Wooded meadows are traditional seminatural communities that few hundred years ago were widespread in the countries around the Baltic Sea but also in other parts of Europe. They are sparse natural wooded areas with regularly mown herb layer where the characteristic appearance and species composition preserves only as a result of traditional agricultural activities: mowing or/and grazing. In terms of appearance and ecological conditions, wooded meadows are similar to parks, yet are considerably older and initially arose from natural communities.
Wooded meadows are one of the oldest ecosystems that have arisen through the interactions between man and nature in the forest zone. Most probably the first communities similar to wooded meadows started to appear around the early settlements about 7000-8000 years ago. As a result of wider development of animal husbandry in Estonian areas about 4000 years ago the importance of wooded meadows continuously grew. Historically the distribution of wooded meadows and pastures has been very wide, likely encompassing a large proportion of animal husbandry regions in the temperate zone, but mown wooded meadows were typical only of Northern Europe. Wooded meadows performed as polyfunctional sources of hay, wood, berries, mushrooms and hazelnuts, and had also a strong impact on the formation of Estonian ancient religious beliefs and rituals.
The area of wooded meadows started to decrease when population density and need for larger production grew. In most of the regions of Europe these unique ecosystems disappeared already several hundred years ago with the development of intensive agriculture. In Estonia the area of wooded meadows was the largest at the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century when they covered approximately about one fifth of Estonian territory. (- 8500000 ha).Then the importance of wooded meadows started to decrease: more productive communities were turned into cultural grasslands and less fertile areas became overgrown. Mechanization was accompanied by giving up manual labor that had been one of the main premises for the survival of the wooded meadows. The characteristic appearance and species composition of an unmown wooded disappears already within every 5-10 years. The area of wooed meadows in Estonia has decreased more that thousand times about 1000 ha of wooded meadows have survived up today, mainly concentrated in the western part of Estonia. Everywhere else in Europe the unique communities have practically vanished. Wooded meadows represent a number of natural and cultural values why they need to be protected. They distinguish form other agricultural landscapes because of the unusually high plant species richness both on the ecosystem and micro-community level. For that reason they have been of great interest to many scientists. These communities are habitats for many rare and endangered species. Opposite to modern agricultural ecosystems wooded meadows represent a remarkable aesthetic value that is expressed in the diverse flora and fauna as well as in the characteristic heterogeneous appearance of half-opened landscape. Wooded meadows encompass the set of ancient agricultural traditions including former working methods, tools and celebrations related to agricultural activities. They serve an example of respective and wise attitude towards nature.
Consequently, Estonian wooded meadows meet the criteria both of cultural as well as natural sites and qualify into the third category of cultural landscapes (39iii) - they have survived only due to certain connections between culture and nature. To outline the significance of the concept of wooded meadows, we propose a serial nomination of 8 Estonian most representative wooded meadows.