I. AGRICULTURAL LANDSCAPE
When describing the agricultural landscape of the different territories of the Basque Country, both the approach and the style of the researchers in that field have been respected, and this explains the different perspectives. When considering the territory overall, the focus is always on the most prominent landscape feature which is the one that refers to the Atlantic and Mediterranean sides of the water shed, where the landscape and the crops are very different on each side. Álava has both landscapes and Navarre boasts up to three: La Montaña, Navarre Media and La Ribera.
The following descriptions begin with the cases of Álava and Navarre as agriculture has a greater presence and importance there.
Agricultural landscape of Álava
Even though the landscape is flat, surface erosion has left small hillocks or mounds, but the remaining land is sedimentary flood plains that provide the best farming land.
The most important population centres have had a very great influence on agriculture, with their industrial and urban expansion a curb on farming due to the loss of the best farmland.
The production is mainly rain-fed cereal crops, alternating with some forage plants, corn, broad beans, beans, potatoes and beetroot, with the latter benefitting from irrigation being introduced. In recent decades, some farmers have started to farm leafy vegetables intensively and on a large scale.
Agricultural landscape of Navarre
Navarre is home to a great variety of landscapes caused by the combination of ager, saltus, habitat and paths, according to Alfredo Floristán, the geographer, reflecting how varied its relief, its climate and the different cultures to be found there are. There are therefore four main bioclimatic environments:
- 1. Cantabrian valleys of the cool and humid Navarre in the north-west. Basic features of this rural landscape are the fields enclosed by hedges or stone walls and the scattered settlements. There was little cultivated compared to uncultivated land. The fact that hay meadows were more important than crops in the former indicates the fundamental role of cattle and sheep livestock-farming there. Crops were grown for the livestock: corn, beans twisting up its stems and interspersed with turnips.
- 2. Pyrenean valleys. In the uplands of north-eastern Navarre, there is a type of rural landscape whose most notable features are bioclimatic gradation, transhumance, rafts known as almadías to transport logs downriver and upland agriculture.
- 3. Pre-Pyrenean Basins. Open fields with agricultural holdings of over 20 ha. and small villages straddle the Lumbier-Aoiz and Pamplona basins, in the southern part of the Pyrenean valleys and the northern part of the Zonea Media buffer zone, in other words, approximately throughout the bioclimatically Sub-Mediterranean Navarre. Nearly all the arable land is planted with barley and wheat each year.
- 4. Mediterranean landscapes. This land in southern Navarre has been intensively worked ever since the Romans and Arabs in earliest times and according to aspects of its rainfall patterns: low annual amount, uneven month-on-month distribution of the rain and, particularly, dry summers.
Agricultural landscape of Bizkaia
The natural landscape has been defined as the synthetic expression of the geological and physiographical circumstances and conditions in a territory. However, the intervention of humans and animals has turned it into a humanised landscape.
Our landscape traditionally consisted of large areas of forest, part of which became arable land and, above all, meadows. The forests were made up of oaks, holm oaks, chestnuts, etc., which haves been replaced by pine and eucalyptus plantations that, in some cases, have spread right up to the homestead.
The traditional crops of cereal (wheat and corn), turnip and beetroot have also decreased in importance to the point that some have even disappeared, such as wheat in the mid-20th century. That land used for those crops is now being used as grazing land and the area used to grow forage and meadow plants has increased significantly. Back in the 1970s, it was already said that there was a significant shift towards livestock in the agriculture of Bizkaia. There has been an upturn in market gardening.
Agricultural landscape of Gipuzkoa
The relief and climate of Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia are similar, with both in the Atlantic area of the Basque Country and consequently, the landscape, the types of settlement and livelihoods have much in common. One noteworthy difference is that the geography of Gipuzkoa is much more rugged, as there are no plains in the series of mountains and valleys following on from each other. There are only some hollows of a certain size at specific places along the coast and at the foot of the dividing mountain ranges. The highest peaks form the southern boundary with the province of Álava and are, in turn, the watershed between the Atlantic and Mediterranean sides.
Given the relief, Gipuzkoa is the province with the smallest agricultural resources and farming area. Farming is difficult here as there are hardly any flat areas and arable land has been gained at the expense of the woodland. Farming is successful in the coastal area, from Hondarribia to Mutriku, as the land is suitable for crops and special mention should also be made of the well-established fishing activity there. Livestock is an important activity in the primary sector.
The main products obtained in the primary sector are: forage for the livestock, potatoes, leafy vegetables and corn. Getaria is particularly known for its vineyards. A recent trend is using greenhouses to grow vegetables and flowers.