, Volume 19, Issue 11, pp 2995-3014,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 04 Jul 2010

Geobotanical survey of wood-pasture habitats in Europe: diversity, threats and conservation

Abstract

Agro-silvopastoral land-use has a long tradition throughout Europe. Depending on the region, wood-pasture occurs as vanishing relic of historical land-use, or still more or less widespread as multiple-use rangeland. A new development is that former intensively managed land is being left to evolve towards wood-pasture as an economically and ecologically favourable alternative. In a review of European wood-pasture habitats we distinguish 24 types based on the geobotanical criteria of region, structure, land-use and tree species composition. The European wood-pasture types may be classified as hemiboreal and boreal (4 types), nemoral old-growth (7), nemoral scrub and coppice (5), meridional old-growth (2), meridional scrub and coppice (4), and grazed orchards (2). Wood-pasture forms part of the cultural heritage of Europe, and may add significantly to the preservation of regional biodiversity. The role of wood-pasture in ecological restoration planning and the possibilities of maintaining or enhancing features of wood-pasture deserve more recognition. Many wood-pastures suffer from regeneration failure and are over-mature. Other threats to wood-pasture include abandonment, intensification, oak disease, overgrazing and clearance. In the European Union Habitats Directive, wood-pasture habitats are represented but rather inconsistently. We suggest neglected wood-pasture habitat types to be considered for inclusion. Wood-pasture may form an important element for the economic integrity of rural areas aiming to improve ecological quality‚ provided they are managed sustainably.