Nestled in Galicia’s fertile hills, the commons community of Froxán is engaged in a struggle to protect its territory and history from Spanish miner Sacyr’s plans to re-open the San Finx tungsten mine.
The defining feature of Froxán’s resistance has been the community’s decision to counter the advances of mining by working positively for land, culture and the commons with new vigour. Restoring lands degraded by 20th century mining, establishing their commons as one of the first recognised Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas in Europe and embarking on an ambitious re-forestation programme, the people of Froxán are pursuing resistance by modelling alternatives to destructive, extractive development.
The people of Froxán’s project- 10,000 native trees for Froxán Community, Spain- is now in the running for a prize from the European Outdoor Conservation Association that would help them take their re-wilding work up a notch.
Background: Froxán Common Woodlands, Spain
The Froxán Common Woodlands is community land of 100 hectares that has been recognized since 1977 as a ‘monte veciñal en man común‘ (‘common hand community land’). This is a consuetudinary land ownership status, recognized in Galician and Spanish law. Its manorial origin can be traced back to 1409 and its charters were issued in 1527 and 1709, defining the boundaries of community lands and the manorial obligations.
The peasants of Froxán collectively extinguished the manorial ties in 1928, buying off the lands for the sum of 6.049 pesetas. However, this ‘manorial redemption’ agreement was not respected by the state, which took hold of the common lands, incorporating them into the Public Woodlands Catalogue. This severely restricted traditional rights of use, and in particular communal pastoralism. Lands were handed over to mining companies, which held concessions over the community territory, and to the State Forestry Service, which established its own plantations. Mining activities produced severe environmental degradation and land disputes that continue today. Invasive forest species, including Acacia and Eucalyptus, were introduced during the same period.
Across Galicia, social pressure against forced reforestation programmes led to the legal recognition in 1968 of ‘common hand’ community lands. On April 14 1975, seven months before the death of the Dictator Franco, the entire Froxán community signed a petition to the Civil Governor demanding the devolution of common lands. This occurred in defiance of the Municipality, which legally held the property at the time. In 1977, the Froxán Common Woodlands were formally recognized, and the community gained legal status soon after. Direct assembly governance was established, with one representative of each house making up the collective body. Commoner status is not dependent on property ownership or inheritance, but on effective residency and participation in the village community and collective decision-making. In 2002, the last remaining ties with the Public Administration were broken, finalizing the Forestry Contract that had been inherited from the dictatorship period, and gaining full self-governance of the community lands.
Faced with degradation from mining, the community commenced restoration efforts in the 1990s, and these continue to the present day. Initially, the restoration efforts included filling abandoned pits and shafts. More recently, efforts have been initiated to eradicate exotic invasive species (particularly Acacia decurrens, Acacia dealbata and Robinia pseudoacacia) that are aggressively expansive and pyrophytes. Eucalyptus plantations are also being removed, as the last productive cycle gives way to restoration with high-ecological-value native species.
In spite of the influence of invasive species, the community’s territory includes several priority natural habitats under the EU Habitats Directive, such as Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (91E0*), Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix (4020*), Arborescent matorral with Laurus nobilis (5230*) and other natural habitats such as Galicio-Portuguese oak woods with Quercus robur and Quercus pyrenaica (9230), Forest vegetation with Castanea sativa (9260) and Caves not open to the public (8310). Several endangered species (such as Dyopteris guanchica) have been identified in a participatory inventory (see related links), and the area has been included as a Special Scenic Interest Site (LEIP) in the Galician Landscape Catalogue.
Continuing traditional resource uses include gathering firewood, which is used for heating and cooking, and is sporadically sold on a commercial basis generating revenue for the Community; spring water is utilized for household use and irrigation, and also collected in open deposits for wildfire suppression; gorse (Ulex europaeus) is gathered as ‘molime‘ to strawbed (‘estrar’) animal housing and generate manure (‘esterco‘) for fields and food gardens; chestnuts (from Castanea sativa) are gathered are roasted during their season and also preserved; wild mushrooms are gathered and preserved (the common land has been designated as a wild mycological production area); certain aromatic and medicinal plants are used for cultural practices, including Midsummer Solstice (St. John’s eve) or Mayday (‘Maios‘). Two wind turbines have also been installed in the common lands under a 30 year lease agreement, but the community is unable to self-manage energy production under current regulations.
In addition to natural heritage, the common lands hold significant cultural heritage that evidences a long history of communal management. This includes a large stone enclosure that has been dated to the Early Middle Ages, which would hold the community’s herds in the higher part of the mountain. Another feature is a traditional water mill that was documented in a 1563 notarial deed. Oral memory testifies to the existence of a megalithic burial mound called ‘Casa Vella’ (‘Old House’) that would have been destroyed by mining in the mid-20th century, and similar megalithic sites are present in the area. An ancient pathway, which has been identified as a possible secondary route of the Roman Via XX ‘Per loca maritima‘, also goes through the common Castanea sativa forest, preserved by the modern road that replaced it.
In recent years, the Community has been active in engaging the wider society in its conservation and restoration efforts, particularly working with children, schools, families and environmental organizations. These groups have assisted in reclaiming degraded areas affected by mining activity and invasive species, through participatory reforestation with native species. Through these activities, the community seeks to develop an ongoing programme for education and sustainability, showcasing the potential of community land-management in addressing pressing environmental and social issues. These issues include climate change, wildfires, invasive species, land and water contamination and degradation, alternatives to rural depopulation, and cultural continuity among traditional peasant communities in Galicia. These efforts were recognized in 2017 with the inclusion of Froxán in the ICCA Registry, being the first Community Area in Spain (and the third in Europe), together with Santiago de Covelo, to participate in the Registry.
Froxán Commons Community is a member of the YLNM Network, of which Gaia is a founding member. YLNM’s regional coordinators visited Froxán in 2017, learning first hand how the local community and their common lands are threatened by Spanish miner Sacyr’s plans to re-open a tungsten mine. Find out more.