Many of us know Nunzio Marcelli from visits to La Porta dei Parchi, but he is also the president of Rete Appia (The Italian Pastoral Network). Here he expresses solidarity with fellow Sardinian shepherds after the devastating fires that hit the island this week and proposes ways to reduce the ferocity of forest fires in Italy in the future.
“At Rete Appia, we express solidarity with the shepherds and all the inhabitants of Montiferru who are experiencing the tragedy of the fires on their lands in these hours. However, we believe it is important to make a broader reflection on the context within which these fires developed.
Protecting the forest heritage is undoubtedly an epochal priority. Forests are carbon storage tanks and represent one of the last bastions of defense of the survival of the human species on the planet. But protecting it by isolating it from the historical and cultural context in which it finds itself, depopulating it of men and animals who have always kept it alive and vital is diabolical.
The shepherd oversees and controls the most marginal areas and the bred animal limits the combustible biomass. It is unthinkable to exclude flocks from the management plans of protected forests, prohibit grazing or include bureaucratic mechanisms that penalise efficient and shared management between shepherds and foresters. As shown by research in the Mediterranean area, grazing substantially reduces the possibility and danger of an incendiary event. If a forest shepherd could open a track, clean the undergrowth, improve traffic conditions, regulate waterways, in the event of a fire, for example, it would be much easier to go with the means of intervention on the ground and find water to combat the passage of fire.
In forest compendia where grazing is allowed it is extremely rare that the fire can run and have incalculable destructive consequences because for the shepherd those areas represent food support for the livestock in the high-risk months and therefore his daily protection is a deterrent for arsonists and insurance against malice.
We want to strongly claim the fundamental role of shepherds and shepherds in the conservation of woodland and mountain environments and in the reconstruction of a path of rapprochement of young people to inland areas, to reverse the current process of abandonment.
It is necessary to bring the debate on the recognition of the environmental role of pastoralism back to the center of politics and the launch, once and for all, of incentive mechanisms for extensive farming in the mountains and woods of our regions, as has been the case for over thirty years in Mediterranean France and in the Spanish rural regions. Here the ecosystemic role of shepherds is supported with agro-environmental payments per hectare of grazed area attributed according to Environmental Protection Plans to pastoral associations appropriately established on a land basis and recognised by the institutions that govern the rural territories. Where do you get the money from? From the Rural Development Plans, of course, with mechanisms already tested by those who operate and govern in those Regions. The path is not easy, it requires a considerable effort of knowledge and organisation, but it is possible with the work and tenacity of those who really want to preserve our precious agro-forestry-pastoral ecosystems, be they shepherds, foresters, environmentalists, ordinary citizens.”