Previous studies often showed an in-depth ecological understanding by traditional people of managing natural resources. We studied the landscape ethnoecological knowledge (LEEK) of Szekely villagers on the basis of 16-19th century village laws. We analyzed the habitat types, ecosystem services and sustainable management types on which village laws had focused.
Szekelys had self-governed communities formed mostly of "noble peasants". Agriculture and forest use was dominated by commons and regulated by village laws framed locally by the whole community. The mountainous landscape was composed of spruce and beech woodlands, pastures, meadows and arable fields. Seventy-two archival laws from 52 villages, resulting in 898 regulations, were analyzed using the DPSIR framework. Explicit and implicit information about the contemporary ecological knowledge of Szekelys was extracted. We distinguished between responses that limited the use and supported the regeneration of ecosystem services and those responses that protected produced/available ecosystem services and ensured their fair distribution between community members.
Most regulations referred to forests (674), arable lands (562), meadows (448) and pastures (134). Szekelys regulated the proportion of arable land, pasture and forest areas consciously in order to maximize long-term exploitation of ecosystem services. The inner territory was protected against overuse by relocating certain uses to the outer territory. Competition for ecosystem services was demonstrated by conflicts of pressure-related (mostly personal) and response-related (mostly communal) driving forces. Felling of trees (oaks), grazing of forests, meadows and fallows, masting, use of wild apple/pear trees and fishing were strictly regulated. Cutting of leaf-fodder, grazing of green crops, burning of forest litter and the polluting of streams were prohibited. The collecting of other wild fruit species, medicinal plants and fungi was not regulated. Marketing by villagers and inviting outsiders to use the ecosystem services were strictly regulated, and mostly prohibited. Szekelys recognized at least 71 folk habitat types, understood ecological regeneration and degradation processes, the history of their landscape and the management possibilities of ecosystem services. Some aspects of LEEK were so well known within Szekely communities that they were not made explicit in village laws, others remained implicit because they were not related to regulations.
Based on explicit and implicit information, we argue that Szekelys possessed detailed knowledge of the local ecological system. Moreover the world's first known explicit mention of ecosystem services ("Benefits that are provided by Nature for free") originated from this region from 1786.
Molnár Zs, Gellény K, Margóczi K, Biró M: Landscape ethnoecological knowledge base and... (2015)