In 2018, when Sébastien Guilhemjouan started breeding cows and sheep in the southern part of the Vendée, eco-grazing was a gift for him. The use of animals by local authorities to maintain green areas has opened up the breeder “ grasslands that were not necessarily available ». “ My flock was used to maintain protected areas  and it gave me extra income. », he sums up. At the time, he was one of the first to offer this service in the department.
In a few years, eco-grazing, this type of management of green areas that are economical and have an ecological image, has developed rapidly in France, mainly due to high demand from local authorities and businesses. Animal et cité, the first professional network in the sector, which brings together 150 eco-pastoralists, talks today about a “ market growth to 20 % ». A significant outlet for breeders who very often struggle to make money. According to INSEE, in 2019 there were almost 13 % of cattle farmers and 30 % of goat and sheep producers were in a situation where they received no income, or even where their activity was loss-making.
However, it is the world of plant species and not the world of breeders that enjoys most of the enthusiasm around “ the beast of the city ». More and more providers in this activity sector are buying herds, which they dedicate exclusively to green areas, and ignore the historical reasons for breeding. The Animal and Urban Network observes that these actors outside the agricultural world represent “ one third of new entrants ».
“ There is nothing surprising in this success of landscape designerssays Corinne Eychenne, a geographer at the University of Toulouse and a specialist in the pastoral world. Most communities do not apply “re-agriculture” the city by bringing the peasants back. Above all, they seek to conjure up an image of the landscape in order to promote themselves. It is a work of decorating, not breeding. »
This reality Sébastien Guilhemjouan suddenly became aware of when several of his lambs were found dead in a park. “ Death is common in breeding. Nobody likes it, but it happens all the time. There shocked the dead lambs. The municipality immediately broke the contract »says the Vendée breeder.
- As part of the management of urban green areas through eco-grazing, the city of Lille used 140 sheep and 10 goats in 2019. Wikimedia Commons /CC BY–HER 4.0 / Lamiot
“ In the end, it gives golfgreens »
“ We are seeing the arrival of companies that grow eco-grazing just to make moneyapologizes to Alain Divo, the breeder who registered the mark “ organic grazing » in 1991. They use killing animals , or foreign that has nothing to do with local biodiversity. In the end, it provides greens golf. »
For this short-circuit meat producer working in the Paris region, the management of green areas only makes sense in terms of specifications, in particular the use of “ cultural heritage breeds adapted to local ecosystems »and the use of herds in areas to be protected or restored, such as Natura 2000 sites. Fears that its model will be diluted in the growing market supply and its “ driver »Alain Divo decided three years ago to establish the French Eco-Grazing Federation, which now brings together around thirty breeders and 6,000 animals according to the cooperation model.
For the National Union of Landscaping Companies (UNEP), this distrust of new players can be understood, but it should not lead to a rift between the two worlds: “ We are aware that you do not improvise the breeder in the blink of an eye. We clearly explain to our members that these new practices require dedicated skills and that there are issues such as the protection of local races », explains Justine Campredon, project manager for landscapers union. This resulted in the implementation of several information campaigns, such as the publication in March 2017 of a professional rule aimed at regulating practice.
- Wikimedia Commons /CC BY–HER 4.0 / Lamiot
The path of by-pastoralism
Rejection of the term“ organic grazing »some breeders in the city prefer to talk about “ bypastoralism ». This is the case with Urban Sheepfold and its forty-headed flock in Lyon, or the Clinamen Association and the Urban Shepherds Cooperative, which have been working together in the Seine-Saint-Denis since 2012. For them, urban pastoralism consists of taking inspiration from extensive livestock farming methods such as practiced for centuries in mountain valleys.
“ People tell me all the time that I am an eco-shepherd, but no, I cultivate pastoralism and animal husbandry, as we have done for millennia.says Julie Lou Dubreuilh, from Clinamen. Maintenance of mountain lawns through this activity has proven to be environmentally friendly without the need to add the prefix “eco”. In the 420 hectares of Georges Valbon Park in La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis), the association’s herd walks freely, without fences, under the daily gaze of a shepherd who regularly moves the herd to avoid everything. “ overgrazing » Where “ undergrowth ».
“ It is the presence of a permanent shepherd that changes everythingargues Julie Lou Dubreuilh. If the sheep are left to graze behind a fence, there is no one to control the interaction and answer questions from the public. » For her, the goal is to “ deconstruct animal image as cute object » and to remember it “ the one who grazes is the same as the animal on our plates, and that there is nothing wrong with it, that it does not necessarily go against animal welfare ». All of the farmers interviewed in this article breed their animals to produce meat.
- In Lille, these animals belong to a company that specializes in permanent or traveling grazing. Wikimedia Commons /CC BY–HER 4.0 / Lamiot
Bastien Boyer, from Urban Sheepfold, questions even the ecological benefit of organic grazing: “ We forget that the sheep by emitting methane have an ecological weighthe remembers. To reduce this, we defend a model in which the animal has several vocations, including being a breeder. Just making lawn mowers out of them enhances the ecological footprint. » Especially since the development, he explains, “ some landscaping companies transport their crews over ten or even hundreds of miles ». By this “ form of industrialization »he would rather see “ small urban structures scattered throughout, like communal gardens ». Representatives of landscape gardeners consider the criticism of the herd management to be unfounded: “ In the field, companies are formed with breeders or shepherds, and sometimes they even go along with them, giving rise to hybrid structures. »explains Justine Campredon, from landscapers union.
Criticism of landscape architects from proponents of urban pastoralism also points to a fear of cleaning up for greenwashing purposes. For Bastien Boyer, part of the eco-grazing services is actually used to offer green advertising for companies that are not otherwise very organic, such as Amazon.
To address this phenomenon, he suggests that his activity is not considered as a commercial service, but as a return of livestock farming to the city, part of urban agriculture, which participates in the management of green areas. A position taken over by Julie Lou Dubreuilh, for whom “ the city has an undeniable quality, the gathering of the population needed for the development of agriculture without chemicals and without oil, and which we will need in the future ».