In the mountains of northern Albania, the highland Malësorë people are some of Europe’s last true pastoralist shepherds, migrating with their flocks between alpine pastures in the summer, and lower valleys during the winter months. This process of transhumance is a highly sustainable form of farming, with grazing helping to stimulate plant growth, reduce soil erosion, and eradicate excess biomass that often fuels wildfires. The milk and other animal products from transhumant herds is highly prized for its purity and health benefits.
The Malësorë have passed the practice of transhumance, and their knowledge of the mountains, down through generations, surviving the occupation of empires, and half a century of repressive communist rule. However, while transhumance has received UNESCO recognition and protection in countries like Italy, Greece and Austria, where the practice draws tourists and spectators, in Albania it holds no such status. The Malësorë shepherds brave challenging year round conditions in difficult terrain, with little support, in order to eke out a living.
Now, their culture and traditions are threatened by changing weather patterns and construction of hydropower dams, which continue to drive more people away from the valleys every year, breaking a centuries old link with the mountains that has helped to maintain the region’s rich biodiversity and delicate ecosystems.