Pasturs Voluntaris program uses shepherding to bridge a cultural gap

Back in March, we shared a story about a Spanish village keeping its tradition of shepherding alive with a school for female shepherds. Now, a Swiss program is taking a similar approach to preserve its cultural history and protect its remaining flocks. 

The newly-established Pasturs Voluntaris, or Voluntary Shepherds, program teaches city-dwellers practical skills to help protect sheep populations from wolves and other dangers. Volunteers spend weekends learning how to build fences, guide sheep, and pick ideal grazing areas to help local farmers protect their flocks. 

The program was set up after a contentious debate between farmers and conservationists over the native wolves in Switzerland’s eastern mountains. About 100 wild wolves live in the area and with population protections in place, their numbers are rising, but a new referendum proposed last year would have made it easier to shoot wolves that pose a potential threat to livestock. Ultimately the referendum did not pass, but the volunteer program was established as a solution for helping farmers protect their livelihoods. 

The program is a win-win for farmers and wolves, while volunteers get to learn more about the practice of shepherding and connect with rural cultures. It also gives farmers and city-dwellers, two groups that usually live highly separate lives, the chance to discuss these issues, find common ground, and bridge a cultural gap.

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