Multi-Use Management of the Medieval Anglo-Norman Forest
By Dolores Wilson
Journal of the Oxford University History Society, Vol.2 (2004)
Introduction: Modern public perceptions of man’s interaction with the environment are heavily rooted in our post-industrial setting. The environment comes to the forefront each year, especially for school children, via Earth Day celebrations. The first Earth Day in 1970 was organized as a ‘teach-in’ with both an educational and a protest flavour. In tone, it was negative: a forum to express American concerns about degradation of the land, rivers, lakes, and air. In this Earth Day setting, man is viewed as the destroyer, the polluter of the environment. This has a serious impact on the perception of man’s historical interaction with the environment: if man has done such a bad job of keeping our environment healthy in spite of all of our modern scientific knowledge, how much more damage must he have done in the past in his ignorance?
Yet a critical look at legal documents of the first three Anglo-Norman kings, who reigned over England and Normandy from 1066 to 1135, reveals that medieval landholders in this kingdom practised conscious forestry management to balance all of the demands on woodland resources; and their practices were not that different from those implemented in the modern forestry systems of the United Kingdom and United States. Despite the commonly held view that medieval man consumed his resources without control, the Middle Ages were in fact a time of balancing the multiple uses of the forest to obtain the highest feasible short and long-term economic benefit.