It was a pleasure for us to publish this beautiful bouquet of papers about European wood-pastures. The papers originated from Scotland, England, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Greece (Figure 1).
|Figure 1. The countries where the wood-pasture papers originate from. Whenever it was possible the point was placed in a region mentioned in the wood-pasture paper. In the case of Finland the point was put in the centre of the country.|
Below I try to integrate the main messages of these posts.
First, wood-pastures are important components of the European cultural and natural heritage and they have high ecological value. Wood-pastures tend to gather an increasing interest from ecologists and conservationists. Ecological research on wood-pastures is on-going in many European countries such as e.g. Greece, Czech Republic, Sweden, Romania, Italy, Switzerland, Spain. These studies provide important evidences about the ecological value of wood-pastures and also suggest management interventions for their conservation.
Second, wood-pastures are in decline and / or vulnerable to change all over Europe. Our understanding about the various threats to the European wood-pastures is increasing but there is much more to understand. The abandonment of the traditional grazing, agricultural intensification, land conversion, industrialization, urban and infrastructural development, cutting- (e.g. for firewood or injuring them) and burning the trees, disrupting traditional links between people and wood-pastures seem to be general threats to European wood-pastures. The magnitude of these threats can differ in different parts of Europe. Figure 2 presents a hypothesis regarding two main underlying forces shaping the status of the wood-pastures in Europe: the productivity of the land and the economic status of the country (expressed as GDP). It would be timely to assess the complex socio-economic issues around the maintenance and change of wood-pastures across Europe in order to develop better, and more context placed conservation policies for them.
Third, wood-pastures and people seem to be inherently linked. These links can sometimes be traced back to centuries. These links make wood-pastures excellent arenas for a holistic, social-ecological approach to understand the dynamics of systems of nature and people. What is their history? What was the nature of these links in the past, how they changed in present times, in which way and how should we shape the nature of these links in the future? Biodiversity and ecological research alone, although important to ‘ecological health’ diagnosis, may not be enough for answering such questions. To address these problems a more holistic research agenda is needed with inter- and transdisciplinary teams and approaches. Research from Greece shows that philosophical (e.g. belief) systems matter: a departure from traditional religions can have deep consequences for ancient wood-pastures and their biodiversity. The example from Hungary shows that the nature of knowledge is important determinant of how people perceive the wood-pastures. While the traditional herders perceive wood-pastures as organic, inseparable units of pasture and trees, professional managers perceive wood-pastures as important determinants of biodiversity and landscape complexity. The example from Romania suggest that sharp cultural/ethnic turnover is an important threat for the traditional ‘cultural skeleton’ including ancient wood-pastures while the example from Spain highlight the possibility that ancient wood-pastures may not be ‘built to last’ and further efforts should be allocated to maintain them and create new wood-pastures for future. At the other end of the spectrum is the modern society. Wood-pastures and ancient trees get increasing attention from non-academic naturalists in England (e.g. the Ancient Tree Hunt group of the Woodland Trust and the Ancient Trees forum). These groups and people make a huge difference by their work, inventorying and mapping thousands of trees therefore contributing to their knowledge and conservation. These ideas and attitudes could be adopted by other regions of Europe where the wood-pastures are still common.
Preserving the past may not be a viable solution and strategies developed for this purpose may not be viable. Acknowledging the legacy of traditional knowledge and attitudes of people toward wood-pastures, the modern society may want to facilitate and build new types of links between people and wood-pastures. These new links should not consider only financial incentives (e.g. ‘I pay you to keep the scattered trees, and low intensity grazing on this wood-pasture’). Modern people, maybe more than the traditional people, may recognize that there are many other and increasingly vital aspects which are less directly linked to money provision, assured by wood-pastures. Examples include their heritage value, their importance in increasing adaptability of landscapes to climate changes, their value as ‘ecological memory’, their ecological / biodiversity value and so on. To value these multiple services, modern societies need to be mindful in a different way than those societies which created the wood-pastures in historical times.
Fourth, examples from Scotland and England show that the formal recognition of wood-pastures as distinct habitats is important for promoting a better understanding by research, more popularization and ultimately a better conservation status. The Eastern European experience with protected areas also suggests that the protected status of an area, especially after the adherence to the European Union is important for ‘pulling it out’ from anonymity and is an important step toward its recognition as value, research and conservation. Learning from the above examples it would be timely to make clear steps for formally introducing wood-pastures in the internationally important protected area systems and to start their inventory and assessment of their conservation status.
Figure 3 presents a short (and subjective) overview of the various issues emerging from the 12 wood-pasture entries of this thematic issue.
|Figure 3. Important issues about European wood-pastures which appeared in the 12 entries.|
This wood-pasture theme series was a really nice experience – thanks to the many authors. I personally believe that there is a future for wood-pastures in Europe – if we want that future. There are many good things already happening across Europe in this respect. Isolation is not an issue anymore: fast knowledge flow and learning from each other is now possible. We need to amplify and extend them to create the grounds for conservation action.
Tibor Hartel - Ovidius University Constanta, Romania; Leuphana University, Lüneburg, Germany. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org