The forest: a natural space with contrasting representations

What representations do we have of forests in France?

From threatening, the forest is threatened

Contrasting representations! And this contrast is born from the Middle Ages by its three main users. The nobles associate it with a leisure space where they can hunt, the monastic orders with a space for meditation and the people with a living space from which they can fetch food or heat. Poorly developed, the forest is also a refuge for the outcasts of society, a space of freedom but also a hostile, even threatening space. I XVIIIand century, the forests became a strategic resource for royalty: they provided the wood needed for the production of ships, the blacksmiths, and the heating of the first major cities. Colbert then laid down, by the ordinance of 1669, the first rules for the management and development of large-scale forests, and strongly codified the rights of use. Despite this state voluntariness, the French forest area continued to decline until the revolution. From threatening, the forest was threatened: not until 1840 16% of territory the big city remains forested [contre 31% en 2021]. An aesthetic vision of forests then emerged in the 19thand century during the dynamics of artists, such as the Barbizon painters. This movement promotes the grandeur and benefits of nature and fights fiercely against deforestation, resulting in the creation of the first reserves in Fontainebleau. At that time, two visions also clashed between foresters: that of a relatively “natural” forest, where human action was not very visible, and the needs of the locals defined its various uses, and its opposite, object management more centered on the production of trees, often by of the same kind and of the same age, aimed at satisfying the needs of the nascent industry. This last vision, known as the Ecole de Nancy, will be favored in 1eh The Water and Forest Act of 1827. Even today, while forests above all represent a natural space for most French people (including forest owners), these two visions are still relevant despite the 2001 Multifunctional Forests Act, which seeks to unite them.

Does climate change affect this division of visions?

In the context of climate change, each side has legitimate environmental goals

What is new in this debate between forest conservation and utilization in connection with climate change is that each side has legitimate goals from an environmental point of view. In one case it is a question of replacing fossil fuels responsible for global warming with renewable energy, and this choice requires harvesting more wood, for heating, for building … In the other case, it is conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, which is a priority, we therefore need more measured harvesting of timber and finding other resources to meet our needs. The challenge is therefore to utilize the forest sensibly and at the same time respect its various functions. Some countries, especially England and the United States, have chosen to divide forest areas into two: on the one hand commercial forests exclusively dedicated to the production of wood (in priority, although there are other uses) and on the other extremely protected forests, where human intervention is reduced to a minimum. Europe and France in particular have chosen a different path: the forest is defined there as a multifunctional space that its users must share for its ability to produce wood, purify water or simply as a landscape for walks. Finding a compromise is not that easy. Even in countries where forest culture to us seems to be more entrenched, where the inhabitants are historically accustomed to clearing trees, movements are emerging towards “template afforestation”. In May 2018, the Finnish Parliament examined a petition signed by citizens with the aim of restricting or even banning clearing in state forests. Faced with these tensions, foresters, who used to be the only holders of knowledge and decision-making power, can no longer impose their vision of “good” management, as was the case until the 20th century.and century. There are several options for them: communicate better about forestry practices and hope that the public sticks to their discourse, change their management practices to integrate some of society’s expectations, etc. But how to decide on legitimate expectations without weakening forestry activity, what is more in a context of climatic uncertainty? Consulting multiple stakeholders on different scales is another way to redefine forest-community relationships together.

Participate in research to discover an ecosystem


Since 2018, school and high school students from 17 European countries have studied the resistance mechanisms of oak trees to herbivorous insects in different climates together with scientists as part of the “Oak Keepers” project. Using modeling of clay larvae and following the same protocol from Spain to Finland, students and teachers measure the damage caused by herbivorous insects on trees. Preliminary results show that not all of these insects are affected by the climate or the defenses of the trees.

Experience the project “egepasser”.


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