Dehesa farms in Spain

Description of system

Dehesa is an agrosilvopastoral system formed from the clearing of evergreen woodlands where trees, native grasses, crops, and livestock interact positively under management. At present, dehesas occupy 2.3 million hectares in Spain and 0.7 million hectares in Portugal, where they are called “montados”. Dehesas result from a simplification, in structure and species richness, of Mediterranean forests and shrublands, and are attained by reducing tree density, eliminating matorral (shrub) cover, and favouring the grass layer by means of grazing and crop culture. Dehesas are characterized by the rearing of traditional livestock breeds at low stocking densities and careful exploitation of evergreen oaks. Dehesas are among the best preserved low-intensity farming systems in Europe, and in them the integration of traditional land-use and biodiversity conservation is considered an exemplary land use management.

Initial stakeholder meeting

The first meeting of the stakeholder group was help on 30 May 2014 at the Forestry School of the University of Extremadura in Plasencia. The initial stakeholder meeting was very well attended with more than 90 stakeholders attending. Among the attendees, were farmers, breeders, foresters, landowners, representatives of regional and national associations, agricultural services companies, extension services, nature-related NGOs, local action groups and policy makers.
A comprehensive analysis of the perception of the positive and negative aspects of the dehesa system, and potential innovations for research was undertaken. Potential areas identified for research were methods for tree regeneration, fodder crops, grazing, and the possibility of a dehesa trademark.
If you would like to know about the activity of this group, please contact Dr. Gerardo Moreno at the University of Extremadura.

Download the initial stakeholder report

An initial stakeholder report was produced in September 2014.

Download the initial research and development protocol

A research protocol for the dehesas in Spain stakeholder group was produced in February 2015.

Download the system description

A research update on dehesas in Spain was produced in December 2015.

Lessons learnt

Gerardo Moreno and colleagues at the University of Extremadura have written a comprehensive and informative report on the various innovations tested within the Dehesa stakeholder group in Spain.

The first part of the report focus on the search of alternative low cost shelters and practices for the regeneration of the trees of the dehesa.  Some of the main lessons learnt are:

  • Tree regeneration in the dehesa needs to be an integrated part of regular management practice; a rotational stage of grazing exclusion could be included in long-term farm management plans.
  • Assisted regeneration can be based either on seeding acorns or on planting nursery-grown seedlings.  Both approaches require seed and/or seedling protection.
  • Application of cat/dog excrement around sown acorns can be recommended for small scale reforestation. CHANGE around young plants BY acorns sown
  • Thorny wire-mesh tree guards proved to be an efficient, long-lasting solution and cheaper form of tree protection than classic wire mesh tree guards.

The second part of the report focuses on the option to improve fodder self-sufficiency by using protein-rich fodder crops and self-seeding pastures.  Some of the main lessons learnt are:

  • Three varieties of triticale are recommended; the trees can increase winter forage yields and the quality of the forage.  The triticale can be grazed by livestock in the winter before the start of stem elongation.
  • The sowing of legume-rich self-reseeding pasture can increase pasture productivity and quality for at least a decade. Grazing needs to be delayed in the initial years to ensure good establishment.
  • The increase in the soil nitrogen, due to the legumes, also increases the protein content of other pasture species.
  • The sowing of pasture increased the soil content of carbon accumulated.  Although it reduced slightly the α diversity of plants, the total species richness (ϒ diversity) was unaltered.
  • Farmers in the study reported that the improvement in the pasture quality and productivity offset the costs of the seed mixture and fertilizers.

The third part of the report focused on consumer acceptance for dehesa products and services.  Some of the lessons learnt are:

  • Consumers were more familiar with the term "dehesa" than "agroforestry"
  • Consumers associated the dehesa with high-quality livestock products and a landscape of high cultural value.
  • Possible dehesa products with development potential include asparagus, fungi and mushrooms, acorn-based foods, medicinal plants and cosmetics, herbs and herbal tea. CHANGE acorn beer BY acorn-based foods

Lastly the report highlights that more research is still needed on the use of new technologies (such as GPS collars) to improve dehesa management and the use of fast-intensive rotational management.  Preliminary results also indicate that (ignoring the methane produced by livestock), a positive annual carbon balance of the dehesa of Majadas of about 0.5 t C/ha.