There was a lot of wild forest in the early Middle Ages, around 75% in the 9th century according to Wikipedia, much of which was cleared during the population boom in the High Middle Ages. I also read on Wikipedia that in the late Middle Ages the European population possibly dropped by half due to the events sometimes collectively known as the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages (Black Death, Great Famine of 1315-1317 and the Little Ice Age), with the population not replenishing to pre-crisis levels for some centuries.

Although I found a number of sourcescite needed talking about the ramifications of the population decline, I couldn't find anything specifically about the land, and whether or not there was any notable return of farmed/cleared land to wilderness or forest after the population decline, including agricultural land, pasture, or managed woodland.

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    It doesn't take too long for a forest to claim former farming fields. I have a friend who bought acreage in western New York. When he bought it, it was all forest. But he found a photo of the property from the 1890s, and it was all farming fields and an apple orchard. He cut his way into the forest and found the old apple trees, too - still there.
    – Smith
    Jan 22 at 15:37
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    Lots of research on this topic available. See, for example, Nature: nature.com/articles/….
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 22 at 16:38
  • What definition do you use for wilderness?
    – gerrit
    Jan 22 at 17:02
  • @JonCuster Interesting, it shows still an increase of population in the eastern parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Jan 22 at 19:05

1 Answer 1


If you speak German, you might want to look for terms like Wüstung or, more specifically, Flurwüstung. The short version is that (in Germany) there definitely were quite a number of villages and even towns that were given up in the 14th/15th century.

In some cases, the fields and meadows continued to be used as fields and meadows, in others they eventually turned into forests. Opinions vary on whether German forests are really wilderness, though.

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    Isn't that when the famous fairy tales in dark forests (Hansel & Gretel, etc.) emerged?
    – Jos
    Jan 22 at 4:31
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    @VladimirFГероямслава fairy tales have to start somewhere or are based on something. I know that many fairy tales involving cannibalism originate in or after the 30 years war. I wouldn't be surprised some are even older.
    – Jos
    Jan 22 at 8:45
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    Any reference to that last sentence? Not doubting you, but I'd like to learn more on that topic (and it is kind of expected to reference non-trivial assertions here, but mostly I just want to educate myself).
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 22 at 14:12
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    @T.E.D The source (which I would have to look again first) said something very close to "usage is forest is land usage too", which I admit I extrapolated a bit from.
    – Jan
    Jan 22 at 15:42
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    @T.E.D. it is right in the wikipedia article where it discusses problems with the definition of abandoned land: "Auch die Wiederbewaldung bedeutet kein Ende menschlichen Wirtschaftens."
    – Jan
    Jan 22 at 16:01

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