Neolithic Farmers Cut Europe's Forests In Half

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A new study has shown that over half of the forests in Europe have disappeared over the past six thousand years. The study's authors point to deforestation to make agricultural land, and deforestation for fuel wood, as the prime culprits.

The study analyzed pollen samples from over a thousand different European locations. The pollen tells an interesting story. The data seem to imply that northern and central Europe once sat under a blanket of forest that covered a full two thirds or more of the total land mass. These days, that figure is generally closer to one third, with regional differences The UK and Ireland are especially deforested, with forest coverage down to 10% or less.

Interestingly, the forests are coming back, probably because we're using fossil fuels instead of wood, and because of conservation efforts.

Neil Roberts, the study's lead author, says "Most countries go through a forest transition and the UK and Ireland reached their forest minimum around 200 years ago. Other countries in Europe have yet to reach that point, and some parts of Scandinavia – where there is not such a reliance on agriculture – are still predominantly forest. But generally, forest loss has been a dominant feature of Europe’s landscape ecology in the second half of the current interglacial, with consequences for carbon cycling, ecosystem functioning and biodiversity.”

Roberts and his international team of researchers also found that there was a marked increase in European forest between 11,000 and 6,000 years ago, rising by 20%. That growth was cut short by the advent of Neolithic farming methods.

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