Meeting in Norway 2022

Experience with the introduction of traditional forest practices in Norway

In September of this year, the first personal meeting of the project’s Czech partners with Norwegian colleagues took place in Bergen. The meeting brought both important initiatives for further cooperation and interesting information about how state support for the introduction of traditional forest management works in Norway.

Our project partners informed us, that currently the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture subsidizes farmers with regular financial contributions for the restoration of the traditional way of cutting trees in the open countryside and in the forest. At five-year intervals, a farmer in Norway can claim a pruning allowance, which should ensure continuous care for treated trees. This is not happening in our country yet, and Norway is an example of a country where awareness of the importance of tree trimming for biodiversity reaches beyond the conservation community.

Norwegian colleagues, led by sociologist Anna Birgitte Milford, are now preparing a study that aims to assess the motivations and pitfalls associated with introducing this method of farming into the lives of local farmers.

The Norwegian partners organized an excursion for the Czech colleagues to the local Havrå farm near Bergen, which is a museum showing traditional forms of management in the landscape and is a very nice example of almost all traditional forest practices that come on mind (perhaps with only one exception of burning). The farm is located approx. 30 km east of Bergen on a south-facing slope directly above the fjord and is based on several historic buildings that are used by local farmers to store hay, grain and to house cattle.

Havrå farm

View from the farm to the opposite fjord.

View into the barn (on the right, ash rodes for keeping heaps of hay).

Oats are planted on small fields on the farm and used by farmers for a production of brew. The fields are fertilized by leaf litter raked from the near forest in autumn and then mixed with excrements of cattles. Exactly as it was practised in the past, mainly in mountainous areas or wherever there was a shortage of straw. For this purpose, they mainly use hazel and alder leaves, which are overlooked by cattle (they are not palatable for it). 

While in the lowland forests of the Czech Republic one regularly comes across overgrown coppiced stands, where the trees were cut at the base of the trunk and subsequently left to regrow from stump shoots (a pruning method to which hazels, hornbeams, lindens and alders respond very well), in Norway a strong tradition has a pollarding. It is notoriously used in the Czech Republic to treat willows, but we can see the signs of pollarded trees also in old linden alleys.
     In western Norway, the collection of leaves from branches was very common, from before the Iron Age until the last century. Leaves were an important resource that was used as feed supplement for grazing animals, mainly sheep and goats. The leaves were mainly collected by pollarding, i.e. a term used to describe the process of cutting branches from larger tree trunks so to maximise foliage. This process was applied high enough up the tree so to avoid browsing by animals. This practice encouraged the development of open forests with groups of large, pruned solitary trees.

Deciduous forests in western Norway are mainly found on the south-facing slopes of the fjords, where the climate is more favourable, but most temperate tree species are found here at the northern limit of their distribution range. Deciduous forests thus have a different composition of trees than what we know from Central Europe, they are made up of a mixture of temperate trees with an admixture of boreal species. They are surprisingly rich in species, on a small piece of forest, mountain elm (Ulmus glabra), common alder (Alnus glutinosa), hazel (Corylus avellana), ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and maples (Acer platanoides and non-native Acer pseudoplatanus) grow side by side, and small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) is interspersed in places.

View of the edge of the forest in the vicinity of the farm, where almost all known traditional forest management practices have been reintroduced. 

The farmer who accompanied us described to us in detail how he approaches the restoration of tree trimming in the locality.

He treats old trees, once pruned or older trees that have never been pruned, with care, because there is a greater risk that the tree will die if treated unsparingly.

First, he cuts the terminal top, but leaves a secondary branch that has sufficient leaf assimilation area, and next season he finishes the rest of the branches above the newly rejuvenated twigs on the trunk.

Leaves from cut branches are fed to cattle. This is how they use ash, linden, birch, goat willow and rowan, which cattle like (as opposed to leaves of alder and hazel, which they don’t eat much).

A long ago pruned ash tree.

The view from the slope to the fjord is dominated by pruned hazel trees, the herb layer consists mostly grasses, and there is a frequent occurrence of eagle fern (Pteridium aquilinum), which is poisonous. It is used as bedding for pigs who do not eat it.

The grassy herb floor directly encourages mowing, on the farm they mow the grass in the forest and use it as fodder for cattle. Pollarding, when a crown of leafy branches is formed high above the ground, goes hand in hand with this activity (facilitates movement in the undergrowth).

Traditional tools used to cut tree branches.

View inside the farm. The houses are lined with an insulating layer of common juniper (Juniperus communis).

The author of the post and photos is Jana Doudová.