Gräsö – changing landscape
Land uplift area
Map of farm land in 1800. Green
plots are meadows
Farm land after second land reform
of 1867, yellow plots are arable
Regional map 1905
Historical land-use development
During the 16th century the Söderboda meadows, now on Gräsö, were an archipelago with shallow sounds and inlets. Through land uplift more and more land ended up above the waterline and larger areas of the archipelago could be used for mowing hay and for grazing animals.
On the maps one can clearly see how the meadows are situated in shallow depressions between moraine hillocks and rock exposures. The islet Krakskäret that can be seen on the map from 1800 had become a part of the mainland by 1867. Also by today also the westernmost sound is dry and is being grazed by cattle.
To increase the efficiency of the agriculture in Sweden nationwide, land reforms were carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first land reform, the “storskiftet”, was carried out in Söderboda village on Gräsö in 1800.
The meadows were divided up between the separate farms but the land was still grazed communally. The second land reform, “Laga skifte”, was carried out at Söderboda village in 1867. All the remaining land was now divided up between the separate farms. Wooden fences were erected between different farmers’ land, whether meadows or grazing.
In Roslagen there were many ironworks that needed charcoal for their production. Some of this charcoal was produced on Gräsö and gave the islanders extra income. Charcoal production, the building of wooden fences (Gärdesgårdar) and the grazing of the forest created woodlands with glades and a great variety of trees, bushes, herbs and other vegetation. In the grazed woodlands there are old ash trees and pine trees, key species for nesting woodpeckers and for beetles.
Deserted woodpecker cavities provide homes for squirrels and small birds. Sun-drenched old pine trees are a habitat for many insects, both on the bark and within the timber. As late as in to the 1920s forest grazing was the predominant form of pasture in Sweden. A law was then enacted that stipulated that forestry activities are the economical basis of forestland. The animals were removed from the woodlands and put to graze grasslands, though some farmers didn’t have enough grassland for the animals and continued to graze the forests.
Shift in land use
The meadows started to be ploughed and cultivated during the second half of the 19th century, but there were still quite a few meadows in use during the first half of the 20th century. During the 1960s a lot of land was converted into arable. But since then a lot of these fields have only been used for grass production. Some of them are now beginning to return to their former species-rich state whilst others are still bearing very obvious signs of cultivation and fertilization.
There are still 2000 pollared trees growing in this area as a tell tale sign of just how intensively the old time farmers had to use the land. The number of hay barns scattered over the area also tells us how intensively the meadows were used. There are also summer milking parlours since the days when the dairy cows were kept on the aftermath after the hay harvest. This system worked well since grazing closer to the homestead had run out by that time of year.