Europe’s landscapes show surprisingly little cultural variation in any given climatic region. Where I live, in Belgium’s humid temperate zone, huge monoclonal cropfields stretch to the horizon, undisturbed by hedge or tree. Drive due east, through Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia, and much the same landscape will greet you all the way to the Urals. After the second world war, “Progress” came to mean consolidating farmland into huge fields, grubbing up hedges and woodlots, and pushing peasant farmers into semi-industrial farms—big, “clean”, mechanized fields.
In the European Union, the solid wall that divided agriculture from forestry for many decades contributed to this sorry state of affairs. Subsidies propped up trees in forests – and grubbed them up on farmland. Until 2006, any farmer with trees in his field was penalized for his temerity under the CAP, the Common Agricultural Policy: the area covered by the crowns of his trees was simply removed from the calculated surface of his field, on which his direct payment subsidy depended. Good luck to you if you were a tree on the wrong side of the line. But even after 2006, arbitrary limits remained. For example, no more than 50 trees per hectare – irrespective of their age.Read more. . .