Mapping the Forests of Medieval Novgorod

Novgorod and its woodlands today. But what did it look like 1200 years ago?

Research Update: 19 February 2016.

The team made a breakthrough this week when Harry Manley, our Mapping and GIS Expert, and Dr Elena Cantarello, Forest Modelling Expert, managed to work out how to randomly distribute open spaces within our model of the primary forest in around AD 800. Obviously, the amount of open space within the forest would have varied depending on soil type, height OD, hydrology, climate fluctuations and perhaps even wind direction, so our model needs to try to estimate the impact of these and other factors. Devising a method to account for this is crucial to the creation of a feasible starting point in our simulations. When we run the model next week, we should know if it’s worked. Exciting!

So why are open spaces so important? Well, we need to make sure that our model can continue to populate the forest through natural patterns of seed and pollen dispersal before we can begin to examine the impact that humans had on woodlands. Most of our fifteen or so key species require open land on which to propagate otherwise the canopy of other, larger trees will cut off the all important sunlight needed for new and sustained growth. If we can crack this element of the modelling, so that our simulated forest regenerates in a way that ecologists would see as ‘natural’, then we can move on and introduce different levels of human interference (slash and burn land-clearance, ploughing and tilling, creation of open meadows, extensive use of timber for construction and fuel, etc) to our model. Then the fun really begins!