In Germany, the current distribution patterns of woodland habitats are mainly the result of century-long human impacts on the (cultural) landscape. Even semi-natural woodland areas, referred to as “ancient” or “old-growth” forests, frequently show a high density of remnants of human activity and settlement. In particular, modern analyses of digital terrain models revealed that large portions of present-day forests were already in existence in the 18th century, and many of them were were used as agricultural fields in medieval times or antiquity. But there is, however, an intensity gradient of the human influence on forest habitats. Remote regions or inaccessible terrain frequently preserved semi-natural forest communities and high volumes of live or dead wood biomass for long periods, while forests in more densely populated areas became parts of intensively managed (agri-) cultural landscapes. Nevertheless, new techniques for logging and timber transportation accelerated the intensified utilization of many formerly inaccessible forest areas from the 19th century onwards. Besides early conservation efforts originating in the mid-19th century, it was mainly the economic insignificance of some remote (semi-) natural forests with pronounced old-growth structures that saved them from modern forestry impacts. In the otherwise intensively managed forests of the Harz Mountains, for example, the Brocken natural forest remained nearly untouched from modern forestry due to its economically insignificant stand structures and site conditions.
Editor: Dr. Andreas Mölder, Nordwestdeutsche forstliche Versuchsanstalt, Abteilung Waldnaturschutz, Sachgebiet Arten- und Biotopschutz