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Barcelona enlists sheep and goats to combat wildfires

Barcelona authorities have sent in their biggest of fire safety crews...  sheep (PA)
Barcelona authorities have sent in their biggest of fire safety crews... sheep (PA)

Conservationists in Barcelona have deployed an age-old method to stop wildfires spreading: using goats and sheep to eat as much vegetation as possible.

Like much of Europe, Spain has struggled to contain wildfires in this summer’s heatwaves and has turned to an old fashioned method.

In Barcelona, 290 sheep and goats have started work on chewing through plants and grass in areas that could be vulnerable to going up in flames. Barren areas created could then act as a natural firebreaker.

Guillem Canaleta, of the Pau Costa Foundation - a Catalan non-profit, has been implementing the strategy since 2016 and said the method is old but has merit.

“What we’re doing is recovering something that already existed and that was disappearing,” he told reporters.

The project began in April with the livestock testing their stomachs against the green offerings of the 8,000 hectare Collserola park to the city’s west.

The area sees around 50 wildfires a year and authorities are concerned of its proximity to the large urban areas in Barcelona, although most blazes are quickly put out.

The livestock strategy has also been copied in recent years in California and in Canada but has been central to Spain’s policies generally for two decades.

It costs 75 per cent less to have sheep and goats clear the area than for machinery to do the same job. The animals have even become a local tourist attraction.

Julia Rouet-Leduc, a researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at the University of Leipzig, said: “It is not a miracle, but it is part of a solution that can help landscapes be more resilient to fire.”