Dehesa of Casablanca, Oliva de Plasencia, Cáceres, Spain

The ruins of the Roman city of Cáparra, at the heart of the dehesa of Casablanca in the Ambroz river valley, belies the idyllic surroundings of lush wooded pastures where cattle, sheep and iberian pigs freely roam. The former Sylva-Saltus-Ager land use system of the Romans, by which the forest, the pasture and the crop field were established in separate areas, have been integrated today into the so-called Dehesa land use system of southwestern Spain.

Photo 1: After a long summer grazing on the higher pastures of Gredos mountain range, the Avileña cattle returns to the Dehesa of Casablanca. The entrance arch to the Roman city of Cáparra marks the final destination after the day-long trip.

 

 

 

Dehesa of Casablanca is a family owned and managed livestock farm located in Oliva de Plasencia, southwestern Spain. It is a productive, profitable and environmentally friendly organic farm that can be considered the epitome of sustainable land management. The concepts of diversity, in habitats, vegetation types, resources, and livelihoods, and adaptability underpins management approaches and decisions. The farm has a total area of 421 ha of wooded pastures of which the larger part (259 ha) is the typical dehesa with scattered holm oak trees (Quercus ilex) at a density of 30-40 trees/ha; 75 ha is pasture land, which are reserved for hay production; 66 ha of productive cork oak (Quercus suber) forest; 6,5 ha of organic olive orchards, and an additional 15 ha of wooded summer pastures with ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) and oak (Quercus pyrenaica) which are located 30 km away from Casablanca, on the piedemont of the Gredos mountain range. Water resources are abundant throughout the farm. There are 2 man-made lakes, 6 ponds and 1 natural spring and a seasonal brook that runs through the farm. These water bodies are important not only for livestock but also as the habitat for a variety of aquatic birds and amphibians, and as the source of drinking water for many wild animals including deer and wild boar.

Photo 2: Pruning the sturdy Holm oak trees provides fuelwood and winter fodder for cattle.

Photo 3: The characteristic orange color of cork oak (Quercus suber) tree trunks denotes that the bark has been recently harvested. Cork is an economically important forest resource for many Dehesas.

Photo 4: In early summer the livestock of Casablanca is moved to the greener summer pastures on the piedemont of Gredos mountain range. This short-distance migration, called trasterminance, is economically and environmentally beneficial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Livestock and forest resources are rich and varied. The wooded pastures of Casablanca permanently sustain 135 cattle heads of the native breed Avileña and Berrenda and 14 heads of certified Iberian pigs. An additional 125 Iberian pigs pasture (pannage) in these woodlands during the mast season, from October to January. Cork, fuelwood and honey are the main forest resources. Cork is an important source of income every 10 years, with an average productivity of 41.000 kg per harvest. Pruning holm oak trees results in about 25.000 kg of fuelwood annually as well as providing animals with palatable tree fodder in winter when grass resources are limited. Every year from October to June Dehesa of Casablanca host 150 beehives for honey production. The beekeeper pays the farm owners a token amount of honey for self-consumption.

Photo 5: Holm oak wooded pastures of Casablanca in spring. Dehesa is a land use system common in the southwest of the Iberian peninsula that consist of trees, typically holm oak and/or cork oak, scattered among grasslands.

Photos 6: Livestock grazing is not incompatible with tree regeneration. A properly designed and carefully implemented livestock grazing management plan can ensure tree regeneration in dehesas and other wooded pastures.

 

 

 

The practices of rotational grazing, based on a careful assessment of pasture carrying capacity and a strict control of the number of days livestock can graze each plot, and transterminance- the seasonal movement of part of the herd to the summer grazing lands- are key to the long-term persistence of the Dehesa of Casablanca, as pasture productivity is enhanced while tree regeneration is ensured as a result of reduced animal browsing.

Dehesa of Casablanca is also a successful agrotourism enterprise. Because of its privileged location along the Ruta de la Plata (Silver Route), an ancient trade and pilgrimage path that crosses the west of Spain from north to south, and next to the arqueological site of Cáparra, and its abundant natural resources, Casablanca is visited every year by many hikers, birdwatchers and tourists who want to experience nature and farm life.

Manuel Bertomeu