Since June 2020, the traditional seasonal migrations of pasture animals practiced by French shepherds and animal husbandry professionals (called “transhumance”) is recognized as an intangible cultural heritage in France. This recognition is the first important step before being proposed as a candidate for international recognition of this traditional practice as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
What is transhumance?
Transhumance signifies the migration of herbivorous animals (goats, cows, and sheep) to pasture to feed. One talks about “summer transhumance” when the animals head for the high-altitude pastures with a shepherd as their guide, and of “winter transhumance” when the animals come down to the plains to reach a less cold climate for the winter.
Literally, the term “transhumance” means “beyond the region” as the migration often involved crossing the borders of the origin territory.
In France, transhumance is practiced in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Massif Central, Corsica, Vosges and Jura. These territories of high and medium altitude mountains offer vast stretches of land that are very appreciated by goats, sheep and cows that spend a large part of the year in pasture there. Thanks to the grazing animals, these territories are free of scrub and brush. They are also high in biodiversity and create a mosaic of landscapes and exceptional terroirs. These areas form the basis of 50 different protected designation of origin products and 35 Red Labels in meat and cheese products.
This seasonal migration is based on the ancestral savoir-faire of the producers.
What does intangible cultural heritage status confer to this practice?
By being listed as an intangible cultural heritage in France, the methods of animal husbandry, high-altitude pastoral management customs, and the savoir-faire of artisans and their method of food production are all officially recognized.
Transhumance also includes a whole category of festive rituals that accompany the departure of the animals for the pasture like summer festivals and holiday.
Transhumance is a practice directly linked to pastoralism, which is a mode of animal husbandry practices extensively in natural pastures. The animals feed themselves through grazing, and thus help to maintain the landscapes and territories where they feed.