Since the settlement of the Sauerland, the forest has been used in many different ways. Until about 200 years ago, the Sauerland forests consisted mainly of Buchenwald. The wood was used for building houses, as firewood, for the production of charcoal and for making household goods.
Another widespread use of the forest was haymaking. Cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys were driven into the forest by the communal shepherds for feeding. In autumn the pigs were fattened with acorns and beechnuts. Only in winter the animals were kept in the stable.
In order to obtain bedding for the cattle and fertilizer for the fields, leaves were collected from the forest on a large scale and plaggen in the form of grass sod and forest soil was cut. The forest soil became increasingly impoverished due to continuous nutrient depletion.
Due to centuries of overuse of the forest, only 1/3 of the Sauerland was forested by 1800. Instead of the formerly closed forests, heaths and grass steppes with isolated trees and bushes characterized large parts of the landscape. The remaining forests were coppices or over-aged, sparse groves, in which huge trees with wide crowns stood.
To counteract the destruction of the forests, various regulations were made at the beginning of the 19th century to protect them. Cattle herding and the removal of leaf litter were prohibited. In order to meet the shortage of wood, large areas of the Heid were reforested with the non-native but undemanding spruce. The time of regulated forestry began. Only since this time has there been a strict separation between agricultural and forestry areas.
The sparse Buchenwalds on the slopes of the Borberg form a strong contrast to the often gloomy spruce forest. They correspond to the natural vegetation before the settlement of the Sauerland.
Report of a contemporary witness
Somewhat pathetically but impressively, Johann Nepomuk von Schwerz describes the Brilon district at the beginning of the 19th century as follows:"...If the farmlands or private property are far away, the common pastures are even more so. The cows... have to make a daily journey of 2 to 3 hours to a forest district, which is intended for them for the Weide. In the evening they come home, having traveled a distance of 5 to 6 hours in all. ...Without exaggeration I can testify that there are people here, as in Altenbüren, who keep 6 cows, and if they do not have a goat on the side, have to buy the milk ...for their breakfast." VON SCHWERZ (1836, P.26)