Highlights: In large scale (0–20 km), the proportion of spruce in forest stands was positively affected by distance from old villages. This relationship was non-linear with a threshold distance of 15 km; In small scale (0–5 km), old villages affected tree species composition and age structure of forests. Effect on age structure was the strongest on stands growing on mineral soils.
The information about location and size of past human settlements can give new insights into the analysis of landscape structures. Vodlozero National Park (NP) is one the largest strictly protected areas in Northwestern Europe. We mapped the location of historic villages, which were abandoned in 1958, and studied the effect of past human activity in the forest landscape in two different scales using forest survey data. We assessed the possible change in age, volume and tree species composition from the edge of open fields up to the distance of 5 km from villages. We made a larger landscape analysis using a grid of forest stands covering the whole northern part of the NP. The past human activity was clearly visible in the present forest landscape. Distance from villages affected age, volume and tree species composition of the forest stands. This effect was the strongest within the first two kilometers from the villages. At the level of whole northern NP, the proportion of spruce markedly increased after approximately 15 km from the nearest old village. The changes in the forests surrounding the villages were most likely the result of the intensive use of wood for different commodities needed in households and farming, in addition to short rotation slash and burn agriculture. If the occurrence of forest fires was more frequent closer to villages than in more remote areas, it can well explain the observed pattern in the abundance of spruce in the larger landscape that is less tolerant to fire than pine.