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AFFORNORD

Effects on Ecosystems, Landscape and Rural Development

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The Nordic project AFFORNORD studied the effects of afforestation on ecosystems, landscape and rural development in the years 2004–2006. Forests play a major role in the environment and economy of the Nordic countries. In historical times, extensive areas in the southern and western part of the Nordic region were deforestated, followed by afforestation in the past two centuries. There is no doubt that afforestation affects biodiversity, landscape dynamics, rural development and human health in several ways, positive as well as negative. Therefore, the purpose of afforestation must be clear in the planning phase. Proper forest management is also of critical importance. No land-use meets all environmental goals simultaneously. Some negative impacts are inevitable, even if the most conscientious management is employed. Generally, a trade-off must be made between the desire for a pristine environment and the need for a working and operational landscape for the benefit of society at large.

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History of afforestation in the Nordic countries

The last late glacial from 22,000 up until just before 13,000 years ago was very cold and dry throughout Europe. Large ice sheets were present over much of northern Europe, and ice caps covered the Alps and the Pyrenees. Forest and woodland were almost non-existent, except for isolated areas of woodland vegetation and close to the mountain ranges of southern Europe. Instead, a sparse grassland or semi-desert covered most of southern Europe, at the same time as a mixture of the dry, open steppe tundra and polar desert covered the parts of northern Europe not occupied by ice sheets (Figure 1). Ice-wedge geomorphological features suggest that permafrost extended across most of Europe, down to about the latitude of central France. At this time drifting sand and wind erosion were common in north and central Europe.

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