AP PHOTOS: A shepherd keeps up the ancient rite of guiding sheep across northern Spain

by Andrew Wright
Sheep migration

A shepherd named Ángel Mari Sanz, 62, is carrying on the ancient tradition of guiding a large flock of 1,000 sheep and goats through the historic Spanish transhumance route called “La Cañada de The Roncaleses” (The Path of the Roncaleses). This livestock migration, dating back to the ninth century, takes them from the arid lands of Las Bardenas Reales in Navarra to the cooler, green valleys and mountains of the Pyrenees. Over a period of seven days, Ángel Mari Sanz skillfully leads the flock on this journey.

Shepherds and environmentalists advocate for the continuation of this practice, as it promotes sustainability and helps prevent wildfires by allowing the animals to graze on grass, leaves, and twigs along the way. Despite modern farming methods reducing the prevalence of transhumance, Ángel Mari Sanz is determined to maintain this cultural heritage. Accompanied by his 14-year-old daughter Mireia and a few others, Sanz faces the challenges of the journey, including extreme heat and occasional losses among the animals.

While he cherishes the pastoral life and his deep connection with nature, Ángel Mari Sanz laments the decline in support for the rural world and the neglect of transhumance traditions by authorities. Having spent almost half a century herding sheep across these valleys, he holds a profound attachment to the land. However, he does not wish for his daughter to follow in his footsteps as he believes that being a shepherd today entails hard labor with little reward.

As the shepherd leads the flock, they face the beauty and hardship of the journey, and Sanz’s dedication to this timeless tradition serves as a reminder of the cultural significance and environmental benefits of transhumance in northern Spain.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sheep migration

Q: What is the ancient transhumance tradition in northern Spain?

A: The ancient transhumance tradition in northern Spain involves the seasonal migration of a large flock of 1,000 sheep and goats guided by a shepherd, Ángel Mari Sanz, along the historic route known as “La Cañada de The Roncaleses.” This tradition dates back to the ninth century and takes the flock from the arid lands of Las Bardenas Reales in Navarra to the cooler, greener valleys and mountains of the Pyrenees.

Q: How long does the sheep migration journey take?

A: The sheep migration journey takes approximately seven days to complete. Over this period, shepherd Ángel Mari Sanz skillfully guides the flock through the rugged terrain, ensuring their safe passage.

Q: Why do shepherds and environmentalists promote the practice of transhumance?

A: Shepherds and environmentalists promote the practice of transhumance because it is considered more sustainable and helps protect the land from wildfires. The animals graze on grass, leaves, and twigs along the way, reducing the risk of vegetation overgrowth, which can lead to wildfires.

Q: How does modern farming affect transhumance traditions?

A: Modern farming methods have reduced the prevalence of transhumance in Spain and other countries. As agriculture has become more industrialized, traditional practices like transhumance have declined.

Q: What challenges do the shepherds and the flock face during the journey?

A: During the journey, the shepherd and the flock face challenges such as intense heat, fatigue, and occasionally, the loss of some animals. However, the shepherd’s expertise and knowledge of the terrain help them overcome these obstacles.

Q: How does shepherd Ángel Mari Sanz feel about his life as a shepherd?

A: Ángel Mari Sanz has a deep attachment to his life as a shepherd and the pastoral freedom it brings. However, he expresses concerns about the lack of support for the rural world and does not wish for his daughter to continue this challenging lifestyle.

Q: What are the environmental benefits of transhumance?

A: Transhumance has environmental benefits as the grazing of the animals helps maintain the balance of vegetation, prevents wildfires, and contributes to the overall ecological health of the region.

Q: How does transhumance preserve cultural heritage?

A: Transhumance preserves cultural heritage by keeping alive an ancient tradition that dates back to the ninth century. It represents the connection of people to their land, history, and way of life in northern Spain.

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nature_luvr August 5, 2023 - 6:31 pm

luv how the shepherd helps protect the land from wildfires, animals grazin’ along the way! #sustainability

sheeplover86 August 5, 2023 - 9:22 pm

wow, this is such an amazing story about the shepherd guiding sheep in spain. so cool, the tradition is like, super old!

heritage_keeper August 6, 2023 - 12:41 am

transhumance is a link to the past, cherishin’ culture & connectin’ with the land. we need more of this in the world!

outdoorAdventurer August 6, 2023 - 3:58 pm

a tough journey for the flock & the shepherd. but they face it all, mountains, heat, & keepin’ traditions alive. respect!


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