How to manage Dolomite grasslands. Actors in the Dolomites meet and share ideas

In the context of the #HAYING zero edition of the UNESCO Dolomites LabFest, held in La Val, Alta Badia, from 5 to 7 September 2014, one of the most popular events proved to be the conscious participatory session on the theme of managing grasslands in the Dolomites. The goal of this participatory session was to create an opportunity for dialogue between experts and operators from the various areas making up the World Heritage Site, and to produce an Instant Book explaining the values around management of grasslands, recognised by institutions and able to promote and enhance local policies on the matter.

Grasslands in the Odle Dolomites

Ph. Alexander La Gumina

Throughout the day, people of different origins and professions met and discussed their views, from farmers to administrators of the five Provinces that share the UNESCO Property, hoteliers, officials, members of the Foundation’s Scientific Committee, academics, etc.

The meeting was organised based on the “world café” method. Participants reasoned and discussed three key issues for conservation of the Dolomites landscape, one of the two elements for which the Dolomites achieved UNESCO World Heritage status. How can we recognise the importance of grasslands to the Dolomites from an agricultural perspective? And from the perspective of tourism? And finally biodiversity?

Discussion groups were established around each of these issues, which spent several hours exploring local experiences, best practices, aspects of conflict and difficulties.

At the end of the participatory session, an Instant Book was created compiling the key themes touched on through the day and the conclusions reached by those participating in discussions.

As for many other issues, a key consideration within the Dolomites is the lack of uniformity in how grasslands are managed: the five Provinces each have very different laws, powers and regulations. Whilst in South Tyrol small-scale farmers have always played an important role (also political) and the maso chiuso (type of farmstead property) practice has maintained the partitioning of land, avoiding fragmentation, in the Friulian Dolomites, as in part of the Belluno area, depopulation has naturally led to abandonment of the land and the practice of haying, a seasonal occurrence in the Alps until the 1960s and closely tied to the local economy. Industrialisation has also led to the transformation of landscapes in certain areas of the Dolomites.

Today, woodland continues almost right up to villages, and while tourists may interpret this as a sign of a natural and “genuine” landscape, it is important to realise a failure to maintain grasslands can have serious consequences, both for the landscape and conservation of biodiversity.

How can the landscape of the Dolomites be protected, whist taking into account the sometimes differing needs of biodiversity agriculture and tourism? Integration of these clusters of interests is possible, but first and foremost, political authorities must acknowledge the importance of protecting the landscape and grasslands specifically.

Agriculture has a fundamental role: maintenance of grasslands is sustainable only if linked to economic activity, and from this perspective farming of livestock also becomes essential for its role in “processing” material generated by haying.

Plenty of ideas were put forward. The real emergency, according to three of the discussion groups, was identified as depopulation. In order to combat this phenomenon there is a clear need for political action and economic support for agriculture in alpine regions.

Instant Book from created by the participatory process during UNESCO Dolomites LabFest 2014 [in Italian]