iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Forest functions and space: a geohistorical perspective of European forests

Roberto Pilli (1)   , Andrea Pase (2)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 11, Issue 1, Pages 79-89 (2018)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor2316-010
Published: Jan 31, 2018 - Copyright © 2018 SISEF

Review Papers

The history of man has been linked to the history of wood since prehistoric times and because the forest is the main place where this resource is available, forest spaces are also directly linked to the evolution of human society. The objective of this paper is to analyze the historical evolution of the functions assigned by humans to forests, highlighting how they affect the production of space from a diachronic perspective. Focusing our attention on some European countries, we highlight that although historically, wood production was the most important function provided by wooded lands, other functions were also attributed to forests. The awareness of these functions emerged when an overexploitation of forest resources produced a lack of a specific service. When these services corresponded to a societal demand, they produced welfare benefits for the society, which were recognized as forest functions. Thus even the functions evolved in time according to the evolution of societal needs. Evaluating when and how each societal demand emerged, and consequently the moment each function was recognized, is an essential prerequisite even for a more accurate interpretation of current forest management practices. Not only is the temporal dimension of forest functions relevant, so is the spatial scale, which may differ considerably between them, ranging from the specific forest area and its owner for the productive function; to the catchment area and its inhabitants for the protective function; to a potentially larger area for the cultural and biodiversity function; and to the entire globe for the carbon-retention function. The strict, and sometimes competing, interactions between these functions may also be recognized in the production of space, which evolved in time according to the evolution of the corresponding societal needs. A forest parcel assigned to a productive function is a material space, marked in the field by colored signs, but it may also be virtually represented by a forest model or be part of some protected area. But this picture would change if, instead of looking at the present, we consider the past and the different sensations and representations concerned with forests. These complex interactions, between different functions and spatial dimensions, justify the need to balance a segregative management system with a wider, multi-functional integrated approach. What has emerged from our study is that to reach this difficult equilibrium, it is useful to consider the production processes of these forest spaces. Through this analytical approach, we can understand the interactions occurring over time between the evolution of the demands expressed by society and the main changes occurred on the forest landscape.


Forest Functions, Services, Production of Space, History, Sustainable Forest Management

Authors’ address

Roberto Pilli
European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Directorate D - Sustainable Resources - Bio-Economy Unit, Ispra, VA (Italy)
Andrea Pase
Università di Padova, Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell’Antichità, Padova (Italy)

Corresponding author



Pilli R, Pase A (2018). Forest functions and space: a geohistorical perspective of European forests. iForest 11: 79-89. - doi: 10.3832/ifor2316-010

Academic Editor

Luca Salvati

Paper history

Received: Dec 15, 2016
Accepted: Nov 21, 2017

First online: Jan 31, 2018
Publication Date: Feb 28, 2018
Publication Time: 2.37 months

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