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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Wood-pastures in Hungary – the herders’ perspective

The influence of old and active woodland grazing by domestic livestock in wood pastures is an important element of the traditional landscape of the Carpathian Basin. Following several landscape-history studies, this fact became recently known among Hungarian ecologists. One of the reasons why „the grazing in wood by livestock” has got in the focus of researchers in this area is that in Hungary nearly all the wood pastures are abandoned or becoming abandoned, leading to major traditional knowledge and biodiversity loss without having just a few information about this habitat type. Our aim to get understand and discover the history and methods of woodpasturing and the effect of woodpasturing to the biodiversity by interdisciplinary methods (landscape history, vegetation, zoology and traditional ecological knowledge research). We work in different regions of Hungary and in Szeklerland in Transylvania in Romania, where traditional land use is still maintained at several places, and therefore these areas could have major importance in understanding natural and cultural functions of wood-pastures.
A typical wood-pasture  between 19-21th 

century. The picture was took by Ferenc Sándor
 in 1960-1970.*

Wood-pasture is a habitat type which does not only depend on the natural environment, but on human-related activities, too. Regulations, economy, livestock type all affect this habitat and most importantly the man himself, who works there day after day. The change of these factors identifies the concept, the definition and the managment of the wood-pastures. After the Enlightenment in Hungary the main changes were in the 18-19th century: the forest- and pastureland seperation; in the first half of 20th century: forestry law and the industralization, in the second half of 20th century: the socialization and after the privatization.

Cserépfalu wood-pasture managed by
Bükk National Park, grazed by Hungarian grey cattle.
And now we are in the beginning of the 21th century… and most of the Hungarian wood-pastures from 5500 ha were abandoned. These were mapped by Hungarian Vegetation Survey (Bölöni et al. 2008). Today wood-pastures managed by national parks (rangers), a few enthaustic farmers and herders.  
To understand recent situation of the Hungarian wood-pastures we carried out open and semi-structured interviews with herders-farmers and rangers (working in nature conservation) in Hungary, together with participant observation. Herders'  and  rangers'  gave  diverse  and sometimes very different definitions and answers, in spite of the fact that the fundamental aim is the long-distance maintenance of the pasture for everybody. 
Year by year less and less traditonaly herder
works on wood-pastures. He is one of them,
who was born in a herder family and still work.

But we can understand much more easily if we look the different values attributed by rangers and herders. The most important value of a wood-pasture for rangers is related to the landscape and biodiversity, and for herders to pasturing and feeding the livestock. For me one of the most interesting data was, thet the herders do not entitle an area as a wood pasture, what professional conservation managers would call a wood pasture, they simply call it: pasture. For the herders, coming from traditional herder families „the trees on the pastureland” is not a separate habitat. „The trees on the pastureland” is natural, continuous and essential.  They  see and use the landscape as a whole system.  In practice of the traditional pasturing system this means the animals graze all over the boundary of the village (with the herder considering the forcoming season and weather). At the same time the usage of a wood-pasture means a micro-scale view too (for example: conscious tree and shrub selection).

In order to improve the conservation of wood-pastures it is essential to view this habitat type through the managers eyes, and the best we can do is joining them to pasture at least for one day…

Anna Varga
University of Pécs
Institute of Biology, Department of Plant Systematics and Geobotany ,
Pécs, Ifjúság útja 6., H-7624, Hungary,

Bölöni, J., Molnár, Zs., Biró, M. & Horváth, F. (2008): Distribution of the (semi-) natural habitats in Hungary II. Woodlands and shrublands. Acta Botanica Hungarica 50 (Suppl.), pp.107–148

*(To the first picture) After forest and pastureland seperation (1862) the regular grazing and clearing of the area is controlled by the community of the farmers of  Olaszfalu and the area called “Olaszfalui Volt Úrbéres Gazdák Legelője”. In the beginning of the 1950s, there was regular grazing and cleaning in the area, and there was 10% woodland (Fagus sylvatica, Quecus cerris, Pyrus pyraster, Carpinus betulus, Acer campestre).  Since the establishment of the soviet co-operative in the 1960s, the number of animals started to decrease, consequently the regular  maintenance and clearing of the pasture ceased. In the last few years the former pasture was utilized as a  hunting ground. In 2007 the territory has been divided into parcels. With the filling up of parkland stands today 52% of the area consists of closed woodland. 17% of the woodland is older than 50 years, 38% is between 30 and 40, while 45% is between 10 and 20 years.


Simon O'Corra said...

Hello Barbara

What an interesting article. How could we do this realistically? We have a 2500 sq metre woodland garden and have been wondering about keeping some sheep. We are in rural France and think it could be great to keep some animals. I would be happy to find out how things happen here in France and maybe write a blog post for your blog

Best regards


Alan Page said...

Hi Barbara,
Growing trees in central New England, USA involves working with lands that were treated as you observed as much as 150 years ago. All openings are gone and the "wolf" trees that you show are frequently also gone, but their effect still is apparent.

One option for ecological preservation of this type of open space against both encroachment by development and climate change is to try to enhance the productivity of the site for trees and to retain increased amounts of carbon as soil applied charcoal which is chemically recalcitrant (~inert at normal soil temperatures).

The question you have not addressed is how does one do this in a money centered economy when the money values do not include the values that come from a particular use? The current Euro crisis is precisely this issue as well since the source of all value has been transferred to private banks rather than the common good of the region that is tapped in traditional ways.

The problem that all developed countries face is that the external banks are "miners" of local value and when the value is gone they go someplace else and do the same thing.

Good luck with trying to maintain these areas.
Alan Page

Barbara Mihok said...

Simon: that is a great idea - I am sure that traditional knowledge on e.g. pasturing can be still found in the European landscape. Anna Varga is the author of this post, who is doing actually the research on these very interesting habitats - you can find her email in the post. Looking forward to hear from you about your experiences!

Barbara Mihok said...

Hi Alan
Thank you very much for your comment! (It is important to note that the author of this post was Anna Varga - see her contact in the post.)
What you mention is actually the precise challenge many of the traditional landscapes in Europe is facing. Our recent post on a study in Conservation Letters clearly addresses this problem. Incentives for land-use practices should support the maintainance of traditional landscapes - but in many cases, the productivity of that particular landscape is the most important aspect takent into consideration.

Alan Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Page said...

Hi Barbara,
The base of the transformation that we are all dealing with in one way or another is the inappropriate expectation that personal human returns from activity are somehow different from the returns (value added in financial terms)that are found in the older systems that your group is studying.

It is imperative that those who understand the growth curves of natural systems find a way to speak out about the inherent differences we find between the unrestrained compound interest calculations [ fv=pv x (1+i)*n ] and the normal heavily constrained natural growth curves found in all biological systems.

Every organism has a growth path that is constrained unless it somehow escapes the normal constraints and takes on the cancerous ability to multiply at will. Invasive plant colonizations are examples of a sector of biology that has escaped the constraint of local pathogens and predators.

Today the differences between industrial agriculture and agroforestry must be described as a financial cancer with examples that anyone who cares to can understand.

The promise of unrestrained compound interest is that any investor can achieve an infinite return just by holding a savings account long enough to have it go through more than ~twenty doublings.

The truth of the matter is that in a finite world if anyone (or any group) has an infinite amount of anything then everyone else has nothing. This is both unfair, impossible and very bad policy. Yet this is the basis for all bank transactions!

The connections may seem tenuous but I guarantee that when short term returns are more important than the long term stability of a well constrained natural population you will end up with a cancerous condition which will end itself with the death of the host. We need to understand that the life support systems of our planet are now the "host" that our cancerous financial system is attacking for profit.

We must find a way to remove the profit from these irresponsible actions. The only recourse that I have found is to expose the lie that is the promise offered in the compound interest formula [ fv=pv x (1+i)*n ] and demand that a reasonable appropriately constrained system for calculations of returns be required for all official / legal dealings.

Your work to describe how these old systems work and the values that come from them is an important part of understanding where the reality stops and the lie of unrestrained growth takes off. The removal of high taxation rates on excessive personal income sought by global investors is one way that the financial community has used to escape these constraints. Replacement of appropriate progressive taxation is one way to resolve this issue , but it is not the only one and the discussion of how personal income relates to the support given by all sectors of life support [mothers, family, community, local ecology / geology / climate,,,] appears to be the place to start. These support systems are “infrastructure” and have a different time horizon than most other normal human activities and are worthy of much different treatment by the sovereign power.

Anna Varga said...

Dear Simon
Thank you very much for your comment! I am sorry for my late answer, nowadays I do not have a proper internet connection.
In May I visited wood pastures in Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. So I am sure you can find some practical and living examples in France!
Just in case I send you two interesting French webpage address:

Best wishes,
Anna Varga