You’ve probably already heard of transhumance; you may even have had to negotiate some of these vast herds when out hiking… They live in the mountains in summer and are an incredible sight to behold. But do you know exactly what transhumance is?
We met Patrick Fabre, director of the Maison de la Transhumance who talked to us about transhumance, explaining about its culture, tradition, sustainability, and his passion for the practice.
-Firstly, what does transhumance involve?
Transhumance is the long, seasonal journey undertaken by breeders and shepherds, between the Mediterranean coastal plains and the nearest mountains, in order to feed their flocks.
It provides a solution to the drought that is rife in the summer, yellowing the sparse pasture on the plains. From June onwards, the flocks migrate to the closest mountains where the grass regrows once the snow has melted. They return between September and November, before the snow covers the mountains once again.
Every year, some 600,000 animals spend summer on the alpine slopes and around 100,000 come from the mountains to winter on the plains and foothills of Provence.
Where are the summer pastures?
The traditional summer pasture regions are the Provencal Alps (Mercantour, Ubaye, Haut-Verdon etc.) and the central mountainous region of the Dauphiné Alps (Vercors, Briançonnais).
Today, with the development of different modes of transport, the flocks also travel as far as l’Oisans, the Vanoise and even Mont-Blanc. In fact, most of the livestock are transported in special trucks, comprising 3 or 4 tiers, which can carry nearly 400 animals. Only a few flocks, representing approximately 25,000 animals, which spend the winter in the Var, the Alpes-Maritimes or the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, continue to journey on foot to the nearest mountain pastures.
A word of advice for all hikers who encounter a flock in the mountains:
The first bit of advice is that you must never cut through the flock. It’s better to make a wide detour around the flock’s grazing or rest area. This shows respect for the shepherd and his work and avoids disturbing the animals.
Following the return of the wolf to the Alps, nearly all flocks are now accompanied by guard dogs, often Great Pyrenees. The sudden appearance of anything strange (a wild animal, a dog off the leash, a walker, mountain bike etc.) puts the guard dog on alert. When you approach, it will sniff you to try to identify you, and then it’ll rejoin its flock. Sometimes, it may also try to intimidate you. You should then adopt a calm and non-threatening stance in order to reassure it. If you are unnerved, slowly turn around.
The “Maison de la Transhumance”, located in Salon-de-Provence (France), is an organization that works to raise awareness amongst the general public and protect the practice of transhumance including its values, culture and produce.
Find more informations on the transhumance in the last Hiking on the Moon magazine, special Mouantain Life.
Crédits photos: La maison de la transhumance