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The Medieval Warm Period was marked by a significant increase in average temperatures throughout Europe from around the mid-10th century to around the mid-13th century. This allowed an expansion of cultivation zones for crops such as wheat and grapes farther north within Europe.

This period coincided with massive deforestation and marshland conversion programs in Northern and Western Europe, sometimes called the Great Clearances, which were designed to increase the arable land available (Hoffmann, Richard. An Environmental History of Medieval Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 119-131).

I read a paper suggesting a causal link between the favorable climate changes and the drastic deforestation programs (Berglund, Bjorn. "Human impact and climate changes—synchronous events and a causal link?" Quaternary International 105 (2003): p. 7). It does seem reasonable to suspect that the appearance of newly favorable climates played a role in decisions to expand arable land.

Is there historical evidence supporting such a causal link? If so, were the Great Clearances enacted primarily to take advantage of a shift in suitable cultivation zones?

Update:

To clarify, I'm not looking for documentation that deforestation occurred per se because it was warmer. Instead, I expect there might be historical evidence that agricultural expansion programs were specifically enacted in certain regions due to a new recognition that cereal and other crops could grow there when they couldn't grow there before.

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2 Answers 2

I doubt you will find clear evidence for it. Dendrochronology, the science of dating by tree-ring analysis, can show fluctuations in temperature cycles, and has even been found to show growth stunting due to large-scale volcanic eruptions which caused a darkening of the skies for a protracted period of time (months rather than days).

Whether trees were cut down because it got warmer and the climate more conducive to growing cereal or grapes, cannot, in my professional opinion as a 22-year veteran Field Archaeologist, be conclusively proven without direct documented evidence. Anything else, such as the causal link suggestion piece you mention, are working hypotheses only.

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I seriously doubt you're going to find a publication from the era written by the local equivalent of Al Gore complaining about how the clearing of the forests to make new farmland is causing global warming...
And yes, that's tongue in cheek but it's also quite real. There's simply not going to be any period publications stating that they cleared the forests because temperatures were now high enough to make living in those areas possible.
So you have to go on what you already know: temperatures went up, allowing farming to extend further north, and this coincided with reduction in forests at those latitudes.
So either people cleared those forests for farmland, or they disappeared on their own and the now available land was turned into farmland. Take your pick (remembering that if grain and other food crops can grow better, so can trees, so why would the trees disappear on their own).

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I'm not looking for documentation that deforestation occurred because it was warmer per se. Instead, I expect there might be documentation that agricultural expansion programs were specifically enacted in certain regions due to a new recognition that cereal and other crops could grow there when they couldn't grow there before. –  Fred Apr 29 at 7:01

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