Automatgenererad bild.

4 February 2014

Lessons from the past point to forestry of the future

Several centuries’ worth of old instructions on how to work the forests at Finspång Works (Finspångs Bruk) are helping researchers to predict the impact of modern Swedish forestry. The unique lessons from this material, compiled by photographer Bo Backström and forest historian Professor Lars Östlund, are presented in a popular-scientific book.

For 300 years, starting in the 16th century, Finspång Works was Sweden’s largest cannon foundry. One precondition for its operations was a never-failing supply of timber from the surrounding forests.

What is more, the Works always kept its papers in order. This means that it is now possible to study how forestry was practised to maximise the yield. There are, for example, detailed instructions to local forest officers that have been preserved since the 18th century.

This extensive documentation prompted Bo Backström, a photographer and local historian, and Lars Östlund, a Professor of Forest History at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), to embark a joint project within the Future Forests research programme.

The first part of their collaboration has now been completed. It culminated in the book En bruksskogs historia, a lively historical account of Finspång Works, its forests and how they were managed over the years. The book is richly illustrated with Bo Backström’s pictures from today’s Finspång forest, but also supplemented with historical images and maps.

‘If you want to study the impact of different forestry methods on production and biodiversity, for example, you can’t just look forward. It’s often better to look at what people used to do in the past,’ Lars Östlund points out.

How forestry was practised in Finspång has varied over time, but many of the methods we think of as modern these days are in fact by no means new.

‘By looking at the long-term results from different methods, we hope also to be able to say how the methods used today will affect the forest of tomorrow.’

To Östlund, the big surprise was that very early traces of what we would now call ‘nature conservation’ (although the early practitioners did not themselves use this expression) are found.

‘Our idea was to show how forests have been utilised by humankind for a long time, but also to emphasise the values that exist in forests of the present day. We hope the book can inspire both greater insight into the dynamics of a forest landscape subject to human use, and also inspire intensified research. To date, we’ve just managed to penetrate part of the vast source material, and there’s undoubtedly more we can get out of it,’ Bo Backström explains.

Now that the book is on sale, the first part of the project has ended. At the same time, a new one is starting. The researchers are now leaving their helicopter view behind to dig more deeply into a number of very interesting forest areas.

‘Most of all, we want to look more closely at the early use of clear-felling — a method that, a bit surprisingly, was tried out back at the beginning of the 19th century,’ Lars Östlund says.

Text: Per Westergård, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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