Forest litter harvesting is among the most important agricultural uses of forests. This by-product of the forest was traditionally used in the stables, where it was mixed with dung to produce fertiliser, so the intensity of harvesting was directly linked to the demand for forest litter and the availability of alternative material (e.g., straw, sedge, reed). In the late 19th century, the modernisation of agriculture and the globalization of the grain market caused a shortage of straw in the lowland areas of Switzerland, which led to a sharp increase in demand. In the mountainous regions of Switzerland, forest litter had been equally indispensable, even before 1800, due to the introduction of potatoes and the ensuing decline in crop cultivation. Improved and cheaper means of straw transport put an end to the period of intensive forest litter harvesting, around 1900 in the lowland areas and in the 1960s in mountainous regions. However, the effects on forests as an ecosystem have outlived the actual practice of litter harvesting. Interpreting these effects in the context of nature conservation raises the question of whether a local re-introduction of forest litter harvesting might be desirable. Experiments will help to answer this question.

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