Key message Tree-ring growth of pollarded narrow-leaved ash trees in Central Spain reveals traditional management cessation in 1970 and property-specific management patterns.
Abstract Tree pollarding was a dominant management strategy of European forests for centuries creating open agroforestry landscapes with important cultural and environmental values. This traditional practice has been widely abandoned in last decades with a subsequent impact in terms of biodiversity and cultural loss. Central Spain hosts the largest and best-preserved area of pollarded narrow-leaved ash (Fraxinus angustifolia Vahl.) woodlands in Europe. The main aim of this research is to obtain rigorous historical records of pollarding frequency to get adequate information for traditional ash management. We used dendrochronological techniques to evaluate temporal changes of pollarding frequency and rotation length. We analysed the stand level synchrony and the effect of land property on pollarding activity from 322 trees growing in eight pollard stands in Central Spain. Pollarding events were unequivocally identified at tree level by a characteristic change in growth pattern. We identified 2426 tree-level pruning events with the first event dated in 1777. Historical pruning recurrence ranged between 5 and 10 years with higher pollarding frequency on private lands. Pruning events within each site were synchronous, suggesting the existence of a rotational schema within each stand. Pruning frequency decreased drastically in the 1970s matching with the depopulation of rural areas and the general abandonment of traditional practices. Pollarding practices have recovered in recent decades although with lower intensity and lacking the synchronic historical patterns. Providing technical and economic support to make this traditional activity.