Wooded grasslands in Norway
30.08.2017, by Bénédicte Gaillard
The entries are still in process, the e-atlas is still under development
It is assumed that forests have been used for grazing since the beginning of agricultural land-use in the Stone Age, but at least for 2000 years. Forests have had many functions and have been utilised for, e.g., hunting, firewood, timber, and production of tar and charcoal. The forests’ function as grazing areas for domestic animals has probably been the most important one, at least until the start of coal mining in the 1500-1600s. Grazed forests have decreased or disappeared locally because of the increase of timber production, but have been common at least until World War II. Mountain summer farms are probably the only areas that have been used for grazing for sheep for several thousand years.
Forests were basically used as grazing areas during spring and autumn, whereas in the summer months alpine pastures have been used. As a consequence, smaller or larger areas in the upper limit of mountain forests (mainly birch forests of Betula pubescens) adjacent to alpine pastures have been kept open throughout the year due to summer grazing by domestic animals in addition to grazing by semi-domestic reindeer. Besides the development from forests through high grazing pressure, wooden pastures in Norway may also have developed from grasslands and meadows, whose usage has changed from, for instance, hay production to grazing purposes.
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Wooden pastures in Norway are open and extensive rather than intensive, but locally intensive use may be found. It can be characterised as a mixed system of multi-functional use for humans since pre-industrial agricultural activity, for instance for fire wood, timber, grazing, and winter forage.
By definition, wooden pastures in Norway may occur in areas with animal husbandry wherever environmental conditions allow the growth of forests/trees, where vegetation has a grazing value (i.e. productive vegetation that can serve as forage for grazers). They are not restricted to certain altitudes, neither to a specific substrate, slope, or aspect. The link between wooden pastures and certain environmental conditions is rather indirect. Its occurrence depends more directly on the occurrence of habitats comprising vegetation with (high) grazing potential, whose distribution is controlled by important environmental conditions. Nutrient rich and productive habitats with scattered trees are areas of high potential for grazing.
Wooden pastures in Norway have decreased over time in several regions as farms have been abandoned, with succession (regrowth of shrubs and trees) as a consequence. This is due to changes in land-use politics, general economic development and the fact that agricultural products provide little profit (food is cheaper to import than to produce domestically). For instance, small farms with sheep have increasingly become abandoned, whereas bigger farms have increased livestock numbers and, hence, grazing intensity/pressure.
In recent years, abandoned outfield areas close to infields and abandoned pastures or former hay meadows have increasingly been used as pastures, especially for cattle. This is due to government regulations stipulating that farm animals must be outdoors during the summer months.
Forests have traditionally been used for grazing by all kind and ages of domestic animals (i.e. sheep, goats, cattle, horses). Today, grazing by sheep (in addition to semi-domestic reindeer in northern Norway) dominates, changing the combined grazing by several grazer species to more selective grazing. As for cattle grazing, the trend today is that only young animals are out for grazing, whereas other cattle are kept indoors for milk production.
Locally, implementing new and modern technology may maintain or even initiate grazing. This applies, for instance, to areas where the use of newer, larger machines is not practicable, such as on steep slopes or in dense forests. In these areas, grazing animals may make use of areas that are not accessible for mechanical operations.
Wooden pastures in Norway are not closely connected with any specific building type. However, in the mountains, forests are affected by grazing domestic animals next to/beside alpine pastures (i.e. in the upper forest belt). In these particular cases, wooden pastures may be considered as being connected with alpine summer farms (= “seter” or “støl”). Otherwise, wooden pastures are connected to meat and milk production (and products of these), but also the production of wool (sheep). Historically, there were often many small storage barns around areas where fodder was collected. Storage close to the point of collection saved time during the short and busy summer, and transport back to the farm might even be easier in the snowy winter months, when sledges could be used.
To functions, see above.
Wooden pastures in Norway are important for different reasons, including both economic (e.g. milk and meat production) and ecological [e.g. specific biodiversity of (red listed) species]. Moreover, open forests with scattered trees also have an aesthetical and personal (historical/nostalgic) value that is closely connected to historical, especially pre-industrial, land-use (e.g. mountain summer farms). They are depicted in paintings and photographs, although this may be due to their occurrence close to alpine summer farms, which have a long and important tradition in Norway, rather than due to the interest of the painter for the particular landscape element.
Wooden pastures are an important economic resource for the users (i.e. farmers). They also have a high value as a semi-natural system that contributes to better health and welfare of domestic animals (e.g. exercise, fresh air, variation in forage plants). This may also be reflected in improved quality of meat and milk. Nevertheless, wooden pastures per se are rather little known by the general public compared with other landscape elements. They are probably appreciated as part of summer farms, but not as an autonomous element of the landscape.