European Wood-Pastures as Cultural Landscapes

By Tibor Hartel and Tobias Plieninger

(Note: This post was published a few days ago on the Landscapes Blog.)

European landscapes are shaped by long-lasting, intensive and complex interactions between people and nature. This interaction has generated values that are appreciated by society, nowadays called “landscape values” or “ecosystem services,” but many of these cultural landscape values are in decline.

Figure 1. Ancient oak wood-pastures are still common in Southern Transylvania, Romania. In the front a hay meadow mowed with small machines. Photo by Orsolya Toth.

Ancient oak wood-pastures are still common in Southern Transylvania, Romania. In the front a hay meadow mowed with small machines. Photo by Orsolya Toth.

Wood-pastures—combinations of grazing lands with scattered trees—are in many regards archetypical cultural landscapes and indicative of their fate. They cover several millions of hectares of European farmland in a variety of expressions, from the cork oak and holm oak dehesas and montados of the Iberian Peninsula to traditional orchards in Central Europe and ancient oak and beech pastures in Southeast Europe. Wood-pastures host extraordinarily high levels of biodiversity and provide a multitude of ecosystem services. But, just like many other cultural landscapes, they are extremely vulnerable to environmental and socioeconomic change. Few adequate policies exist to maintain and preserve wood-pastures, as they are in the “grey zone” between agriculture, forest, conservation, rural development and other sectors and policies.

Figure 1. Wood-pasture with veteran, hollowing oak and traditional management by buffalo. Photo by Orsolya Toth.

Wood-pasture with veteran, hollowing oak and traditional management by buffalo. Photo by Orsolya Toth.

A transhumant herd departing for the spring migration from the "Dehesa de las Yeguas", an agrosilvopastoral landscape of grasslands under scattered holm oaks (Santa Elena, Jaén, southern Spain), towards their summer pasturelands. Photo by Elisa Oteros-Rozas.

A transhumant herd departing for the spring migration from the “Dehesa de las Yeguas”, an agrosilvopastoral landscape of grasslands under scattered holm oaks (Santa Elena, Jaén, southern Spain), towards their summer pasturelands. Photo by Elisa Oteros-Rozas.

In our recently published volume “European Wood-pastures in Transition,” we join 28 contributors to trace the trajectories of different types of wood-pastures in Northwestern, Southern and Eastern Europe. We offer a Pan-European synthesis about the diverse types of wood-pastures, their histories, social and ecological values, governing institutions, threats and conservation approaches. We explore the major drivers of decline, which are related to rapid cultural, institutional and developmental changes. An ironic finding—thoughtfully elaborated by Guy Beaufoy—is that the recent reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is proving harmful to European wood-pastures despite it’s suggested “greening.” However, we also find signs for a positive societal revaluation of wood-pastures. In the UK, volunteers have mapped more than 100,000 ancient, veteran and notable trees (usually located in wood-pastures) and thus have laid the base for conservation efforts. In Southern Germany, commonly managed wood-pastures have become an asset for local gastronomy, tourism and regional development. Also, academic interest in wood-pastures has clearly been growing across Europe.

From case studies, it becomes clear that European wood-pastures are changing rapidly and that analyzing and managing the nature of these changes is a challenge that requires the integration of a multitude of knowledge. Thus, we frame the book around social-ecological concepts and derive some principles of wood-pastures from a resilience perspective. For example, we find that diversity, ecological variability and modularity generate much of the values and the resilience of wood-pastures. Among the key problems of many wood-pastures is the loosening of feedback loops between the social and ecological realms, a loss of social capital and a general lack of innovation, novelty and experimentation in wood-pasture management.

Where does that leave us? The contributors point to a wide diversity of issues that must be considered in order to understand, value and protect the wood-pastures of Europe. For example, they highlight that land-use practices matter; that patterns and processes matter; that timescales matter; that involving stakeholders matters; that monitoring matters; that knowledge matters; that grazing matters; that biodiversity matters; that institutional transformation matters; that economic profitability matters; and that tourism, protected areas and new institutional structures matter. Given this cloud of issues, a narrow disciplinary research or sectoral policy agenda has limited capacity to provide solutions for these multifunctional landscapes. Rather, we need a holistic vision of wood-pastures that generates and integrates information about the ecology, ecosystem services and institutions around wood-pastures as well as their historical interactions.

Click here to read more about the book.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s