The young city volunteer and the mountain shepherd
Location: Lombardia – Italy,
Story by: Nadia Rizzi
Nadia Rizzi is a young university student who decided to volunteer her time to help Renato Balduzzi, an Orobie Bergamasche shepherd, during his daily work on pastures and in his effort to introduce prevention methods to protect his herd. As a result, a fruitful relationship started, where both Nadia and Renato learnt something new and, what’s more important, established a communication channel between urban and mountains worlds.
It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. The rendezvous is in via Gavazzeni, not far from Bergamo’s station. When I arrive Chiara, Renato and his son Christian and two volunteers coming from Milano are already there waiting for me. I’m a bit late, not a promising start… But there is no problem; Renato is exceptionally kind, a real gentleman! He immediately tells his son to carry my heavy backpack but I refuse the kind offer: I am here to help and not frightened by hard work!
I decided to volunteer a week of my summertime to participate in Pasturs project and help shepherds in their daily work on pastures for two reasons: firstly, I am a veterinary student who is specializing in “animal breeding and welfare” and I was interested in seeing closely how pasture breeding works. Secondly, I was preparing my final dissertation about the relationship between farm animals and large carnivores and that looked like a perfect experience to acquire first-hand knowledge of the topic.
For Lombardia: Pasturs
After a two-hour walk through stunning natural panoramas, we reach the mountain pasture. There are about 1.500 sheep and 40 goats watched by three guarding dogs, one of the prevention measures implemented by Renato. It’s very interesting to see how they are integrated in the herd, they have been trained to remain faithful to the herd, not to the shepherd.
I worked with Renato for one week and I learnt a lot. The first thing I have to say is that the work in the field is very different from what you learn at school. It’s a very hard work and shepherds are very passionate about their activity.
What impressed me the most was the work and the importance of guarding dogs to keep the herd well packed and protect it from large carnivores; they work a lot and should be looked after continuously. Also the daily control of electric fences is essential to keep them fully operational.
I tried to help them as much as I could and I think my effort has been appreciated by Renato. Of course, I couldn’t be as strong as shepherds, but I never backed down! Slowly but stubbornly I accomplished all the tasks I was assigned. It was very satisfying, but also very demanding.
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.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience! I learnt a lot and, in my opinion, also Renato learnt something. We demonstrated that our worlds are not separate, but can communicate and understand each other. As a large carnivore lover, I say that we have to understand what raising a herd means, how hard it is and how much it costs to lose animals because of predations.
On the other hand, I have to say that shepherds understand that there are effective methods to protect their sheep and goats from wolves and bears; we have only to tell them about these measures not as a professor to a pupil, but as equals. I will surely come back during next summers; I found this experience useful and fulfilling, it’s great to play a role in increasing coexistence between shepherds and large carnivores!