incorporate it into the soil.

These natural pastures are characterized by low production, closely linked to rainfall, which causes strong productive differences between the seasons of the year and between different years. This irregularity makes it necessary to provide supplementary feed to livestock during periods of scarcity.

To reduce this supplementary contribution, the pastures of the dehesa have been subject to improvements on multiple occasions. These improvements have been based on grazing management, phosphoric fertilization, and the introduction of more productive and higher-quality species. With these measures, it has been possible to increase the production and quality of some pastures and their use has been rationalized.

Farming –

Agricultural activity in the dehesa is a secondary activity, although necessary for its conservation since it requires periodic tillage of the land so that it is not invaded by scrub.

Given the low quality of the soils, developed agriculture is not high-yielding and is based mainly on the sowing of cereals such as barley and oats, although we also find forage legumes or sunflower crops, among others. These crops are usually used to feed livestock, whether by tooth, grain, straw, or hay.

Thus, livestock production has traditionally been accompanied by rotational cereal crops. The rotation consists of the planting of one or more fences so that, once harvested, the remains of the harvest (the stubble) are used by the cattle. Subsequently, these fences are left to rest for a few years or are planted with legumes, so that they regain their fertility. In the same way, during these years of rest, other farm fences are planted.

FOREST EXPLOITATION

In addition to the herbaceous stratum, which constitutes the pastures of the dehesa, they present two other well-differentiated plant strata: the arboreal and the shrubby.

The trees, the protagonist of the dehesa, are mostly made up of species of the Quercus genus, mainly holm oak and cork oak, although we can also find other species such as rebollo, ash, or gall oak.

On the other hand, the accompanying shrub layer is composed of strawberry trees, labiérnagos, rockrose, and brooms, among others.

All this plant diversity allows the obtaining of a great variety of products such as cork, firewood, charcoal, ramón, or acorns, all of them obtained directly from the trees.

But the presence of trees and shrubs allows the development of other resources in the Dehesa, giving rise to other forest uses such as the collection of mushrooms, the production of honey, aromatic plants, etc.

These tasks suppose a contribution of complementary resources in the rural economy.

Cork-

One of the main tree species of the Dehesa is the cork oak ( Quercus suber ), which gives rise to a whole industry of first and second transformation, from the use of its bark: cork.

The Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans used cork to cover vessels and amphorae as well as flotation material in fishing gear. The Arabs used it as thermal insulation in their homes and the Chinese to make shoes. It was not until the second half of the seventeenth century when cork began to be used at an industrial level, as a result of the discovery of champagne wine by the monk D. Pierre de Perignon, as a hermetic covering was necessary to contain it. Today there is no quality wine worth it’s salt that does not use a natural cork stopper for its closure.

With the removal of the bark of the cork oak, commonly called ” take ” or ” corkage ” begins the journey to become the cork stopper. This process to remove the cork is carried out every nine years, once the bark of the cork oak has a sufficient diameter again.

The extracted cork, called at that time ” panas “, is transported to the factories where, after a period of rest and stabilization, it is cooked, chosen, and classified according to its visual appearance and thickness for the manufacture of the stopper.

Using procedures that are still quite traditional today, the cork is sliced ​​and pierced, obtaining the star product: the natural cork stopper. However, the cork industry takes advantage of the unsuitable cork to make natural stoppers, to obtain other types of agglomerated cork stoppers or natural cork discs. The poorer quality cork will be used for crushing to obtain granules, which are used for insulation and coating of floors and walls, among others.

Cork Properties-

  • Lightness: this is due to the fact that 88% of its volume is air, which translates into a low density, between 0.12 and 0.24 kg/liter.
  • Elasticity: it is the ability to recover the initial volume after undergoing a deformation that justifies, among others, its use to manufacture caps.
  • High friction coefficient: the surface of the cork is upholstered by micro-suction cups that allow it a great grip and make it difficult to slide.
  • High impermeability: the diffusion of liquids and gases through the cork is very slow because it is carried out through the plasmodesmata.
  • Great calorific value: around 7,000 Kcal / kg.
  • Shock absorption capacity: the deformation when an impact occurs extends to the surrounding areas, which allows good cushioning.
  • Easily manageable: after the firing phase, industrial processes are facilitated with the cork, mainly cutting, as it becomes softer and more elastic.
  • Low water content: the equilibrium humidity of the cork with the environment, once the scrape has been removed, does not exceed 9% of its weight. This makes the proliferation of microorganisms impossible, giving it long durability.
  • Thermal insulation: the natural function of cork is to protect the living parts of the tree that generates it. Its alveolar structure (preventing air from circulating), low water content, and lack of conductivity allow it to fulfill its function as an insulator effectively.

Cork Industry-

The cork industry includes the first transformation (preparation industry) and the second transformation (stopper, granules, agglomerates, and coatings).

The preparation industry carries out two fundamental operations with cork: cooked and selected… The cooking is carried out in a generally stainless steel boiler and fed with firewood, where the cork cooks for one hour at a temperature very close to 100º C. The chosen one consists of separating the cork into nine classes according to the destination of the cork in the second transformation industries. The chosen one is carried out in two phases: firstly, the different cork gauges are separated (11 below; 11-13; 13-15; 15-19 and 19 above; the figures indicate the lines, and one line equals 2, 25mm); secondly, the aspect classes are separated. The appearance of cork is determined by numerous parameters: porosity, color, density, compressibility, and alterations present, and is graduated according to the quality of the stoppers that can be obtained from a given cork sheet:

The cork is then grouped into homogeneous qualities in packages of about 90 kg called bales. These bales go to the second transformation industries, the main one being the stopper, in which mainly natural cork stoppers are obtained.

The Spanish cork industry has made an enormous effort to modernize in recent years: on the basis of the International Code of Corking Practices and the SYSTECODE (the quality accreditation system supported by this Code), the industry has adapted its facilities and modified and documented its procedures to make the best cork stopper.

Charcoal-

The manufacture of charcoal is the main use of the firewood produced by pruning the holm oaks and cork oaks of our pastures.

In the past, coal was used as a magnificent source of heat in homes, due to its high calorific value.

The traditional kilns covered with clay, with which the charcoal makers of the dehesas obtained coal, have given way to more modern methods in their elaboration.

Several years ago, this activity took a leap to industrialization with the construction of stable brick and concrete kilns, which produce coal continuously throughout the year. All this, together with the necessary infrastructure to put the product on the market completely finished and packaged, has made these facilities true industries for the transformation of a forest product into a biofuel for barbecues or grills.

Today, charcoal manufacturing is a booming market. In Extremadura, there are more than 100 industries spread throughout its geography, which supply coal to the most important commercial areas of the country. Extremadura has thus become the largest producer of charcoal in Spain.

Firewood-

The firewood, together with its derivative products, the coal, and the picón, constitutes one of the oldest uses of our pastures, being an added value of the trees.

Firewood is one of the best ways to take advantage of the pruning products that are carried out to improve the health and production of holm oaks and cork oaks. It has been used as a source of heat in stoves, kitchens, and fireplaces since ancient times since oak wood are highly valued for being wood with a high density that provides a high calorific value.

Nor should we forget the importance of this product in gastronomy, by bringing tradition and flavor to numerous dishes and products, all of them made in a traditional way in wood-fired ovens.

Acorn-

One of the traditional uses of the dehesa is the montanera, which is the direct consumption in the field of acorn and dehesa by pigs. It generally begins at the end of October and lasts until the end of March, and during this time the animal travels the pastures taking advantage of everything that the ecosystem provides, the energy of the acorn and the fiber and vitamins of the grasslands. The montanera is an extraordinary example of integration of the animal and its environment, since, in addition to feeding, the exercise it performs slows down its fattening, which translates into the formation of extremely juicy meats. The finish of the Iberian pig in montanera is exclusive to this animal and gives rise to the best hams and sausages in the world.

The acorn is therefore the food base of the montanera. The pig does not take advantage of all the fruit, but removes the dome and rind, keeping the pulp. The pulp of the acorn is characterized by having a very low concentration of protein and a very high content of carbohydrates and lipids, which makes it a very energetic food.

Acorn production in a dehesa can range between 100 and 1000 kg/ha per year, the most common values ​​being between 200 and 600 kg/ha (7 – 18 kg/tree), with large interannual variations. Acorn production is so variable because it depends on various factors: the number of trees and their distribution, the health of the trees, the age, dimensions and crown structure of the individual tree, its genetic characteristics, and the prevailing climatic conditions. and previous. The capacity of acorn production is necessary for orderly and adequate management of the farm.

Acorn can also be used for human consumption, raw or grilled, and in certain areas of Extremadura, it is used to make liquor.

Ramon-

The ramón is made up of the fine twigs and leaves that cattle consume directly from the tree or after pruning. It is composed mainly of fiber and, to a lesser extent, of proteins, fats, and trace elements. It is a maintenance food supplement used mainly in winter, and its use is uneven since goats can take advantage of up to 85% of it, while sheep only take advantage of 30% (with intermediate values ​​for cattle and horses). Ramón production depends on various factors, such as the density of the trees and the degree of scrub in the Dehesa.

Mushrooms-

The collection of edible mushrooms, given their great gastronomic value, has traditionally been a common practice in the meadows.

The production of mushrooms, and therefore their collection, is highly influenced by weather conditions, depending largely on the temperatures and rainfall of each season.

We can find a great diversity of species in the meadows, mainly during the autumn and spring months.

Among the most collected and appreciated mycological species are the Boletus, the Amanitas (King’s Egg and Gurumelo), the Criadillas, the Mushrooms, or the Chanterelle, which are used to prepare a wide variety of dishes, either as a condiment or as the main ingredient.

The collection of mushrooms has experienced a great boom in recent years, being an economic and development alternative to consider in many rural areas.

But not only its collection has value. Associated with its practice, other tourist and economic uses also arise, it is called “micoturismo“.

The social nature of this use should not hide the high economic benefit that its collection entails for some families, there being genuine temporary migrations of citizens from other localities, even from nearby provinces for the collection of this precious delicacy.

Beekeeping-

The abundance of melliferous flora in the meadows makes beekeeping another of the great complimentary uses of the meadows.

Beekeeping is a practice that is over 2,500 years old. By managing and raising bees in different conditions and locations, a wide variety of products are obtained, including honey, wax, pollen, or royal jelly, among others.

But beekeeping is not only an economic activity, it is also an essential activity for the maintenance of natural ecosystems and biodiversity, given the work carried out by bees through pollination.

Honey has been, and is, a highly appreciated product in different cultures, both for its gastronomic or culinary value, and for its therapeutic properties. Currently, we find as many varieties of honey as types of mountains or plant associations.

Others: asparagus, caudillos and aromatic plants-

In addition to timber forest use, in our pastures, we find many other products with economic and social value, such as asparagus, caudillos, and certain aromatic and medicinal plants such as thyme, rosemary, mint, or sage, among others.

All these resources are generally collected for the families’ own consumption and, in some cases, for sale in local stores.

During the spring months, we can find many people roaming our pastures in search of asparagus. Its collection requires a technique taken care of to avoid the damages that can cause the thorns that these plants have.

The same occurs with the caudillo, or aromatic plants, products with a traditional and local use that spice up and give flavor to a multitude of dishes.

OTHER USES OF DEHESA

In addition to agriculture, livestock, and forestry, the Dehesa offers many other possibilities of use that represent great income for the rural economy.

Hunting is a widespread activity that contributes to increasing, significantly, the economy of the rural population.

The Dehesa has become a place of appeal for the practice of nature and gastronomic tourism. Many tourists come to these places to practice sports and activities in the environment: such as cycling or hiking, fishing, nature photography, bird watching …

All this makes it the ideal place for many people looking for a different style, to feel and enjoy their leisure time.

Tourism and leisure-

The Dehesa, with its landscape, social and cultural values, is a system closely linked to the rural population. In recent years it has become a claim for the practice of nature and gastronomic tourism, offering numerous possibilities and great income.

Our pastures are points of cultural and recreational interest where the conditioning of rural accommodation allows participation in traditional agricultural and livestock activities or in the production of typical products.

Among the different possibilities, ornithological tourism stands out, linked to the ZEPAS (Special Protection Area for Birds) and SCI (Places of Community Importance) zones.

Also the dehesas boyales, due to their proximity to the population centers, are used for the development of socio-recreational activities.

The cattle routes   (routes or routes traditionally used by nomadic livestock), along with greenways and communal roads, are today the main infrastructure for carrying out horse riding or practice hiking or cycling.

Fishing has also led to a tourism-related to this practice. In recent decades, it has become an important recreational and recreational component, becoming an authentic sport, which takes advantage of the fish resources offered by the rivers and ponds present in the landscape of our pastures.

The micoturismo, collecting asparagus and aromatic plants, the bellowing, hunting, among other activities, are also linked to tourism in the Dehesa.

Hunting-

Hunting has been an activity practiced by man throughout history, either to obtain food or as a leisure activity.

At present, hunting has a strictly sporting purpose and has become one of the resources that generate employment and wealth in many areas of the Dehesa.

It is practiced on limited land and is regulated by a series of mandatory laws and regulations. It is only allowed on species considered hunting.

Big game hunting, organized mainly through hunting, mainly affects deer and wild boar, including in this modality, the use of groups or packs of dogs also called rehalas or recovas.

Small game hunting affects rabbits, partridges, hares, turtle doves, wood pigeons, and other species.

All these species have a high ecological value, increasing the biodiversity of these ecosystems.

We have to understand hunting as one more resource of the Dehesa, so it must be maintained as an activity compatible with the rest of the uses and in balance with the conservation of the environment.

VALUES ​​AND SERVICES OF THE DEHESA SYSTEM

The Dehesa is of great importance in our economy, generating a large amount of direct employment on farms. Agriculture, livestock, forestry services, beekeeping.

But it is the transformation and subsequent commercialization of the products of the Dehesa that generates the greatest number and diversity of jobs and businesses, most of them linked to the agri-food sectors (ham, meats, sausages, cheeses, asparagus, acorns, honey, mushrooms …) And forestry  (cork, stoppers, charcoal).

Hunting activity and sport fishing are also an important source of income because of the value generated by the associated subsectors (taxidermists, armories, rehalas …).

Service companies (marketing and distribution) and rural tourism (accommodation and gastronomy), handicrafts are other examples of business and sources of income related to the world of the dehesa.

The Dehesa also offers a series of environmental and socio-cultural services of difficult economic valuation (images of folklore, tradition, crafts…).

Economic importance-

The Dehesa is of great importance in our economy, generating a large amount of direct employment on farms. Agriculture, livestock management, tree pruning, uncorking, beehive management, game reserve management, sheep shearing, forestry services, and other tasks necessary in their management and management, require specialized staff.

But it is the transformation and subsequent commercialization of the products of the Dehesa that generates the greatest number and diversity of jobs.

Most are linked to the agri-food sector, including companies producing fresh or processed products (meat products, cheeses, mushrooms, asparagus, acorns, honey …), as well as marketing and distribution companies.

The cork, after extraction, requires the first processing industry (or trainer) and the second processing (mainly manufacturing stoppers).

The hunting activity and sport fishing are also an important source of income because the value generated by the following subsectors partners: catch value, leases, veterinarians, taxidermists, rehalas, armory, ammunition and accessories, insurance, technical management plans, nurseries, media, restaurant and hotel sector, transport sector, energy, and reserve management.

Rural tourism companies (organization of activities, accommodation, and gastronomy), handicrafts, the coal and wood industries, are other examples of business and sources of income related to the world of the Dehesa.

Environmental and sociocultural services-

The Dehesa offers a series of environmental and socio-cultural services of difficult economic valuation:

  • It offers spaces for recreational, educational, cultural, and scientific use.
  • It influences the regulation of the water cycle and soil conservation, preventing its erosion and degradation, thanks to the herbaceous plant cover.
  • It contributes to the fixation of CO 2 by the trees, reducing the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • It helps in the prevention of fires thanks to the scarcity of scrub, the low density of trees, and the use of pastures by livestock, which limits the availability of fuel for the spread of fire.
  • It contributes to the maintenance of the rural landscape and the fixation of its population.
  • It influences the signs of identity of the rural population and the preservation of cultural heritage due to its influence on traditions, customs, folklore, gastronomy, crafts, and even the specific vocabulary of many places.
  • In addition, the dehesa plays an important role in the conservation and maintenance of biodiversity, hosting a great variety of species of fauna, flora, and native livestock breeds, some of them threatened or in danger of extinction.

BIODIVERSITY

The Dehesa is an ecological paradise mainly populated by holm oaks and cork oaks in which, for generations, human activity and the natural environment have coexisted in harmony creating a unique model of biodiversity.

The Dehesa is a vegetal formation fundamentally constituted by an arboreal layer accompanied by a great variety of herbs and shrubs.

Among the vegetation of the Dehesa there is great biodiversity, observing unique species, considered authentic jewels of nature, such as the black stork, the imperial eagle, or the black vulture.

The many streams and ponds, with great ecological value for this landscape, constitute a refuge for a multitude of fish and aquatic birds.

To protect these and other natural habitats and their biodiversity, a network of protected areas was created, called the Natura 2000 Network, whose objective is the conservation of unique or threatened ecosystems in Europe.

CONSERVATION OF THE DEHESA SYSTEM

For years there has been a balance between the exploitation and conservation of the resources of the dehesa.

However, in some areas, the Dehesa is experiencing difficulties that threaten its conservation and profitability. To avoid this situation, all action measures on farms should be aimed at conserving the ecosystem and its sustainability, ensuring the maintenance of the farming system.

The trees deserve special attention, since the productions of the Dehesa, like the landscape, depend on it. The tree is the element that, given its longevity, has been the least considered and cared for so far. For this reason, nowadays, the greatest problems in the dehesa are a consequence of the aging of the trees, the lack of regeneration, and, sometimes, their poor health.

Long-term conservation of the Dehesa is only possible through the use of good practices such as:

  • The regeneration of the trees.
  • Avoid practices that weaken the tree, such as abusive pruning that makes it more susceptible to attack by pests (such as wood borers) or more easily affected by diseases.
  • Carry out correct management of resources avoiding overexploitation.
  • Carry out the practice of adequate grazing, avoiding excessive livestock loads, since they contribute to the degradation of the soil and pasture and prevent the regeneration of the trees.

We must conserve and protect the Dehesa, taking into account that it is an ecosystem created by man and, therefore, it needs his action and care to maintain it.