Wood-pastures of Europe: Geographic coverage, social-ecological values, conservation management, and policy implications

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


Wood-pastures are archetypes of High Nature Value Farmlands in Europe and hold exceptional ecological, social, and cultural values. Yet, wood-pastures have been through a sharp decline all over Europe, mainly due to processes of agricultural intensification and abandonment. Recently, wood-pastures have found increasing attention from conservation science and policy across Europe. In this paper we (i) perform the first pan-European assessment of wood-pastures, considering individual countries and biogeographic regions, (ii) present the ecological and social-cultural values of a wide diversity of wood-pasture systems in Europe, (iii) outline management challenges around wood-pastures, and (iv) provide insights for the policy agenda targeting wood-pastures in Europe. We estimate that wood-pastures cover an area of approximately 203,000km<sup>2</sup> in the European Union (EU). They are distributed across all biogeographical regions, but more abundantly in the Mediterranean and Eastern European countries. Substantial ecological values are revealed in terms of landscape level biodiversity, ecosystem dynamics, and genetic resources. Social-cultural values are related to aesthetic values, cultural heritage, and rich traditional ecological knowledge. We discuss the anthropogenic character of wood-pastures, requiring multifunctional land management, which is a major conservation challenge. Despite increasing societal appreciation of wood-pastures, their integration into effective agricultural and conservation policies has proved to be complicated, because institutional structures are traditionally organized within mono-functional sectors. We offer suggestions as to how these shortcomings might be overcome in the Common Agricultural Policy, including Rural Development policy, and the Habitats Directive of the EU. We conclude that research should be guided by a holistic vision of wood-pastures, which integrates information about ecology, societal values, and institutional arrangements.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological Conservation
Pages (from-to)70-79
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2015
Externally publishedYes