Julien Blanco , Anne Sourdril, Marc Deconchat, Sylvie Ladet, Emilie Andrieu , Landscape and Urban Planning, March 2018
Farm forests and trees outside forests (i.e., ‘rural forests’) are key components for the sustainability of agricultural landscapes. Farmers are the main managers of rural forests and their practices vary according to a range of individual and collective factors. This diversity in management practices challenges the understanding of landscape patterns and dynamics, in particular at local and regional scales. In this study, we combined forest mapping over 150 years, ethnographic investigations and mental models to investigate the social drivers of rural forests in a French case study. Results showed a stability of woodlands and groves, favored by the social organization system, i.e., a self-reliance and house-centered system. Recent tree encroachment in abandoned lands – caused by rural exodus and the intensification of agriculture – resulted in a spread of woodlands. In addition, a shift from family-based to market-oriented woodland management was observed, contributing to the homogenization of forest management practices. Hedgerows declined but with contrasted trends according to their location and adjacent land uses: in-farm hedgerows that obstructed mechanization declined, whereas boundary hedgerows that assisted in the maintenance of farmers’ estates were reinforced. Scattered trees were considered of little interest by farmers and declined. This study achieved an understanding of rural forest patterns and underlying social drivers. Mental models provided a basis for exploring the tradeoffs between ecosystem services and disservices operated by farmers. They also revealed differences between scientific and farmer classifications of trees outside forests. Mental models constitute a promising tool for reinforcing bonds between the social and natural sciences.