Transhumance as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage?
The wide range of practices, know-hows, skills, ethnographic elements, toponyms, festivals, gastronomy, and events linked to transhumance, together with its socio-environmental benefits, has prompted Italy, Austria and Greece to present Transhumance as a candidate for the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. But what is transhumance, and why is it so important to recognising it as Intangible Cultural Heritage?
Transhumance is a form of pastoralism based on the seasonal migration of people and their livestock. This recurrent migration can vary in distance and takes place between regions with different climatic conditions. By following drove routes, transhumant herders lead their animals to the best pasturelands all year round. This ensures both that the animals get the best feed possible and avoids overexploiting the area’s resources.
Such migratory movements require transhumant herders to have a broad and profound knowledge on, for instance: their animal’s needs and how to protect them; the characteristics of the different habitats and climate; and sustainable management of the land and its natural resources. A special bond with their animals is a must, as the herders do not only travel accompanied by livestock, but also by dogs, for protection, and pack animals. Moreover, being a transhumant herder requires not just all this knowledge, but also many practical skills necessary to ensure the well-being of their animals and themselves while on the road.
The drove roads themselves are a product of many centuries of use, and some countries like Spain have mapped the main network of drove roads crossing the country. Next to these roads, many historical settlements have been developed, together with stables, huts, and places of worship. The beginning and end of the transhumant period are often marked by the celebration of festivities and events, like the annual transhumance in the Schnalstal Valley (Italy).
Transhumance plays many social and environmental functions. On the environmental side, it shapes landscapes, helps preventing forest fires, and creates ecological corridors. It contributes to preserving and enhancing biodiversity, and has an important role in fighting climate change through a more sustainable use of natural resources. On the socio-cultural side, transhumance creates cultural identities and ties between communities, and provides with high-quality products such as cheese, meat, wool, and leather. This in turn plays an essential role in supporting peripheral economies in rural areas and fighting depopulation. Regarding the socio-environmental nexus, the EU project LIFE Oreka Mendian is working on sustainably balancing the conservation of pastureland with its socio-economic use.
Altogether, transhumance is more sustainable than intensive livestock farming, providing both important ecosystem services and increasing human well-being in manifold ways. It is not just cultural heritage, but a way of living through a sustainable relationship between humankind and nature. As such, it would surely deserve being enlisted as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. In November 2019, the governing Commission of UNESCO will make public their final decision the nomination.
Other mountainous countries are also interested in getting involved and giving transhumance this special denomination; what about yours?