Connecting rural and urban perspectives through volunteering
Location: Rechlin – Germany,
Story by: Thomas Wagner
WikiWolves was founded to support shepherds and livestock owners to install protection measures for their animals. The initiative is gathering volunteers who contribute in missions on site and gain insights on animal husbandry and the challenges large carnivores bring.
Many German federal states offer shepherds and livestock owners financial support for livestock protection measures. They receive money to buy the necessary materials for protection measures and also get a compensation for dead animals if wolves attacked despite those measures. The building of the fences, however, consumes a lot of time and labour – two resources that are scare, especially for many smaller businesses or people for whom the animal husbandry is just one part of their farm life. Many sheep farmers simply don’t have those additional resources.
“The shepherds are already in a bad economic situation anyway. The wolf comes on top as an additional burden.”
Pastoralism – a European farming practice
In many European countries the sight of a flock of sheep or cattle is very common. Transhumant pastoralism has a long tradition and is known for its produce and artisanal products such as beef, cheese and wool. More than four million hectar of agricultural land rely on animals grazing on low grasses. Yet pastoralists face many challenges like agricultural intensification, a lack of services and infrastructure and young people abandoning the rural areas so there is no one to pass the tradition on to. The presence of large carnivores is an additional thread for the households which often completely rely on the income of transhumance. This is why the European Union put different policies and projects into place to protect both – the wild animals as well as the farm animals and the business of their owners.
for Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: Sheep and Goat Breeders Association in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania
The WikiWolves initiative was founded to provide animal owners with practical support and manpower helping them to protect their animals in the future. The association wins volunteers and brings them to places where farmers need help to better protect their sheep, goats and other grazing animals. The idea behind it is simple: the livestock owners get direct support and the volunteers can learn more about the practice of livestock protection, shepherding and the behaviour and management of wolves in Germany.
Together with interested farmers WikiWolves organises daily (or sometimes longer) missions to build protection measures. The volunteers perform a variety of tasks on site, mostly they help installing fixed and electric fences and check and repair existing structures. In return, they receive free food and lodging and get to know the shepherds and their work. The reasons for the voluntary commitment are manifold, often the participants are interested in the farm life and enjoy working in nature. This time we joined Thomas Wagner and four volunteers for a mission in the Muritz National Park in the north of Germany, where the Albrecht von Kessel has a flock of 30 sheep.
Working with volunteers can help to avoid conflicts and support the idea of coexistence with large carnivores at the local level. There are many possibilities to include them: from Citizen Science approaches where citizens report sightings or traces, to volunteer observers who support monitoring activities, educational internships or joint actions for the construction of fences. Working with volunteers mobilizes additional resources and often turns them into ambassadors for coexistence. They learn a lot about the animals and the challenges and can provide their communities with relevant information. The voluntary work is also a good possibility to start an exchange between different interest groups and allows them to change perspectives.
At the end of the day and after a lot of hard work at least a part of the fixed fence is installed. Everyone looks tired but happy:
“The shepherds are very grateful. When you leave the farm in the evening, you can see it in their faces how happy they are about the practical support.”
The Wikiwolves’ experiences with the volunteers are very positive. With their approach they could already win hundreds of city dwellers who are interested in wolves and want to learn about the challenges that livestock owners face. On the spot they get a better understanding of the concerns of the rural population and at the same time can provide direct help. The shepherds are happy about the active support and the interest in their daily work. This leads to a constructive exchange between two groups that usually would never meet and helps to create common ground for coexistence.