Sustainable environments: Common wood pastures in Norfolk

P. Dallas

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8 Citations (Scopus)


The following paper examines the management and sustainability of wood pasture on the commons of Norfolk from the medieval period until the early nineteenth century. It has been generally accepted that areas of common wood pasture were particularly unstable environments, subject to overgrazing and tree removal with little means of maintaining the dual resources of pasture and wood. However, evidence from the populous and intensively farmed county of Norfolk challenges that assertion. Using sources including manorial records, manuscript maps and the documentation associated with Parliamentary Enclosure this paper demonstrates that individual tenants and groups of commoners defended their right to use and maintain wooded common pastures. Manorial records defined customary rights to manage existing pollards and for the regular planting of young trees on commons. Peasant farmers continued to exercise these rights throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and, when challenged, took their grievances to the law courts, making full use of the contemporary judicial system. The evidence from Norfolk suggests that wood pastures were managed and replenished by those with common rights, who sustained this resource despite opposition and the potential for overuse. Only when the commons themselves succumbed to Enclosure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century did common wood pasture cease to be a customary part of the Norfolk landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-36
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

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