Working on the Mountain

Timber transport by river Pinecutters, the forest 'shepherds'

Logging and transporting timber provided jobs for many families during most of the year. The process involved felling and debarking the trees, and hauling or 'skidding' the logs to the waterways where they were driven downstream. Logging was frequent in the Middle Ages and Modern Era. However, it did not become an institution until the Royal Tobacco Factory of Seville was built, and these mountains were declared a 'Maritime Province' to meet the Navy's need for wood.

During the 19th century trees were felled and hauled to the Guadalimar and Guadalquivir Rivers, to be driven downstream to nearby markets as needed. Logging did not again become a permanent operation in these mountains until the advent of the railway, when a steady supply of timber was needed for sleepers. The demand for sleepers increased dramatically after the Civil War, when the railways had to be rebuilt. This would be the last period of intensive logging in these mountains, where the trees were harvested and the timber transported to the Linares-Baeza railway station.

Logging-related trades were embodied in the figure of the axe-man or cutter, who was in charge of cutting the marked trees. The best time for felling was during the waning moon in December, January and February, and after the axe-man came the debarker, who removed the bark and branches from the trees. Then the skinners used mules and oxen to drag the logs to the loading station, from which the muleteers and carters transported the logs to the waterways where they were stacked until they were driven downstream in late autumn.

The pinecutters, wielding long pike poles tipped with a double hook, sorted the logs in the water and the drive began, sometimes involving teams of up to one hundred people. There were several categories of pinecutters who drove the logs, ranging from the important head river driver to the humble 'bull cook' or cook's assistant. .

There were other forest-related activities as well, including resin extraction. The resin tappers removed a patch of bark from the pines to insert a spike through which the resin could flow into a clay pot until it was full. The resin was then used to make pitch, varnish, soap and turpentine. Another interesting activity was the distillation of essential oils, mainly from Lavandula angustifolia, a native species of lavender.

Coal, resin, lime, tar, honeyā€¦ and even ice

Tree trunks and the thickest branches were used to make charcoal, which was sold in the towns. The thinner trunks and branches were gathered into bundles and sold for firewood, a task often performed by women and children.

The woodlands provided raw materials for carpenters and other craft workers who made furniture, chairs and other household items. Certain carpenters, called aladreros, specialised in making carts, and farming and forestry implements.

The pegueros, or pitch manufacturers, burned highly resinous pine timber to collect the burned-off pitch in a container placed outside the furnace. When they used juniper wood, the product obtained was called miera (juniper pitch) and the people who manufactured it were known as miereros. The nature reserve's mountains still preserve many remnants of former pitch furnaces dug into the mountains that have not been in use for years.

Snow pits were another mountain task, unrelated to timber. They consisted of pits where snow was kept so it would become ice, covered by a low structure to prevent heat loss. One such pit is preserved near Siles and there is another close to the castle in Segura, the only remaining one of several snow pits. The snow was piled up inside the pit in separate layers and compacted to make ice. Then the pit was covered with vegetation and a final layer of earth containing a high proportion of clay. This operation enabled ice to be stored for sale in the summer, when it was handled at night or after sundown.

Lime manufacturing was an essential activity for providing the materials used to build the traditional houses. The old lime furnaces dispersed across the nature reserve are testimony to their importance. Many of the furnaces were used for domestic purposes, but others produced lime for sale. Ten to twelve cartloads of wood were needed to fill a furnace dug in the ground with alternating layers of wood and limestone. Once the furnace was lit, the lime-making process lasted five days. If the limestone had burned properly, it was then ready to be used in the mortar for building or to paint houses.

Nearly all these trades are now forgotten, and only the oldest residents have worked in them. The old trades disappeared with the widespread use of machinery, and so did the number of people who did forestry work. Very few companies are still cutting and processing wood, and few people still fell and debark trees, or skid the logs.

Siles and certain other towns, however, decided to recover and endow added value to the old trades by setting up a Tree Cutters of Segura Competition, held annually since 1997. Conferences on Culture and Ecology are held in Yeste, in the adjacent province of Albacete, mainly on driving logs down river and on the pinecutters' role in the process.

Apiculture has also experienced a recent resurgence due to the high potential for obtaining honey from the 200 plant species that grow in the nature reserve. The honey is of exceptionally good quality, with rosemary and multi-flower honey being the most popular varieties.

The peluseros

Pelusa, or collecting lichens from the pines in the nature reserve's pine woods is another unusual activity. The lichen gatherers are known as peluseros. The lichens are used in cosmetics as a stabilizer for perfumes. This is a tough job that requires weeks of climbing the trunks of Corsican pines to collect the lichens clinging to their branches. After they are harvested, the lichens are pressed and packed in bales for transport and subsequent sale.

altShepherds, transhumance and Segura lamb

Livestock farming has been a mainstay of the economy of these sierras for centuries, shaping much of the landscape. Sheep herding, handed down and learned under the sun and snow, in gatherings around the hearth and at the inns where the nomadic shepherds gathered, is an art that requires courage, observation, patience and self-sacrifice. Shepherds not only keep an important economic activity alive, but also a complex body of knowledge that lives on in the lambing, sheep shearing and seasonal migration of the shepherds and their livestock. Every sheepfold, drinking trough and shepherd's hut is a testimony to an age-old occupation that is still in demand.

The local livestock is mainly comprised of Segura sheep, for they are admirably well-adapted to the nature reserve's climate and rugged landscape. Currently, the Cordero de las Sierras de Segura y La Sagra Protected Geographical Indication guarantees the quality of lamb products from the Segura region.

Livestock farming is concentrated in the municipality of Santiago-Pontones, which has the ideal climate for it. From there, the herds spread out to the pastures in the high mountain areas.

Each winter, when the high pastures cannot be used, a part of the herds commence the long journey down to Sierra Morena's pastures in the provinces of JaƩn and the Castilla-La Mancha region. There they spend several months feeding on the pastures afforded by the gentler winter climate of the lower regions. In late spring, when the low pastures are depleted, they return to the stubble fields in Sierra Segura, where the pastures will soon be lush and green, to feed until the following spring and summer.

During their migration, the shepherds and their flocks cover distances of 150 to 300 kilometres in a journey that takes seven to eight days to complete. Shepherds work hard under tough conditions on their journeys to and from the pastures. They walk for hours in all kinds of weather, watch over their herds constantly, attend to any incidents that arise and spend their nights in tinadas ā€“ shelters for livestock ā€“, resting places or under the stars, taking turns to make sure the sheep do not escape.

The Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas Nature Reserve has 741 kilometres of livestock routes spread over 2,242 hectares of land, making an extensive network of wide paths followed by migrating shepherds since the Middle Ages. Although not all of them are used and conserved in equal measure, they are a highly valuable public asset.

altNew woodland resources

Timber is still an important woodland resource, although current economic and ecological considerations are making it less so. Therefore, many of the local companies are submitting to certification processes that guarantee their environmental sustainability. There is also an important project under way for part of the wood to be turned into processed forest products, making the woodlands a more valuable resource.

Ultimately, forest waste, such as branches and bark, and the olive branches left over after the pruning season will be used to make biomass, to produce heat and energy. Certain local companies specialise in clearing the forests and forest conservation. Hunting and fishing are also traditional occupations in these mountains, tourism is growing, and so is hunting for mushrooms, to a lesser degree. The local species are mainly red pine mushrooms, known as guĆ­scanos (a mispronunciation of the Spanish word nĆ­scalo).

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