New paper: Reviving wood-pastures for biodiversity and people: A case study from western Estonia

It has been a while since wood-pastures last featured in this blog, so I would like to take the opportunity to present our latest paper (Roellig et al. 2015) on this topic.


All over Europe, wood-pastures are facing problems with their support under the European Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) e.g. in Sweden (Jakobsson & Lindborg 2015) and Romania (Hartel et al. 2013). In Estonia, wood-pastures are not eligible for Single Area Payments (SAP) due to their high tree density. To stop the abandonment of wood-pastures, the Estonian government has implemented two different schemes of financial support for wood-pastures (together with other semi-natural habitats). In an agri-environmental scheme (AES) under the second pillar of the CAP, farmers get support for managing their wood-pastures. However as a lot of wood-pastures are already abandoned or grazed only very lightly, a second scheme using only national funds supports the restoration of semi-natural habitats, which includes opening up wood-pastures, fencing and in some cases even purchasing livestock.

In this study, our first goal was to look at the structure of wood-pastures and the effects of the schemes. We found that almost all restored wood-pastures tend to be similar to old wood-pastures. The farmers are doing a good job to fulfill guidelines and open up their pastures up to have a balance of canopy cover and open grassy patches. In contrast, abandoned wood-pastures are similar to forest in their structure, even after only five years of abandonment. Without consistent management, Estonian wood-pastures rapidly lose their semi-open character.

Our second goal was to look at the motivations of farmers to manage or restore wood-pastures. We identified several types of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, and we defined three groups of farmers based on their combinations of motivations. Almost all the interviewed farmers were dependent on the financial support to manage their wood-pasture and would probably not have started to restore their wood-pasture without it. On the other hand, most farmers had a clear passion for managing their land and were proud of maintaining their wood-pastures following local traditions. Some told about the landscapes in their childhood, other just felt responsible to keep pastures “in order”. One groups of farmers we named “profitable stewards” because they tried to connect profitable farming with ecological guidelines and traditional management of the landscapes. Also animal health and biodiversity played a role in the motivations. Most farmers believed their animals thrive better in a more “natural” environment. They gave less medication and the cows often give birth outside. A lot of farmers were really proud of hosting a lot of different species – from elks and badger to special trees and orchids.

In general, supporting wood-pastures in Estonia means not only supporting biodiversity due to preserving semi-open habitats, but also keeping a tradition alive, which might otherwise disappear.

IMG_7764 IMG_7683

I loved the time in Estonia, seeing all this lovely wood-pastures (see pictures) and meeting all the farmers doing a great job. They deserve our respect for actively conserving these beautiful habitats.



If you are interested in the topic of wood pastures, I would like to mention two important events coming up:

  1. A policy seminar in Brussels this November: “Europe’s wood pastures: condemned to a slow death by the CAP? A test case for EU agriculture and biodiversity policy”. With examples from EU member states: Romania – Tibor HARTEL, Sapientia University Cluj Napoca and Pogány-havas Association, Sweden – Peter EINARSSON, Farmer and Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and Spain – Álvaro PICARDO, Technical Advisor to General Director in Natural Environment, Regional Government of Castilla y León (17 November 2015, 14.30-16.30, room ASP 3E2, European Parliament, Brussels), Deadline to register on the 10th of November
  1. A conference on wood-pastures (or silvopastoral systems) in Portugal next year. Themes and key note speaker you can find here. Deadline for submitting abstracts is the 30th of November.


Hartel T.R., Dorresteijn I., Klein C., Máthé O., Moga C.I., Öllerer K., Roellig M., von Wehrden H., & Fischer J. (2013) Wood-pastures in a traditional rural region of Eastern Europe: Characteristics, management and status. Biological Conservation, 166, 267–275.

Jakobsson S. & Lindborg R. (2015) Governing nature by numbers — EU subsidy regulations do not capture the unique values of woody pastures. Biological Conservation, 191, 1–9.

Roellig M., Sutcliffe L.M.E., Sammul M., von Wehrden H., Newig J., & Fischer J. (2015) Reviving wood-pastures for biodiversity and people: A case study from western Estonia. Ambio, DOI: 10.1007/s13280-015-0719-8.

One thought on “New paper: Reviving wood-pastures for biodiversity and people: A case study from western Estonia

  1. Pingback: Wood pastures and society – changing times and changing desires – Arboriculture

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