Reconstructing European forest management from 1600 to 2010


European forest use for fuel, timber and food dates back to pre-Roman times. Century-scale ecological processes and their legacy effects require accounting for forest management when studying today's forest carbon sink. Forest management reconstructions that are used to drive land surface models are one way to quantify the impact of both historical and today's large scale application of forest management on today's forest-related carbon sink and surface climate. In this study we reconstruct European forest management from 1600 to 2010 making use of diverse approaches, data sources and assumptions. Between 1600 and 1828, a demand-supply approach was used in which wood supply was reconstructed based on estimates of historical annual wood increment and land cover reconstructions. For the same period demand estimates accounted for the fuelwood needed in households, wood used in food processing, charcoal used in metal smelting and salt production, timber for construction and population estimates. Comparing estimated demand and supply resulted in a spatially explicit reconstruction of the share of forests under coppice, high stand management and forest left unmanaged. For the reconstruction between 1829 and 2010 a supply-driven back-casting method was used. The method used age reconstructions from the years 1950 to 2010 as its starting point. Our reconstruction reproduces the most important changes in forest management between 1600 and 2010: (1) an increase of 593 000 km2 in conifers at the expense of deciduous forest (decreasing by 538 000 km2), (2) a 612 000 km2 decrease in unmanaged forest, (3) a 152 000 km2 decrease in coppice management, (4) a 818 000 km2 increase in high stand management, and (5) the rise and fall of litter raking which at its peak in 1853 removed 50 Tg dry litter per year.

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Patrick Meyfroidt
Patrick Meyfroidt
Professor of Land Systems and Sustainability Science

My research focuses on how land systems can contribute to sustainability.