- Frans Vera has produced a model of the mid-Holocene woodland as a dynamicsystem driven by herbivore grazing pressure, in a cycle from high forest, through diebackto open pasture, with regeneration taking place along the margins of open areasin places protected from heavy grazing by spinose and unpalatable shrubs. This hasattracted much interest, not least because it offers support for current moves towards ahands-off approach to nature conservation and the employment of ‘natural grazers’.
- The model is here examined in the light of the palaeoecological record for theHolocene and previous Late Quaternary interglacials. Previous reviews have largelydealt with the data available from pollen diagrams, and so this chapter concentratesupon the fossil beetle (Coleoptera) evidence, utilising the extensive database ofQuaternary insect records, BUGS.
- The insect record is much less complete than the pollen one, but there are clearindications of open ground taxa being present in the ‘Atlantic forest’. The extent ofopen ground and dung faunas during the Neolithic suggests that many of theseelements were already present (although not necessarily abundant) in the naturallandscape before agriculturalists began extensive clearance during the late sixthmillennium BP.
- In the palynological literature there is something of a dichotomy between thoseworking in the uplands and lowlands, with the former being more inclined to creditMesolithic hunter/gatherers with deliberate modification of the forest cover, usuallyutilising fire, sometimes leading to the expansion of blanket bog and, in the lowlands,the creation of heath. The concept of a natural forest, without human interference, inthe present interglacial in Britain is doubtful.
- The role of natural fire tends to be underplayed by both groups. The presence ofpyrophilic elements in the British beetle fauna and the frequency of charcoal in bogand soil profiles imply that fire is part of the natural system, although the gapsbetween major fires in deciduous forests may be long. Fire should be considered as auseful and natural management tool in the creation of forest clearings.
- The extent to which natural grazers formed part of the pre-forest clearance system hastended to be underestimated, partly as a result of the relatively poor mid-Holocenefossil record of large herbivores. Aurochs, Bos primigenius, however, is notinfrequent. As a herd animal it probably maintained some areas of open ground, notnecessarily on the floodplains, as the megaherbivores of previous interglacials did, buton the higher ground of the Chalk and other limestone outcrops.
English Nature , 2005. 62-116 p.
Abstract first is for the complete report, not just the chapter cited here.