The story of the oak forests of Ciuc

Given the age of the Earth history, it would be too long to describe the bio-geology history of the small “continent”, we call the Ciuc (Csíki) basin (Transylvania, Romania), although a brief look back, may help many of us to shed new light on this landscape, always thought to be cold and isolated.

We begin our story in the Middle Ages. The landscape of that time can be reconstructed in the simplest way from place names and descriptions. Looking at these, we can say that with great certainty that hundreds of years ago, oak forests have dominated the area. There are plenty of places that contain the word “oak” in their names. Other signs also indicate the presence of oak forests in the region. Wooden remains and support beams, excavated during archaeological surveys, are made of oak which suggests that may have been extensive oak forests nearby since transporting trees of this size, in the absence of a navigable river, would have been very difficult given the conditions of the age, thus, it can be reasonably assumed that they would have been harvested from the nearby forests. Other descriptions include feeding pigs with acorns, which is an old practice in the use of the oak forests, a practice that was later abandoned probably due to the disappearance of the forests.

In addition to circumstantial evidence, specific observations also confirm the past presence of oak trees. In many pastures, meadows, and some villages, we can find hundreds of years old oaks, which, as messengers left here from the past, tell us about the former presence of the once extensive forests.

But what happened to the oak forest?

Village laws undoubtedly show that the people in the region clung to their forests, however, by the end of the 18th century, most of the forests between settlements had completely disappeared.

Although the need for wood of the foundry in the upper part of the basin played a role in the destruction of the deciduous forests in the basin, perhaps a more major role is to be found in the rapid expansion of agricultural lands during the 17th and 18th centuries. In addition to the human factor, climatic factors also contributed to the disappearance of the oak forests in the basin. From the 17th century onwards, the climate of the entire Carpathian Basin changed, and the previously warmer and wetter climate was followed by a humid but colder period that continues to this day. Thus the decimated oaks were unable to regenerate and agricultural areas in the lower parts of the basin, and spruce-beech-fir associations in the higher zones took their places.

Can we give another chance to the oak forests in the area?

To answer yes to our question, and the oak forests of the region could regenerate, both climatic and human factors must be optimal. Perhaps we will find it easier to examine the climatic factors first. Climate change also affects the Ciuc (Csíki) basin, and in the coming centuries, it is likely that the vegetation of the basin will have to cope with a drier and warmer climate. These changes will be more favourable to hornbeam-oak woods, and less favourable to the extensive pine forests which characterize the higher part of the basin today.

The 21st century has not only brought us climate change, but we are also witnessing a social transformation as well. We increasingly see nature not only as a resource that can be exploited indefinitely but as a companion to be defended, without which the fate of our human civilization is in jeopardy.

As a result, we have decided to give a new opportunity for the oaks to regenerate, in an area where their presence was once typical. Meeting our aspirations, in the spring of 2020 we planted in several abandoned, degraded pastures in the Ciuc (Csíki) basin. Work began on 1.2 hectares at the border of Sândominic (Csíkszentdomokos), where about 3,000 sessile oak (Quercus petraea) and 500 pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) seedlings were planted during April. This was followed by Racu (Csíkrákos) where 700 sessile oak and 100 pedunculate oak seedlings came to their new homeland. In the spring and autumn of 2021, we were back in action, and our planned forest patch consisted of around 11 500 seedlings. At the same time, we also put up an information panel on the site so that visitors can read about our project and the history of the area. Until 2023, we planted more than 43,000 seedlings on a 5 hectare area.

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  • Botár István, A Csíki-medence középkori környezeti viszonyairól, Marisia 1 (2019), p. 91-118, ISSN 2668-7232
  • IPCC, 2013: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1535 pp.

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