Biodiversity conservationist Elsa Sattout talks of the importance of connecting Lebanese mountain chain settlements through pastoral tourism, and reveals the hidden beauty of their landscapes
Would the paths of shepherds bring a new connectivity across villages and towns settled on the low and high lands of Lebanese mountain chains? Could they draw sketches of green labyrinths linking humans to nature and tracing mosaics of cultural landscapes? In the paths of shepherds lies the potential to encourage city dwellers to reconnect with nature and they could become one of the driving forces mainstreaming mountain ecosystems within national conservation policies.
Cultural landscapes embrace both natural and built-up environments including everything from the topography of lands, climate conditions and plants to buildings and roads. They encompass the visual properties of the environment, reflecting human knowledge, religions, heritage values, social interactions and linked amenity services (Panagopoulos 2009; De Groot and Ramakrishnan 2005).
Stitching mosaics of man-made landscapes through transhumance tourism [the seasonal movement of human communities between regions] can rewire social-ecological networks. Transhumance tourism can also work to alleviate poverty in rural areas while bringing new social and economic dynamics to marginalized communities and unfolding the beauty of the lesser-travelled landscapes of Lebanon.
Mediterranean coastlines and mountains were among the world’s earliest regions to develop complex systems of societies and urbanism. Agriculture, forestry and grazing practices have dominated the Mediterranean region for centuries. More than 9,000 years ago in the Middle East, Neolithic societies left the first imprints of cultural landscapes (Naveh 2010, Vogiatzakis et al. 2005, Quézel et al. 1990). The diverse range of agriculture terraces, forests and rangelands has transformed Mediterranean countries into a melting pot of ecological and cultural landscapes.
“Over the past 50 years humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly”
Based on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment “Over the past 50 years humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history.” As a result there has been an extensive decline in the quality of natural resources and changes in physical and ecological landscapes. Lately, with the pull of migration towards the urban center, agricultural areas are being abandoned in favor of city life (Quézel et al. 1990, Panagopoulos 2009, Conrad et al. 2011). Cultural landscapes, formed over thousands of years of human interaction with nature, have been altered to an extent that our ancient relationship with nature has been forgotten.
In Lebanon pastoralism has long been an integral part of communal livelihoods in rural and remote areas. With new sedentary farming systems established in the mountains and the Bekaa plain – where livestock are confined to the farm – it is at risk of fading away altogether (Sattout 2014, Pastoralism – Forthcoming). Bringing back these traditional practices can have benefits on ecological, social and economic levels. Pastoralism plays a role in the conservation of old varieties of crops (wheat, barley, lentils, almonds, pistachio.) Lebanon, recognized as a hotspot for Eastern Mediterranean plants of various origins (Mittermeier et al. 2004), is located at the heart of a mega-diverse area for wild relative species, important food crops and pasture species, and landraces of high genetic diversity (Heywood 2008). As in many other countries, transhumance creates social interactions and connections that would not have been possible without these pastoral movements. So what about reconciliation between divided societies in war torn countries?
“Traditional systems can certainly play an important role in the conservation of nature”
The social and ecological characteristics of landscapes, where livestock are moved from lowland to upland, in turn shape the ecosystem services (such as food and climate regulation) they provide. “Livestock drove roads [route’s for droving livestock on foot] are a special case of ecological corridors,” says Oteros-Rozas et al. Fragmented forest ecosystems – the consequence of woodcutting, expansion of agro-pastoral activities and urbanization – can be rewired through pastoral tourism, while greening the paths of shepherds. Pastoral tourism can revive the landscapes of social-ecological networks, shaped over centuries through pastoral activities, through the adaptation of herder management practices to a harsh and highly fluctuating environment. These are essential in delivering ecosystem services that are important for human livelihoods and societal development (Herzag, 2012.)
Traditional systems can certainly play an important role in the conservation of nature. It also can seed some innovative thoughts on changing the ethical behavior of people and align it with the existing values of the natural world. Walking the paths of shepherds can reconnect us with nature and reveal a new sense of self as well as help encourage agro-biodiversity and the best practices of conservation.
Experience pastoral tourism
Alternative Tour Operator, 33 North
(71 331138, 03 454996, 33-north.com)
organize two-day journeys with the shepherds, providing a real opportunity to experience the nomadic lifestyle within Lebanon’s stunning scenery. Andre Bechara, founder of tour operator Great Escape (03 360027, greatescape.com.lb) works closely with shepherd communities and can organize unique trips.
Nawaf El Radi tent (03 122676), located in Warde during the summer, they sell homemade dairy products and can even organize you a dinner. Rony and Ghinwa bedouin tent
(03 530624) is located in Ainata. They own a butchery in Deir el Ahmar and make great overnight hosts.