Shepherds protect Dordogne farmland

Unused farming land in the Dordogne has been given a new lease of life in a project which uses public money to support young farmers and put sheep on to land that would otherwise revert to woodland.

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Emeline Vadrot and Steeven Ponnama, both shepherds from the Drôme in the Rhône-Alpes, wanted to set up their own farm but had been stopped by cost.

They have been able to benefit from a scheme run by the Dordogne Department and a group of communes at Domme which bought unused farmland and built a barn at Campagnacles-Quercy leaving the two young farmers to buy their livestock and pay a rent.

The couple now have 200 sheep, half for meat and half for milk which they make into cheese.

Emeline said it meant they could fulfil their dream of running their own farm: “It’s a very positive initiative which helps us and helps the countryside at the same time as sheep are good at clearing neglected land.”

The Centres Régionaux de la Propriété Forestière, a body for forest owners, said woodland had now taken over 70% of land in some Dordogne communes, with former farms overgrown.

In addition, 118 farms could close as owners near retirement.

Backed by €222,000 of public funds, the scheme helps bring sheep farming back to the area, clears land and encourages new agricultural activity.

Dordogne president Germinal Peiro said he hoped 'this was just a start' as this kind of scheme could be used for other farms, commerce and artisans.

Other areas in the southwest have shown an interest.