Spain had its hottest July on record and the country is facing fierce wildfires this summer. In the province of Catalonia, the city of Barcelona wants to prevent its city parks from bringing fires to neighborhoods.
A new fire brigade has just carried out preventive work in the Parc Collserola, an area of 8,000 square meters that stretches over the hills of the municipality. The team has 290 members sheep and goats and their work has already attracted attention in the community, reports The Guardian.
Following an ancient peasant custom, these animals are a natural means of clearing dry grasses and shrubs that serve as fuel for large fires. When grazing, the herds create clear areas that act as a blockage in the event of a fire and prevent spread.
“We’re not inventing anything new here,” Guillem Canaleta of the Pau Costa Foundation, a Catalan nonprofit organization that has been implementing the strategy in the province of Girona near Barcelona since 2016, told British newspaper Guillem Canaleta. “What we are doing is reclaiming something that already existed and disappeared.”
2 out of 2 goats and sheep make up the fire brigade in Barcelona. — Photo: Promotion/Meeting in Barcelona
Goats and sheep form firefighters in Barcelona. — Photo: Promotion/Meeting in Barcelona
The park where the new brigade operates typically has 50 fires a year, which are extinguished without major problems. But the city’s climate minister, Eloi Badia, says circumstances don’t allow him to take unnecessary risks. “It’s no secret that if there was a big fire one day, it would have a big impact,” he said. “It’s a very urban park surrounded by densely populated communities.”
In addition to clearing dry grass, the flocks are excellent seeders and fertilizers. They balance plant biodiversity with better results than mechanical cleaning of the land by machines or humans.
Barcelona is another city adopting the strategy: In California, where more than 850,000 acres were destroyed by wildfires in 2021, a dozen companies are hiring goats for targeted grazing. In northern Portugal, endangered horses are helping to save the Faia Brava reserve. In the Canadian province of British Columbia, cattle were used to clear areas threatened by forest fires.
The city plans to expand the fourlegged brigade to include up to three flocks and possibly more urban green space.
In Collserola, work has been completed with 72 hectares of the park maintained, Badia said. But the work of the goats and sheep had unexpected results. “There was this boom of residents wanting to visit the animals, it became a family activity par excellence. It had this social and cultural impact.”