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Europe's Changing Woods and Forests: From Wildwood to Managed Landscapes

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Our understanding of the ecological history of European forests has been transformed in the last twenty years.Ê Bringing together key findings from across the continent, this book provides a comprehensive account of the relevance of historical studies to current conservation and management of forests.Ê It combines theory with a series of regional case studies to show how different aspects of forestry play out according to the landscape and historical context of the local area.

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1: Overview of Europe’s Woods and Forests



Overview of Europe’s Woods and Forests

Keith J. Kirby1* and Charles Watkins2

Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;


School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK


1.1  Introduction

Europe’s trees and woods range from Mediterranean olive groves to extensive forests of pine and spruce in Scandinavia, from tall lime trees in the forests of Poland to scrubby oaks barely overtopping the heather on Atlantic cliffs. Some contain beautiful orchids, strange beetles or wild wolves. These patterns reflect variations in past and present climates and soil conditions; the natural environment sets limits on what can live where. However, people have also been living in Europe for thousands of years. Since the last Ice Age, our ancestors have shaped the distribution, composition and structure of woods and forests

(Williams, 2006). There is less forest now and it is more fragmented than in the distant past; in many countries the proportion of conifers to broadleaves has increased; some animals are now extinct, such as the wild ox, while others, such as the grey squirrel, have been introduced and become pests.


2: Methods and Approaches in the Study of Woodland History



Methods and Approaches in the Study of Woodland History

Charles Watkins*

School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

2.1  Introduction

There have been very significant advances in the study of forest and woodland history over the last 20 years. This chapter explores the wide range of methods and approaches to woodland history that have been used, with examples taken from across Europe. Interdisciplinary research undertaken by archaeologists, ecologists, geographers and historians is increasingly the norm and there has also been valuable international collaboration.

Studies in woodland history span a vast range in time and space, with different methods providing varying degrees of precision in each dimension.

Much research draws on well-established methods developed in the 1970s and 1980s and associated with historical ecology; these include surveys of the flora and fauna and

­relating these to archaeological features, doc­ umentary and map evidence and field observation of the form of the trees themselves


3: The Forest Landscape Before Farming



The Forest Landscape Before Farming

Keith J. Kirby1* and Charles Watkins2

Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;


School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK


3.1  Where to Begin?

Trees have spread back and forth across

­Europe many times, including species that we now think of as quite exotic (Watts, 1988).

By the first half of the Pleistocene (about

2 million years ago), the flora was much more like that of today but, even so, non-native genera such as Tsuga and Pterocarya turn up in

British pollen samples (Ingrouille, 1995).

During the Pleistocene era, there was a sequence of warm and cold phases. At the start of a warming period much of the landscape would have been composed of young, immature soils disturbed by periods of freezing and thawing, and supporting low shrub and herb communities with arctic–alpine species (cryocratic phase).

Later, both vegetation and soils developed

(protocratic phase) to the point where, through central Europe, deciduous and mixed tree cover would be expected (mesocratic phase). With subsequent climatic cooling, and further soil leaching and podzol development, there might be a shift towards heath or moorland development, or towards more conifer-dominated landscapes (telocratic phase) (Watts, 1988). As conditions became colder, forest species were restricted to ‘refugia’, such as in southern


4: Evolution of Modern Landscapes


4 Evolution of Modern LandscapesKeith J. Kirby1* and Charles Watkins2Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;2School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK14.1  IntroductionWildwood, whatever it was like, now exists in Europe perhaps only in the most remote mountainous and boreal areas; even here, it can be affected by long-range pollution and climate change and be under threat from­logging. Sites often described as ‘primeval’, such as the Białowiez·a Forest in Poland, or FibyUrskog in Sweden, turn out to have had a more active management history than at first appears(Bradshaw and Hannon, 1992; Latałowa et al.,Chapter 17). The diverse ways in which the­extent, structure and species composition ofEurope’s forest and woodland cover have been altered by humans over the last 6000 years(Table 4.1) has also had implications for a wide range of other (non-plant) species (Bengtsson et al., 2000).4.2  The Emergence of WoodlandManagementDifferent tree species have different properties, even as firewood, and were selectively collected from the Neolithic period onward (Out, 2010).


5: Wood-pastures in Europe



Wood-pastures in Europe

Tibor Hartel,1* Tobias Plieninger2 and Anna Varga3

Department of Environmental Studies, Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania,

Cluj-Napoca, Romania; 2Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource

Management, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, Denmark; 3Institute of Ecology and Botany, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Vácrátot, Hungary


5.1  Introduction

Humans interact with their landscapes both physically, in how we extract resources, and culturally, through the different values that we place on landscapes and their components.

These interactions have strong consequences for the structural and ecological properties of  the landscape and its capacity to provide goods and services, as well as for the culture of the local human societies (Plieninger and

Bieling, 2012). The values attached to cultural landscapes depend in part on their physical properties (their landscape structure and biodiversity content), but also reflect a particular set of human skills, knowledge and aesthetic judgements. Cultural landscapes are recognized for their potential for sustainable development and nature conservation (Barthel et al.,


6: Coppice Silviculture: From the Mesolithic to the 21st Century



Coppice Silviculture: From the

Mesolithic to the 21st Century

Peter Buckley* and Jenny Mills

Peter Buckley Associates, Ashford, UK

6.1  Introduction

Coppice refers to the repeated cutting of stems regrowing from a stump or ‘stool’ at intervals, typically from 5 to 30 years (Plate 6). It is one of the oldest silvicultural systems known, with well-documented archaeological evidence dating from Mesolithic, Neolithic, Roman and

Anglo-Saxon times in Europe. Such management would have maintained regular openness in woods, together with its many associated species. Rotation lengths are, however, generally too short to allow much development of conditions for late-successional species dependent on old growth, except in old coppice stools, or as occasional mature trees left on boundaries and as standards.

In modern Europe, the landscape now consists mainly of high forest patches, set in open landscapes dominated by agriculture.

Coppices have either been abandoned or converted to high forests, thereby reducing the intensity and frequency of disturbances and thus discriminating against species of open woodlands. In Britain, for example, woodland census data indicate an 80% contraction in the area of coppice from the post-war period 1947–


7: High Forest Management and the Rise of Even-aged Stands



High Forest Management and the

Rise of Even-aged Stands

Peter Savill*

Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

7 .1  Introduction

In most of pre-industrial Europe, local supplies of wood were indispensable for everyday life, as necessary to a population as food.

Forests provided the raw material for buildings, furniture, ploughs, carts and wheels.

More importantly, gigantic quantities were also required for domestic heating and cooking (Williams, 2002). To meet these needs, broadleaved woodland was generally managed in the medieval period as coppice or forms of wood-pasture (Hartel et al., Chapter 5;

Buckley and Mills, Chapter 6). High forest was rare except in the boreal zone, whereas now it is the commonest structure for forests across the whole Continent. This chapter explores how and why this change happened and the systems of management developed to cope with a land use whose timescale exceeds human generations.

7 .2  Changing from Coppice to High Forest Systems

Before canals, modern roads and railways, the movement of heavy loads, such as timber,


8: Close-to-nature Forestry



Close-to-nature Forestry

Matthias Bürgi*

Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland

8.1 Introduction

Throughout most of the 19th century, forestry in large parts of Europe was dominated by the German classical school of forestry advocated, for example, by Heinrich Cotta, Johann

Christian Hundeshagen and Ludwig Hartig.

This promoted the creation of pure, evenaged and often coniferous stands which were clear-cut and replanted in a rotation system.

The approach was based on the principle of sustainability, traced back to Hans Carl von

Carlowitz (1713), which could be fulfilled by making regular annual cuts controlled by area, followed by planting the next generation of trees, typically spruce (Picea abies) (Savill,

Chapter 7).

The more homogenous a stand was in terms of growing conditions, species composition and age of the trees, the easier it was to make sure that every annual cut contained about the same amount of timber. However, these homogenous monocultures proved to be vulnerable to disturbance events such as insect outbreaks, windthrow and frost damage (Jacobsen, 2001). Moreover, on some soils, yields declined in the second or third generation of conifers (Heyder, 1986). Later, nature conservation organizations started to criticize


9: The Impact of Hunting on European Woodland from Medieval to Modern Times



The Impact of Hunting on

European Woodland from Medieval to Modern Times

John Fletcher*

Reediehill Deer Farm, Auchtermuchty, UK

9.1 Introduction

The impact of early agriculture on the environment is constantly discussed and researched by ecologists, yet that of hunting, while of less significance than the more invasive effects of farming, is rarely considered. Nevertheless, throughout the historical era, hunting has influenced the natural environment, and especially woodland, to a greater extent than is often imagined; and its impact remains very significant today. About 33% of Europe is covered in woodlands and much of this is still used for hunting, even in reserves (Broekmeyer et al.,

1993). To understand this potent influence, we need to consider the ways in which early hunting led to the development of the medieval forestes (royal or noble hunting grounds enshrined in forest law), and from there to the modern hunting reserve.

9.2  Early Impacts of Hunting

The concept of a wildwood evolving after the ice retreated from Europe, which remained pristine and unaffected by humans until the first farmers made their impact during the Neolithic era, is an oversimplification (Kirby and


10: The Flora and Fauna of Coppice Woods: Winners and Losers of Active Management or Neglect?



The Flora and Fauna of Coppice

Woods: Winners and Losers of Active

Management or Neglect?

Peter Buckley* and Jenny Mills

Peter Buckley Associates, Ashford, UK

10.1  Introduction

Coppice management in various forms (Plate 6) was widespread through much of Europe alongside areas treated as wood-pastures

(Hartel et al., Chapter 5; Buckley and Mills,

Chapter 6). In places, coppice systems have come to be seen as particularly rich in wildlife and this form of traditional management has been widely promoted for conservation purposes as the antithesis of even-aged plantation silviculture (Quine, Chapter 15). This chapter explores why particular groups of species are associated with worked coppice and how they fare when such stands cease to be cut or are converted to high forest.

10.2  The Diversity of Coppice

Actively managed coppices are particularly valued for the richness of their field layers, seed bank species, migrant warblers and abundant insect fauna. The lack of old trees means fewer niches for mature forest specialists, but the interspersing of small coupes, spanning early to mid-successional stages, sometimes complemented by standard


11: The Importance of Veteran Trees for Saproxylic Insects



The Importance of Veteran Trees for Saproxylic Insects

Juha Siitonen1* and Thomas Ranius2

Natural Resources Institute Finland, Vantaa, Finland; 2Department of Ecology,

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden


11.1 Introduction

Old trees – often referred to as ancient or

­veteran – have always attracted attention, but recently there has been a revival of interest in them from an ecological and conservation perspective. Ancient trees are old individuals that have clearly passed beyond maturity and often show features such as cavities or hollow trunks, bark loss over sections of the trunk and a large quantity of dead wood in the canopy. The term

‘veteran tree’ includes younger individuals that have developed similar characteristics as a result of adverse growing conditions or injury (Woodland Trust, 2008; Lonsdale, 2013).

Veteran trees are defined as being of interest biologically, culturally or aesthetically because of their age, size or condition (Read, 2000).

A large old tree has been described as an arboreal megalopolis for saproxylic species


12: The Changing Fortunes of Woodland Birds in Temperate Europe



The Changing Fortunes of Woodland

Birds in Temperate Europe

Shelley A. Hinsley,1* Robert J. Fuller2 and Peter N. Ferns3

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, UK; 2British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford, UK; 3School of Biosciences,

Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK


12.1  Introduction

We explore what is known of the history of woodland birds in Europe and how they have responded to changes in woodland extent, composition and management. Beyond the simple availability of habitat, woodland structure is a critical factor in species survival and distribution. Despite the huge transformation of postglacial forests, no woodland bird species has actually become extinct, and with forest cover now increasing, as long as diverse habitat structures can be maintained across a range of scales, forest birds should not only survive, but also thrive.

12.2  The Birds of the Early


Our knowledge of the bird fauna of postglacial woodlands (from about 13,000 years ago) is based mainly on bone fragments left by predators and found in cave deposits. Additional information can be inferred from the present bird fauna of sites where the climate is similar today, and from molecular evidence indicating if, and when, species divergence


13: Evolution and Changes in the Understorey of Deciduous Forests: Lagging Behind Drivers of Change



Evolution and Changes in the

Understorey of Deciduous Forests:

Lagging Behind Drivers of Change

Martin Hermy*

Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Leuven,

Leuven, Belgium

13.1 Introduction

The great changes in land cover that have occurred over the last few centuries are likely to continue over the coming decades (Goldewijk,

2001; Williams, 2006; Hansen et al., 2013). In some places forests have been cleared, while elsewhere reforestation has taken place. This pattern of deforestation and reforestation is likely to recur, so a fragmented and changing forest cover either already is or is going to be the main characteristic of the world’s future forests.

Some forests – such as ancient forests (Peterken, 1977; Hermy et al., 1999) and old-growth forest (Nakashizuka, 1989; Mladenoff et al.,

1993) – have deep roots in the past. Others originated just a few centuries ago. Still others are mixtures of different types, often resulting in a complex mosaic of different origins (Verheyen et al., 1999; Kirby and Watkins, Chapter 4).


14: Gains and Losses in the European Mammal Fauna



Gains and Losses in the European

Mammal Fauna

Robert Hearn*

Laboratorio di Archeologia e Storia Ambientale, Università degli

Studi di Genova, Genoa, Italy

14.1  Introduction

Since 1970, global vertebrate populations have declined by around 30% (McRae et al., 2012), with mammals declining by 25% (Baillie et al.,

2010). In 2013, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List (http:// categorized 25% of the assessed extant mammal species as threatened. Nevertheless, some species are reclaiming parts of their historic ranges across Europe

(Deinet et al., 2013).

We cannot track the gains and losses of most of the animals found in European woods and forests; for example, what changes in shrew distributions might there have been over the last 10,000 years? However, we have a considerable amount of information about such changes for the larger mammals. These larger mammals are important for the functioning of forests; and apart from the trees themselves, have been the species group most directly influenced by human activities, such as hunting.


15: The Curious Case of the Even-aged Plantation: Wretched, Funereal or Misunderstood?



The Curious Case of the Even-aged

Plantation: Wretched, Funereal or


Chris P. Quine*

Forest Research, Northern Research Station, Roslin, UK

15.1  Introduction

Plantations have proved to be an effective way of delivering the wood and wood prod­ ucts that we consume at alarming rates, para­ lleling to some degree the intensification and specialization that has been seen in farm­ ing (Brockerhoff et al., 2008). Indeed, much of the wood and wood products that we con­ sume depends upon the production from plantations, with some estimates suggesting up to 35% currently and more in the future

(Carle and Holmgren, 2008; Sutton, 2014); such production may limit the further loss of natural and semi-natural forests.

However, we also look for a wider range of ‘ecosystem services’ from our forests, in­ cluding from plantations (Quine et al., 2011,

2013). Hence, the policy and practice devel­ opments of the latter half of the 20th century have often been around moderating the pursuit of timber products, for example by introdu­ cing more structural complexity and extend­ ing rotations, so that other objectives can be met (Fig. 15.1).


16 Historical Ecology in Modern Conservation in Italy



Historical Ecology in Modern

Conservation in Italy

Roberta Cevasco1* and Diego Moreno2

Centro per l’Analisi Storica de Territorio, Università del Piemonte

Orientale, ­Alessandria, Italy; 2Laboratorio di Archeologia e Storia

Ambientale, Università delgi Studi di Genova, Genoa, Italy


16.1  Introduction

Alongside technological and production standardization, a sort of nature

­standardization has made the re-­naturalization of the territory the cornerstone of the actions of landscape importance in many rural areas.

(Agnoletti, 2013)

In this chapter, we consider ‘woodland’ from the perspective of historical ecology, the

‘­ classical’ historical approach that evolved in  ­Britain and northern Europe during the

1960s. We suggest that this approach could be beneficial in conservation policies in southern

Europe, where it has been relatively infre­ quently applied.

The southern European mountain landscape represents a rich but fragile environmental heritage that still exists, albeit at the mercy of marginalized farming and fragile rural communities (Saratsi, 2005; M


17: Białowieza Primeval Forest: A 2000-year Interplay of Environmental and Cultural Forces in Europe’s Best Preserved Temperate Woodland



Białowiez˙a Primeval Forest:

A 2000-year Interplay of Environmental and Cultural Forces in Europe’s Best

Preserved Temperate Woodland

Małgorzata Latałowa,1* Marcelina Zimny,1

Bogumiła Je˛ drzejewska2 and Tomasz Samojlik2


Department of Plant Ecology, University of Gdan´sk, Poland;


Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowiez˙a, Poland

17 .1  Introduction

Białowiez˙  a Forest covers about 1500 km2 along the border between Poland and B

­ elarus in central eastern Europe (Fig. 17.1) (­Falin´ski,

1986). The unique preservation of the forest ecosystem and rich historical documents describing use of the forest resources during the last several 100 years, make Białowiez˙ a ­Primeval

Forest (BPF) of special value as a ­subject for long-­term ecological studies. The history of this forest can be used to explore ideas arising from the ongoing discussion on the natural openness of European primeval forests and the role of game in shaping landscape structure (Vera,

2000; Birks, 2005; Mitchell, 2005; Holl and


18: Woodland History in the British Isles – An Interaction of Environmental and Cultural Forces



Woodland History in the British

Isles – An Interaction of Environmental and Cultural Forces

George F. Peterken*

St Briavels Common, Lydney, UK

18.1  Introduction

Most of the British Isles has a moist, cool

­climate, but parts of East Anglia are classified as semi-arid; whereas the western seaboard remains largely free of frost and snow in winter, the central Highlands of

Scotland have sufficient snow cover to support a skiing industry. Furthermore, a complex geology gives rise to a wide variety of soil types. Hence, despite having among the lowest levels of woodland cover in

­Europe, Britain retains a surprisingly large range of woodland types. Beech, the dominant tree of European temperate deciduous forests, is prominent as a native tree only in the south and east of England and

Wales, while in parts of Highland Scotland enclaves of birch–Scots pine woodland have much in common with the boreal forests of


Several thousand years of human intervention have further affected this variation, as different regions within Britain each have distinctive patterns of woodland history.


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