One of the reasons that OVP has become so significant is due to its association with the Dutch ecologist Frans Vera. Vera became famous for his disputed hypothesis regarding the paleoecology of Central and Western Europe. The widely-shared view amongst paleoecologists is that the climax community of Western Europe was (and therefore still is) a mature ‘high forest’.

Instead, in his book Forest Ecology and Grazing History , Vera argues that these pre-agricultural landscapes were more likely to have been characterised by a shifting mosaic of forests and pasture. This landscape, he argued, would have been kept open by herds of large herbivores. The debate is ongoing and is based on different interpretation of pollen and other paleontological materials.

Vera’s experiments at OVP were partly designed to simulate the ecological conditions of the Pleistocene to establish what types of ecological dynamics might have characterised this period. For a number of reasons – including the confined space and the absence of predators, these experiments have not been conclusive – but they have helped put OVP on the map.

Damaged trees of which the bark is eaten in winter by herbivores at OVP

Heated debates about the veracity and desirability of Vera’s new dynamic paradigm for Northern European (paleo)ecology are most significant for their contemporary conservation implications. For land managers Vera’s model challenges the authority of appeals to a timeless balanced forest nature and its predictable typologies of habitats, indicator species, site designations and management action plans. It demands new, unfamiliar and fluid biogeographies. For critics, rewilding through naturalistic grazing is too uncertain, experimental and unpredictable.



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