Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Reviving Transhumance in Spain

I came across an interesting article that links past present and future, history and ecology on the BBC Future Planet site.

It is about the continuity and, more significantly, revival of the centuries old Spanish tradition of transhumance - that is walking flocks of sheep north and then south across the uplands of Castile to fresh pastures. It certainly goes back to the Middle Ages, and may well be much more ancient. It is related to the pastoralist tradition described in Emmanuel de la Roy Ladurie’s Montaillou which is set in the Pyrenees in the years soon after 1300.

Anyone who has studied the history of later medieval and early-modern Spain knows of the importance not just of transhumance but of the wool that was cropped and the economic significance of those who ran the business. The history of this organisation, the Mesta, which survived until 1836, is set out in a lengthy article on Wikipedia at Mesta

The advance of modernity in Spain in the mid- to later twentieth century led to the decline in the practice, alongside the rapid abandonment of life in the countryside for the allure of the burgeoning cities from the 1960s. A centuries old way of life was disappearing at an alarming rate.

However as the article shows the traditional pattern, and using the designated and protected drove roads has survived and is beginning to revive once more. 

It should come as no surprise, yet doubtless will to some, that there is a strong case that this pattern of husbandry is ecologically good and helps to conserve and maintain the routes and the landscape. This point is made in the article, and there seems to be a significant revival in the practice of transhumance.

I have also read an account by the BBC’s Italy correspondent of how in the 1950s one could still see on occasion flocks being led early in the day through the streets of central Rome by their shepherds in a similar tradition of husbandry.

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