Agroforestry pp 189-215 | Cite as

Agroforestry Systems in Northern Spain: The Role of Land Management and Socio-economy in the Dynamics of Landscapes

  • J. A. González Díaz
  • R. Celaya
  • M. D. Fraser
  • K. Osoro
  • L. M. M. Ferreira
  • F. Fernández García
  • B. González Díaz
  • R. Rosa García


Agroforestry systems in northern Spain are, for the most part, high nature value (HNV) systems in biodiverse landscape mosaics. These systems, frequently linked to livestock grazing, have evolved drastically over the past 50 years, primarily due to various socio-economic drivers affecting the landscape structure and the biodiversity it holds. The main types of agroforestry systems in Asturias with an in-depth study of two representative examples, one from a lowland coastal area and the other from the interior mountains, have been revieved. The drivers responsible for changes in the systems and the landscape over time, the role of livestock grazing in landscape conservation and the environmental implications, have been summarized. The coastal areas evolved because of their inability to adapt to new productive models. Numerous small farmers with mixed production systems (meat, milk and various crops) feared conversion to dairy during the industrialization era in the 1960s driven by demand for milk from the cities. This specialization forced an increase in grassland areas at the expense of woodlands and croplands in favourable areas. After the entry in the EU in the 1980s, the territories could not respond to the new productive models. More than 60% of the households disappeared and the surviving farms were mainly converted to meat production. A parallel human emigration to the cities left the countryside inhabited by an ageing population. These changes were correlated with the reversion of abandoned fields into shrublands and woodlands. In the mountains, the biggest changes in traditional systems started after the entry in the EU. Thousands of small ruminants associated with transhumance plus local herds disappeared, and cattle and horse herds became dominant. The number of households dropped and emigration caused a population crash in the villages, now inhabited by a few elderly people. At the landscape level, certain patches of vegetation, especially broom scrublands, proliferated by colonizing grasslands and heathlands, while holly woodlands became gradually denser and more closed. In both areas, the socio-economics have profound implications on the landscape. Its progressive simplification can lead to decreases in local biodiversity and increases in environmental risks, such as wildfires and the spread of plant and animal diseases. The current density and population structure are insufficient to maintain the landscape and ecosystem services. Regional and national governments face the challenge of coordinating laws, politics and socio-economic support to these valuable systems with multidisciplinary and landscape-scale strategies.


Abandonment Biodiversity Diet selection Livestock Transhumance 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. A. González Díaz
    • 1
  • R. Celaya
    • 2
  • M. D. Fraser
    • 3
  • K. Osoro
    • 2
  • L. M. M. Ferreira
    • 4
  • F. Fernández García
    • 1
  • B. González Díaz
    • 1
  • R. Rosa García
    • 2
  1. 1.Departamento de Geografía e HistoriaUniversidad de OviedoOviedoSpain
  2. 2.Servicio Regional de Investigación y Desarrollo Agroalimentario (SERIDA)VillaviciosaSpain
  3. 3.Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)AberystwythUK
  4. 4.CECAV, Departamento de ZootecniaUniversidade Tras os Montes e Alto DouroVila RealPortugal

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