Into the Woods: Overlapping Perspectives on the History of Ancient Forests

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International Conference
Padova (Italy), 18-20 April 2017

In recent years the number of actions and projects involving "ancient forests" or "ancient woodland" has greatly increased. (French National Forestry Office exceptional forests scheme, WWF program for ancient forests, International Day of Forests, etc.). In ecological, economic and social terms, these forest spaces play numerous, diverse roles.

The definition of "ancient forests" varies not only from country to country but also according to disciplinary field. Working on "ancient forests" can involve separating "old-growth forests" from "ancient woodland", forests that have disappeared and, in the case of "current forests", those that are not actually very old! "Ancient woodland" or "old growth forests" are often considered as "current forests" of a certain age, but the appreciation of this antiquity depends on time based thresholds that in turn depend on, amongst other things, the sources available to help reconstruct their history.

Even though the concept of "ancient forests" is evolving, the origins of a forest's antiquity must be addressed. If forests have survived until now, a number of social and economic functions must justify their existence. Coupled with notions of natural refuges and forest biodiversity, these forests are also considered as living archives and witnesses of centuries gone by, as places where heritage and memories accumulate. Both private and publicly owned, these forests are at the crossroads of various, sometimes conflicting, points of view. Their management must not only respond to the great challenges of today's world, (mitigating climate change, reducing the loss of biodiversity) but also involve efforts to revitalise local economies and improve the quality of life.

Today, as in the past, they offer insights into the changing relationships between society and environment and for this reason are of particular scientific interest. Integrated inter/multidisciplinary approaches that bring together historical knowledge (economic and social uses of the forest) and naturalistic approaches (study of forest ecosystems) now offer a new means of tackling the question of "ancient forests" However while the various methods and tools implemented ensure a better understanding of past forest spaces, disciplinary and regional compartmentalisation limits a global, integrated approach. To be at the crossroads of human sciences and natural sciences is vital in order to understand the factors leading to the differentiation of historical wooded areas.

The aim of this conference is to allow specialists and researchers from various cultures and different professional fields to meet and exchange views about the study of ancient forests. Foresters, planners, developers, ecologists, biologists, agriculturalists, geographers, historians, philosophers, ethnologists, cartographers, archaeologists, archaeobotanists, sociologists etc., from all backgrounds, are invited to join this debate about our various and varying concept of "ancient forests".


Maturity, heritage, age and antiquity: how can "ancient forests" be defined? How do we identify a forest as ancient? By its age, its functions or its biodiversity? Numerous projects currently underway in this field reveal a great diversity of points of view and the existence of various schools of thought. These perceptions are narrowly linked to disciplinary fields as well as to specific national environments. The various terms used to describe ancient forests do not all refer to the same concepts, or the same historical circumstances. Furthermore, these concepts were born from very specific contexts and are thus indications of the way we think about relationships between society and environment. The idea of this theme is to present different viewpoints in their cultural and disciplinary contexts and to initiate a collective critical reflection about this emerging study subject.

How to tackle the subject of forest age in a global manner? What are the latest methodological and scientific developments? Only by using a range of different approaches is it possible to probe the historical depths of forest areas and to understand the uses that have shaped them. Looking into their history in a comprehensive manner requires a combination of approaches: historical, archaeological, ethnographical and paleoecological etc. Presentations of case studies will highlight a variety of opportunities for combined approaches and allow the added scientific value of such studies to be appreciated, with a view to gaining a better overall understanding of forests' history.

" Ancient forests" yes but how to move forward? Given the overlapping challenges of environmental, economic and social issues, how can a better understanding of the history of forest areas contributes to improvements in their management? This last theme will focus on concrete examples of project management and exploitation of "ancient" forest areas, where historical knowledge has led to new solutions for their development and management. The intention is to reflect on the heuristic scope of a comprehensive approach to the history of the forests.


A field trip will be organised in the Parco Regionale dei Colli Euganei, in collaboration with the park management team. It will be held in the areas studied by Sandrine Paradis-Grenouillet and Sylvain Burri as part of the Marie Curie THISTLE research project and the European FP7 MEMOLA Project. It will confront the concepts and teachings of the conference with the reality of a complex landscape shaped by centuries of ebb and flow and co-evolution between forest cover and agro-forestry-pastoral exploitation by mountain communities, the town of Padua and the Venetian Arsenal.


Abstract and submission: Abstract for oral or poster communication should be submitted before the 30 November 2016 at The text of the abstract must be under 2500 characters.
The authors will be informed by email before 15 january 2017 if their submission has been accepted by the scientific committee.

All text, and image, above taken from the circular attached under Related Files below. Please refer to circular for further details (contains text in English, French and Italian languages).

Related Files