These definitions are obviously based on the trees as the dominant organisms. This is a convenient way of setting wooded areas apart but it should be borne in mind that a complete forest or woodland is the sum of the tens of thousands of other plants, animals and microbes. More recently, definitions of forests as complete ecosystems have tried to take this holistic message to heart (see Helms, 2002). However, even the simple definitions given above are not without their problems. The figures given in Table 1.1 from the FAO are based on defining a forest as having just 10% tree cover or more with a minimum size of 0.5 ha and so include some very open areas. Amongst European countries the minimum requirements to be called a forest vary widely: a cover of 5-30%, area of 0.05-2ha and a width of 9-50m (Kohl et al., 2000). The addition of estimates from individual countries gives western Europe 1 256 000 km2 of forest, but using the extremes of the definitions above results in a variation of 113 000 km2 (9%) around this figure. Such vagueness in definitions makes international comparisons very difficult and hampers conservation efforts. Lund (2002) suggests that there are at least 624 definitions of 'forest' used around the world!
In Britain, care is needed to distinguish the above from Forest (with a capital letter). From early Norman times (1070), a Forest was an area reserved for hunting usually by the monarch and administered under Forest Law. This definition says nothing about trees and indeed many Forests, such as the Royal Forest of Dartmoor in south-west England, were, and still are, almost treeless. As Oliver Rackham (1990, p. 165) neatly put it'... a Forest was a place of deer, not necessarily a place of trees'.
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