By Emma Bird
While in Romania we saw a large number of ways in which trees were integrated into the landscape and the farming system. At Monica’s family farm, we saw walnut trees that had been recently planted in a sloped hay meadow to help with soil stabilisation. Despite this being the primary objective for planting, when mature, as much of the tree would be used as possible. This could be for the walnuts to produce oil or trade with gypsies, leaves used to line bread ovens and for their insect repelling qualities. On another side of the farm we saw how trees could be used to create fencing without wire, again maximising the materials they have to hand. A wide range of species can be used to create fences like this. Living trees such as robinia in this case can be used as the uprights and the design is clever incorporating the spikes on top with hay layered which can work well to prevent deer from jumping over as they cannot see what is on the other side and therefore perfectly protects the orchard on the other side. A common theme amongst Romanians is that nothing goes to waste on the farm and they will maximise the potential of everything possible. With regards to trees they are coppiced and pollarded and used for fencing, building, haystack poles and fuel to name just a few examples.
As we moved through Transylvania we also saw large areas of forest, some of these were quite dark with little ground flora as they were largely dominated with oak and beech of a similar age. In the mountains around the village of Rimet we learnt about the value of ash trees to the farmers for shredding to create leaf hay to feed to livestock. Towards the end of the summer farmers would assess the amount of hay they had for the winter and make a decision about whether leaf hay would be required to supplement this forage for the winter. On another day we visited Homorod where there was a large area of wood pasture with ancient willows, closer to the river and ancient poplars and mulberry. This area was being grazed by cattle and these trees were providing valuable shade and shelter with cattle being moved around by the herdsman. This area of pasture was declining possibly due to a number of reasons including the extraction of gravel from the river, fires in the hollows of the ancient trees and lower numbers of cattle not controlling the epicormic growth of the old pollards.
Even though the management of the land has to make economic sense to the Romanians it seems that they do value the importance of trees more so than a lot of English farmers that I work with. This might be because of the way the land is farmer on a smaller scale with less intensive machinery which makes it easier to work around a tree or hedge in the field. This might be because the agri-environment schemes work differently or simply because they recognise that trees have a wide number of benefits that can lead to both economic and environmental sustainability.
The pressures that the future may bring to trees and woods in Romania could have both a significant impact on the landscape and the way in which Romanians view and use trees. The threat of climate change, pests, diseases and the concern of farming moving to more of a large scale suggest that thought needs to be given to the management of trees and woods going forward. We were already seeing signs of trees and woods being neglected where management was needed and soon.
On our journey around Romania we certainly saw signs of what looked like ash dieback which could have a devastating impact on the landscape and the culture of the country. This is already the case in other European countries and something I see regularly in my job. In areas such as Rimet where ash is an important species for fodder for livestock farmers will need to give more consideration to shredding other species. When thinking of other species to use for this thought should be given to species which shred well or can be easily turned into leaf hay. Another thing to consider is the palatability of species, as well as the potential nutritional and medicinal values of them. This is something the Woodland Trust are currently researching working in partnership with the Organic R esearch Centre among others.
Another area where there was need for some management before long was the area of wood pasture at Hormorod. Here while we ate lunch a branch fell from a dying poplar. Should we consider reducing the crown of some of these to see if this helps to rejuvenate them and do we need to stop the fires within the hollows of the trees? Either way if nothing is done we will lose the trees and there is not much new growth coming through. We did find a few young trees growing but these need to be protected from the grazing animals by planting thorns around them to keep the livestock away until they become established. We implemented a temporary fix by surrounding one young tree with nearby dead branches but this may not be enough. Ideally this area would need to be planted with more trees surrounded by thorns to regenerate the wood pasture.
With the threats of the future do the people of Romania need to start thinking about more planting of trees and woods and the on-going management of them. To create a more resilient landscape perhaps thought should be given to improving the diversity of age and species of trees and woodlands in the Romanian landscape.