Goats hired to prevent wildfires in Portugal

Dozens of herds have been hired by the government to munch through the thick undergrowth that covers the country‘s hills and makes wildfires a regular summer occurrence.

While it is the first time Portugal has deployed the animals to help prevent wildfires, they have been used for decades in the US – especially California and the Pacific Northwest – as an environmentally friendly way to limit the impact of fires.

Miguel Joao de Freitas, junior minister for forests and rural development, said: “Last year was when it became patently clear to us that something different had to be done.

“Prevention is the most urgent requirement, and it has to be done as soon as possible.”

Image: Dozens of herds of goats have been brought in to eat the undergrowth

Portugal‘s firefighting resources are also being upgraded, with 12 water-dumping planes and 41 helicopters hired to help combat blazes that do break out.

There will be more than 10,700 firefighters on standby in the peak wildfire period from 1 July to 30 September – 1,000 more than in 2017.

Wildfires routinely occur as temperatures soar on the Iberian Peninsula, but last year‘s were the deadliest on record.

Image: Wildfires killed 106 people in Portugal in 2017

Social and climate changes have also contributed to the fires; as people abandon the countryside for city life, the number of goat herds falls.

Goatherd Daniel Fernandes, 61, said: “There used to be lots of herds around here. Some people have died, some gave up, and young people aren‘t interested in this.”

Image: More than 10,700 firefighters will be on standby in the peak wildfire period this year

Rising global temperatures have helped fuel a doubling of the annual average of charred forest from less than 75,000 hectares (185,325 acres) in the 1980s to more than 150,000 hectares a year since 2000.

In April, a report by fire experts said: “Unfortunately, there is no single, game-changing fix to the dilemma Portugal now finds itself in regarding the threat of catastrophic fire… the solution will demand dozens of strategic improvements made in the next several years and possibly over the next decade.”