The time of the High Middle Ages was marked by a surge in agricultural production. The need for arable land, coupled with the need for building supplies for new cities and other demands on timber, resulted in a mass deforestation across the European continent.
The wood produced in the clearing of forests was used in an array of very industrious ways. The surplus of usable timber was often a means for cooking, heating, and iron forging. Not only was the timber useful in terms of fire, but in building structures as well. The population was soaring during this time, which desperately increased the need for homes, mills and perhaps most important to the medieval population, churches. Credit is also to be credited to timber for the construction of massive ships and fortresses and other city fortifications and infrastructure like bridges and perhaps even wooden aqueducts.
Although useful in many ways, the often excessive use of timber left the population in a position unique to the time. Timber became increasingly hard to find as a result of such deforestation. This made future building projects, as well as the price of timber much more expensive. In other words, the rate at which the population harvested trees was unsustainable.
The concept of ravaging entire forests seems pretty wild today. As a result of what most know about issues in current environmental science, we’re compelled to rent a time machine to tell the people of medieval Europe not to do it! “use in moderation”, we’d say.
I’m of the opinion that much more research is necessary on my part to determine the short and long term effects of such deforestation. Obviously, much can be gained from the use of valuable material in timber. However, what were the immediate environmental effects reeked upon the people? We know from the text that an array of other health and environmental hazards were frequently identified and common to the life of Europeans in the Middle Ages, so it is intriguing to know that such deforestation was NOT present during times previous to other such environmental woes.
I guess it’s safe to say that the high middle ages were a time of environmental degradation. The cyclical nature of man and his respective environment is somewhat tumultuous. Mankind has a tendency to be fickle towards the earth, a favor which is commonly returned by the natural world.