Overlooking Barcelona, around 300 sheep and goats graze peacefully on grasses that can ignite within hours as part of a pilot fire prevention plan in Spain’s second largest city.
It is just after 9:00 am when the bells are ringing. The new residents of the neighborhood have set to work, at the foot of the Collserola Natural Park, the largest in the city, where residents walk their dogs or go jogging.
“To the right”, “Very well my beautiful!” : Daniel Sánchez, the head herder, speaks to them in Catalan… before resuming a phone call as the herd grazes the lower part of the park’s Mediterranean vegetation, which dries out every day.
His herd is the first in decades to graze like this in this city of 1.6 million inhabitants.
“This project arose out of the great concern around this area of high fire risk”explains Ferran Pauné, the biologist responsible for this experiment, which was launched in April and would last until June.
“We are in a Mediterranean area, very densely populated, with many residential areas in a park” whose vegetation has the potential to “massive burn”he continues, adding that she could burn “in just eight hours” under extreme conditions.
Sheep and goats are working to maintain this area, which was first cleared by the municipal services and the animals “perfect” adapted to this urban adventure, continues Ferran Pauné.
“Every year it catches fire”confirms Sergi Domínguez, a local resident, pointing to the vegetation. “The beasts eat the weeds underneath, and that’s the best thing you can do” to prevent overly devastating fires, says this 52-year-old maintenance worker who would like to see more sheep next spring.
For Daniel, the shepherd, who left his small village of Sant Llorenç Savall, 50 km inland, to settle in Barcelona for three months, “the biggest challenge is to get people used to the rural environment again, they no longer know what it is”he says, before confiding that the adjustment wasn’t easy for him either.
“I’m getting tired of not seeing complete darkness, but also constant noise. Sometimes I think I hear a sheep calling and it’s actually an ambulance siren”he confides.