Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: grazing (page 2 of 3)

Back from the Falklands

Late afternoon sun picks out a river course on West Falkland.

Late afternoon sun picks out a river course on West Falkland.

I am now back from my 3+ week immersion into the farming culture of the Falkland Islands, with 700 photos, 30 hours of interviews, 20 pages of observational notes, and a strong sense of my inadequacies as a specialist within a land of self-reliant generalists. Despite coming at the busiest time in the farming calendar – shearing and lamb marking – farmers were incredibly generous in their willingness to talk, and sometimes tour and host as well. My research assistant, Marilou Delignieres, went far beyond her role as recruiter, guide and driver, happily engaging in farm work and babysitting to help me get time with farmers. Her parents, Hugues and Marie-Paul, helped us with logistics, but also provided additional opportunities during my visit. I relished my discussions with members of a contract shearing gang then working at their farm Dunbar, and got to experience a cruise ship visit, one of the ways that many farmers here diversify their incomes and benefit from hosting penguin colonies and other wildlife. I travelled by 4×4, workboat (ferry) and Islander aircraft. I marveled at all scales: skies to ground cover. These memories will sustain me through the difficult transcription phase which follows such research, and support my subsequent analysis. Thanks to the OECD Co-operative Research Programme and Dalhousie’s Supplemental Sabbatical Fund for the fellowship funding to undertake this travel, and SSHRC for its support of Marilou.

Marilou throws a fleece in the Dunbar shearing shed, as Alex shears, Polly rousies, and Hugues and Marie-Paul look on.

Marilou throws a fleece in the Dunbar shearing shed, as Alex shears, Polly rousies, and Hugues and Marie-Paul look on, ready to class it.

Cruise ship tourists visiting Gentoo Penguins at Dunbar farm, with Death Head in the background - one of their tricker paddocks to gather sheep in.

Cruise ship tourists visiting Gentoo Penguins at Dunbar farm, with Death Head in the background – one of their tricker paddocks to gather sheep in.

Departure day for the Falklands

The long range forecast for the Falklands shows it really is British.

The long range forecast for the Falklands shows it really is British.

Still a long list of to-do, but later today I depart for a month in the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory near Patagonia, to talk to livestock farmers about their landscape and how they manage it. This is work funded by the OECD Cooperative Research Programme, with additional support from Dalhousie’s Supplemental Sabbatical Leave funding, as well as my SSHRC on sustainable grazing. There is patchy and expensive internet coverage, so I don’t expect to be able to blog often, but I will when I can.

 

Tchau, World Congress on Silvo-Pastoral Systems

Guillermo Martinez Pastur questions Aida López-Sánchez during WG 1 at the World Congress on Silvo Pastoral Systems in Evora, Portugal.

Guillermo Martinez Pastur questions Aida López-Sánchez during WG 1 at the World Congress on Silvo Pastoral Systems in Evora, Portugal.

I am just back from Evora, Portugal, for the first World Congress on Silvo-Pastoral Systems. On the basis of my spatial background and postdoc work on scattered tree grazing systems in Australia I co-convened with Argentinian Guillermo Martinez Pastur working group 1 on mapping and assessing large-scale trends. But I myself presented in working group 14 on integrative approaches, synthesizing bibliometric and rhetoric work with Carlisle Kent last year on my new grant on holistic grazing management to outline three reasons for polarization on HM and five ways to avoid it. The conference was diverse and extremely worthwhile, showing the value of problem- or landscape-focused conferences over disciplinary ones. I enjoyed connecting to young and established scholars of cultural ecosystem services, integrative research, and landscape analysis. Paired keynotes by Guy Beaufoy (about EU policy interactions) and Ika Darnhofer (on farmer adoption) were particularly rich in insight.

Jesus rests on a cork earth in a diorama at the Igreja de São Francisco.

Jesus rests on a cork earth in a diorama at the Igreja de São Francisco.

A surprise pleasure was a day spent visiting pastoral/Montado grazing properties, riding the bus alongside Lynn Huntsinger, co-author of the 2014 critical commentary on my post-doctoral work that inspired my new grant on HM. Interesting combinations of livestock (cattle, pigs, sheep) and trees (cork, pine nut) were explored on the farms we visited. Later I saw signs of the importance of cork for this culture: cork used as a symbol of earth itself (right).

The UNESCO-listed host community of Evora is a fascinating place, and while we had little time amidst the events to explore, I managed to take in the Capela dos Ossos (bone chapel) during a quick trip to the Pharmacy for something to ease my now-characteristic if tiresome conference cold symptoms. I very much regret not making it to the Fórum Eugénio de Almeida, which:

…is a space designed for the promotion of artistic and cultural actions guided by social responsibility and sustainable practices, committed to a multidisciplinary, instructive and inclusive programme…

I was intrigued by the museum’s exterior, which sported a huge vertical banner reading “What’s Past is Prologue”, as well as writing along the fence at the rear saying “Everything is a Story”. Both were poignant, sitting next to ruins of a first-century Roman temple, along with more recent (but still old) water tower, cathedral, convent, and palace. It feels like a place that has found a way to layer history without much sacrifice of past or future.

A fence is blazoned with Everything is a Story, bookended by a Roman temple and a water tower.

A fence is blazoned with Everything is a Story, bookended by a Roman temple and a water tower.

The 16th century University of Évora itself was a luxurious space to spend extended time, with marble arches and floors, half-tiled walls and many, many tiny cups of coffee. We were there during a period of extensive hazing of first years by upperclassmen and women, the latter wearing full black suits and capes (unthinkable in the heat). Their classrooms are a tourist attraction, as well as a conference location, which must be strange for them. I snuck into the 18th century Geografia room, which had an impressive raised pedestal for the professor and tiled murals representing the elements, the seasons and the continents (see America, below).

I would have liked to be in this American Geography class.

I would have liked to be in this American Geography class.

Who’s Afraid of Allan Savory?

Who's Afraid of Allan Savory? A poster summarizing the first report from RHoMPAS

Who’s Afraid of Allan Savory? A poster summarizing the first report from RHoMPAS

I am disappointed not to have been able to make the trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, today as planned for the Society for Range Management annual meeting (and not just because it’s February in Canada). I was asked to present a talk on the value of qualitative social science methods for grazing research, in a session designed to develop common ground around adaptive grazing practices such as Holistic Management (HM). Carlisle and I also submitted a poster (above) based on our bibliometric analysis of the HM literature (as approximated by looking at papers that cite Allan Savory). I wrote the Savory Institute to give Mr Savory a heads up, given the cheeky title we used, and received a gracious and supportive reply. I told him it was like seeing the name Spiderman in my inbox and he wrote back, “Kate, it’s Spiderman.”

The modern shepherd

I was in the middle of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), by Thomas Hardy, when I received word from the Halifax Central Library that the hold I placed on James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life (2015) was ready for pickup. This was a nice bit of symmetry, as the hero of Hardy’s novel is Gabriel Oak, stout-hearted and reliable shepherd of Hardy’s ‘Wessex’ (south-west England). Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1) is a modern shepherd who runs a family ‘fell farm’ of Herdwick sheep in the Lake District, as well as an Oxford graduate who advises UNESCO on ensuring tourism benefits local communities in cultural landscapes. The ‘fell’ is an area of marginal commons pasture shared by local farmers for extensive grazing.

James Rebanks worked up to this book on shepherding in the UK Lake District from twitter, and a column in Cumbria Life magazine.

James Rebanks worked up to this book on shepherding in the UK Lake District from Twitter, and a column in Cumbria Life magazine.

It was fascinating reading these books in parallel, seeing the same farming practices described, despite differences in vocabulary. They were also both deeply landscape-driven and embedded in place. Rebanks is eloquent and pithy, and mounts a passionate defense for this way of life, in part rejecting calls by folks like George Monbiot to destock grazed landscapes to rewild and revegetate them. Many analogies suggest the sense that the land is itself part of the family in shepherd life. About his grandfather’s connection to the land, Rebanks shared (p. 72):

My grandfather had an eye for things that were ‘beautiful’ like a sunset, but he would explain it in mostly functional terms, not abstract aesthetic ones. He seemed to love the landscape around him like a passion, but his relationship with it was more like a long tough marriage than a fleeting holiday love affair. His work bound him to the land, regardless of weather or the seasons. When he observed something like a spring sunset, it carried hte full meaning of someone who had earned the right to comment, having suffered six months of wind, snow and rain to get to that point. He clearly thought such things beautiful, but that beauty was full of real functional implications – namely the end of winter or better weather to come.

Above the love of the land, perhaps, is his love of the sheep themselves. The book also presents a new vocabulary for scholars of place: hefted, from Old Norse for ‘tradition’. Hefted sheep have “become accustomed and attached to an area of upland pasture”. It seems clear from this book that humans can be hefted, too.

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