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Rewilding and restoring cultural landscapes in Mediterranean mountains: Opportunities and challenges

AuthorsGarcía-Ruiz, José María ; Lasanta Martínez, Teodoro ; Nadal-Romero, Estela ; Lana-Renault, Noemí ; Álvarez-Farizo, B.
Land abandonment
Woody encroachment
Extensive stockbreeding
Cultural landscape
Issue DateDec-2020
CitationLand Use Policy 99: 104850 (2020)
AbstractFarmland abandonment and the decline of livestock activity in the Mediterranean mountains have resulted in dramatic landscape changes, including the generalized expansion of shrublands and forests, and the homogenization of the old cultural landscapes. This process has a variety of consequences from ecological, geomorphological and hydrological points of view, as well as from the perspectives of land management and public awareness. An intense debate currently surrounds the discussion and evaluation of rewilding (the process of passively allowing woody encroachment, as well as the reintroduction of large mammals) as an opportunity for enhancing biodiversity and restoring original landscapes after centuries of human activity versus ecological restoration (activities leading to the recovery of degraded ecosystems, including clearing and light human activity). There is no clear consensus regarding the best way to improve the ecological relationships and functioning within an ecosystem. Biodiversity and sustainability can be seen under different levels of human pressure and landscape transformation; total farmland abandonment is not always the best alternative, particularly when local inhabitants aim to sustain themselves using local resources. Many geographers and ecologists consider that extensive stockbreeding in a partially open landscape is a rational way to (i) improve landscape organization, (ii) increase flows and turnover within the ecosystems, (iii) increase the diversity of plants and animals that benefit from a relatively light human presence, and (iv) reduce wildfire risk. However, it has proven challenging for land managers and stockbreeders to clear the best old abandoned fields and “construct” a sustainable, balanced landscape that combines forests, shrublands and open lands. Private landowner involvement and support from the general public is crucial for both funding and the long-term maintenance of benefits. The best old fields should be cleared in the context of high-resolution knowledge of the topography, grassland characteristics, grassland cycles and livestock management. Such efforts are likely to be an excellent opportunity to introduce compatibility between light human activity and increases in biodiversity and sustainability for many marginal mountains, where land abandonment and general forest/shrub recovery are the inevitable tendencies. This paper examines some of the contrasting positions of the scientific community regarding the rewilding or ecological restoration of mountain landscapes, and briefly highlights some experiences in which intentional clearing of old abandoned fields has benefited stockbreeding, biodiversity, runoff generation and wildfire risks. Notably, we describe a sub-Mediterranean valley of the Iberian Range, Northern Spain, as an example. In the long term, we find that the intentional clearing of the best old fields allows the slow organization of a final landscape that will be more useful for local inhabitants, thereby helping to reverse human depopulation in these regions.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.104850
Appears in Collections:(IPE) Artículos
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