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Sheep farming (by this we mean stock farming of sheep and goat) has been an important economic activity in Europe through the ages. Together with its economic value, shepherding and pastoral life have been connected with a rich cultural tradition, which includes a variety of cultural objects, material and non-material. At the same time, two characteristics of pastoral life have gained special importance in building a unique type of culture around pastoral activities: the close contact with nature of the shepherd; and the isolation of the pastoral occupation.

These two characteristics were much more pointed in shepherding sheep than other animals, because of the need to take the herds up in the mountains and stay there for the warm months of the year. This continuous movement from uplands to lowlands during summer and winter respectively, enriched the culture of the communities involved in this activity and created unique cultural testimonies along the routes followed by shepherds and herds, known as transhumance routes.

These shared features of pastoral life, which are even today present in sheep farming areas of Europe, have resulted in many common cultural elements among Europeans countries. At the same time, they became mandatory for the deterioration of the social image of the shepherd’s occupation in the 2nd half of the 20th century onwards: an occupation that was not favoured by the young people of rural areas and was passed over to immigrants, while changing its outlook to partly intensive farming in the richer and more developed areas. By studying the cultural characteristics of the quasi-nomadic life of shepherds, several issues come to the fore: a life style that is closely connected with nature, retaining an almost primordial relationship with it, which is reflected in many cultural expressions, such as music, customs, dress, management of the herd, architecture, cuisine and so on.

The history of shepherding sheep in Europe has also left solid traces in the transhumance routes that are more or less well preserved in many European countries. These routes have evolved to become economic development corridors, fostering commercial activities, accommodation and catering and complementary farming activities, giving also rise to settlements, in the long term.Although the life style of the sheep shepherd has not changed substantially in many European areas, the economic and social environment has changed and the cultural background of this activity underestimated.  Notably, the social status of the shepherd has been substantially lowered, as the owner of the herd is not usually the one who looks after the animals and shepherds them.

The employment of immigrants or the poor in this occupation, accompanied by very low wages, has created a situation of social exclusion linked to shepherding. The isolation of the shepherd for a large part of the time makes this situation even more acute. It is characteristic that in many rural areas of Europe, women do not wish to marry shepherds, thus driving young men out of this occupation. The culture of shepherding has changed and is changing even more rapidly, posing the danger of underestimating and eventually losing a rich and important cultural heritage, which is endowed with many ecological lessons and brings to our modern society valuable messages of sustainable management of natural resources.

One must also take into account that sheep farming has been declining and its social and economic value diminished during the second part of the 20th century. Such decline brings forward the danger of undermining the valuable heritage that surrounds this activity, a heritage that may be completely lost, especially with the new breeding and exploitation methods of  sheep farming, which takes in the 21st century a new form, more intensive and controlled, in order to survive economically.

The environmental effects of sheep farming are also worth noting. Sheep and goat breeding plays a role of key importance in environmental protection, which includes natural maintenance of less fertile areas, bio-diversity, preservation of sensible ecosystems and of water quality, furthermore, it helps prevent soil erosion, floods, avalanches and fires. Sheep and goat live in areas of lesser soil quality; therefore their breeding is essential for the rural economy in the EU. (Report on the future of sheep/lamb and goat sector in Europe (2007/2192(INI)) – Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament).

This project argues that by shedding light on the culture of the pastoral activities at all levels, we help a common and significant part of the European heritage to be sustained, while at the same time artistic and crafts creativity can be encouraged, tourism may be promoted, the environmental sustainability that is related to sheep farming enhanced, the social identity of upland areas boosted and a revival of cultural activities sustained.

Thus, the common cultural identity of sheep farming territories may be strengthened, aided by a network of sheep farming and pastoral life museums and interpretation centres, as well as publications, exhibitions and conferences, among other things, aiming to raise awareness among the public and the ethnographic profession of the value of such heritage.To achieve this, the project team adopts an interdisciplinary approach, aiming to interpret and evaluate the pastoral culture of Europe, past and present, in the light of the economic and social components that shape the lifestyle of sheep farmers.

Below you can download 7 research reports, one for each national background and history of sheep-farming in Hungary, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria, Estonia, France and the UK.


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With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union
With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union

Modules / Menus for development only...

Bulgarian (Български)
English (United Kingdom)
Español(Spanish Formal International)
Estonian - et
French (Fr)
Hungarian (formal)
Italian - Italy
Polish (Poland)