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Medieval Forest Clearing

The period between the end of the period of mass human migration (about 600 a.d.) and the beginning of modern times (since 1500) is characterised in central Europe by several periods of clearing and may be called the time of pre-in-dustrial extensive management.

The German terms "Niederwälder", "Hochwälder" and "Mittelwälder" are used to describe types of forest management. "Niederwälder" are forests where the trees are harvested (after approx. 30 years in Germany, Eucalpytus in Morocco every 12 years) and then they regrow from the still existing (and producing) roots. This is only possible for broadleaved trees. This special management was widespread in central Europe and in the Mediterranean. Common species for this type were oak, beech, and hornbeam. "Hochwälder" are forests where the trees are planted and harvested as single trees (mainly for timber) after 100 or more years. These trees may be conifers. After harvesting, they must be replanted. "Mittelwälder" are a mixture of both types of management, which can still be found in France today. Here, the "Niederwald" part is used today for firewood and the "Hochwald" for timber.

After forests expanded during the period of mass migration, systematic clearing of forests started in the early Middle Ages (900 A.D.) caused by population pressure. The clearing was by both the secular and religious bodies which owned the land, in southern Germany particularly the Franconian kings and monasteries. The aim was to gain new areas for agriculture, whilst forests were degraded by grazing animals and also by the increased requirement for wood. Wood was the only energy source before the opening of coal deposits, and was used in small smelters and by blacksmithies as well as for salt making and glass production domestically.

In central Europe the first major clearing period was from the sixth to the ninth century. During this time, most forests were cleared, even those not suitable for agriculture and also sometimes the protected forest reserves for hunting. Most forests were used for forest grazing. The old settlement areas, with village names ending in -ingen, -heim, -hausen, were founded at that time. In the second clearing period from the eleventh to the thirteenth century the area of the central European mountains was included in the land acquisition. Many village names of this younger settlement period end in -ried, -reuth, -rode, and -schlag.

The relation of forest to open land at the end of this period was about 70:30, despite Neolithic and Roman settlements, but in the thirteenth century it was reversed and had thus reached a state that applies to many landscapes in central Europe even today. Almost natural forests only existed in locations unfavourable for agriculture. Towards the end of the Middle Ages periods of social breakdown led to a slight increase in forest areas (Ellenberg 1996). The first forest regulations of the sixteenth century introduced protection for and limitation on uses. Regionally, as early as the twelfth century, grazing of goats in forests was forbidden, as they eat woody species.

Forest areas had not only decreased drastically, but the remaining forests were structurally and floristically changed. To safeguard the energy requirements and to consciously save areas of forests for grazing, coppiced forests (which had existed in the Iron Age) were managed. Oak and hornbean were particularly suited to this kind of forest management, as they regenerate easily. Oak, beech and hazel and their fruits were not only important animal fodder, but also part of human nutrition and were cultivated in open forests, so shade-demanding woody species decreased. Oaks were grown not only for acorns (animal feed), but also for their bark which was used for tanning, and large, emergent trees were retained in "Mittelwálder" as the timber, that was required for construction. Such "Mittelwálder" and coppices still survive regionally in some parts of central Europe (oak forests in France and Lower Franconia) where they are managed today to produce valuable timber.

Different forms of management of the remaining forests have not contributed to the loss of species; on the contrary, opened up tall forests allowed several light-demanding herbaceous plants and grasses to establish. Losses of species occurred with the heavy grazing and when the surface litter of forests was used. Over centuries the latter caused loss of cations from forests and increased cation supply to the fields via manure from stables. Thus the use of litter substantially contributed to soil acidification and to loss of nutrients from forests, and to the large differences in fertility between forests and arable land which can still be seen (see Chap. 2.3). Excessive use of forests on sandy soils caused the formation of heathland in northern Europe. Erosion by wind and water endangered many areas. In many chronicles scarcity of wood is described, which led to the use of peat from bogs. Regulations to protect forests were not always followed. Early attempts were made to reforest land, e.g. in 1368, these attempts were recorded for the forest "Nürnberger Reichswald". This was the beginning of the change from deciduous forests to coniferous forests in modern times (Fig 4.1.11). Large areas of mixed forests were retained until the nineteenth century because of the many possible uses, but were also degraded. With the industrialisation reforestation started with spruce and pine on the degraded areas and this trend has increased to meet requirements for building wood and commercial timber.

In Fig. 4.1.12 A-D characteristic forms of forest management are shown.

Ellenberg (1996) regards grazing in forests worldwide as the anthropogenic factor which influenced vegetation the most. Individual steps of degradation from a natural forest to wasteland are shown in Fig. 4.1.13. The increasing level of grazing had two consequences. Independent of the original stage, the number and type of grazing animals and the characteristics of the site, many plant communities dominated by herbs and grasses developed. Moist meadows, nutrient-deficient meadows, hay meadows and pas-

Hornbeam mixed forest ^^ with spruce

Mixed oak forest

Mixed beech forest in lowlands

Beech forest In mountains

Beech forest with some pine (Pinus sp.J

Beech forest with fir (Abies alba) In mountains

Pine forest with oak on sand

Fig. 4.1.11. Development of forests in central Europe from A after the warm period about 2000 b.p. (after Firbas 19491952) through B the Middle Ages, until C the nineteenth century. (After Hausrath, from Kreeb 1983)

Hornbeam mixed forest

Hornbeam mixed forest ^^ with spruce

j:j:j| Forests with only ¿ill deciduous trees j Deciduous trees with ilia few conifers

Mainly deciduous trees =3 with conifers

Tree species In German forest about 1300

j:j:j| Forests with only ¿ill deciduous trees j Deciduous trees with ilia few conifers

Mainly deciduous trees =3 with conifers

Mainly conifers with deciduous trees

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