Sheep migration in the Cévennes

Cultural Heritage
Principal
Source : Extract of the website of Marc Lemonnier - www.reveeveille.net & Parc National des Cévennes - Atlas p.58

The principal of migration is so old that it is anchored deep inside the animal, in the form of a kind of collective memory. Still today, the herds seem to have an intuitive knowledge of the tracks : they never move away from them. Pierre Clément says he has observed herds waking up and spontaneously leaving on the route at moonrise, obedient to a mysterious ancestral impulse… Could migration and the track be coded in the sheep’s genes? Here is a small resume of what we know, suppose… or dream…

After the end of the last ice age, around -10.000 years, the temperatures rose. With the warmer summers, wild herbivores of the dryer regions learned progressively to climb higher to find grass and water at altitude. This is the seasonal migration. Among these herbivores, in the Near East one finds the wild sheep. It has been domesticated there since the 7th century. The new shepherds had no choice : they followed the migration, and then organised it : these were the first “transhumances”. A few centuries later, these domestic sheep arrived in the Languedoc, and the phenomenon of the migration took place. Because men had begun to settle, long term, in the mountains, rules had to be put in place to control and formalise the function of the transhumance.

Nowadays

Sheep migration is a phenomenon that is particular to the Cévenole region. Since the middle of the 19th century the migrations have greatly declined. For example, the Mont Lozère received 100,000 sheep in 1703, 21,000 in 1961 and 10,230 in 1977. In the years 1970-1980, the park territory received 30 000 sheep shared between around twenty herds. Today, strictly confined to the cevenole mountains of the Aigoual and Mont Lozère, the sheep migration of Languedoc and the Cévennes consists of no more than 20 000 sheep in roughly fifteen migrating herds.

NB- The festival of the “transhumance” takes place every year at l’Espérou (commune of Valleraugue) and attracts thousands of spectators, searching for nature and the pastoral life. Some people accompany the herds on the tracks, to climb to the mountain pastures.

Bernard Grellier - Farmer, Cévennes National Park, France

Bernard Grellier – Farmer, Cévennes National Park, France