A woodland history of North Yorkshire : a multi-disciplinary study of post-glacial woodland history
The post-glacial history of woodland in North Yorkshire has been studied using a wide variety of sources including existing environmental studies, archaeological data, documentary information, and place-names. A critical approach has been adopted involving comparative studies of the different sources. The environmental and archaeological data available for the prehistoric period are thought to indicate that until the end of the Atlantic climatic period the vegetation of North Yorkshire was primarily environmentally determined, though mesolithic woodland burning may have created-open spaces and encouraged the growth of hazel in the uplands. During the Neolithic and Bronze Age a gradual spread of dense-agrarian settlement and intensive clearance across areas with calcareous soils, and into some drift covered lowlands, is thought to have occurred. This was probably accompanied by pastoral exploitation of the more acidic uplands causing a structural change in some upland woodland reflected by the decline of Tilia. The Iron Age and early Roman period appear to have been a time of widespread clearance, affecting even areas such as the clay lowlands of the Vale of York. Woodland appears to have become restricted to slope and bog refugia at this time. Evidence for a post-Roman woodland recovery is patchy. Secondary woodland appears to have formed principally on steep slopes such as the moorland scarp and gill sides, and around lowland bogs. At the beginning of the medieval period there appears to have been a marked contrast between the largely woodless areas of the Vale of Mowbray and the Wolds, and the remaining areas which were relatively well wooded. With the exception of the eastern fringe of the Pennines, woodpasture appears to have been the dominant form of exploitation in most of the more wooded areas in the early Middle Ages. The expansion of coppice management appears to have been slow, accounting for only a small proportion of documentary references to woodland until the 14th century. After this coppicing appears to have become widespread while many common woodpastures were enclosed or lost their trees. By the mid-nineteenth century common woodpastures were rare, occurring mainly in the Pennine uplands, and plantation accounted for a significant proportion of woodland, particularly in areas with landscape parks. The evidence for distribution and management of woodland over a long time period has facilitated the construction of interpretive models for the influence of environment, economics, and social structure on woodland history. Whilst the interaction between the environment and economic considerations offers a good model for the broad trends in clearance, and woodland distribution, the chronology of the adoption of coppice management requires a more subtle explanation. The expansion of coppice is thought to have been delayed until after the Black Death as a result of a concerted defence of common by the tenantry, which may to a large extent have consisted of freeholders.