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What kind of vegetation may I expect to encounter on a farmland that was abandoned partially about 80 and completely some 40-50 years prior?

This is medieval-style farmland, so it is not wheat for miles in every direction that we have now, but a patchwork of fields with trees scattered between them, some orchards, maybe wooded some places. It is in temperate oceanic climate.

Would it get completely covered by relatively young forest? Or would it still be largely open with pockets of trees in places were singles grown before? Would trees overgrow building ruins or should I expect it mostly free standing with some shrubs and pockets of trees?

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  • $\begingroup$ This was the state of a lot of New England & Upstate New York when I lived there. The Ice Age glaciatiation of the terrain meant that soils were poor outside river valleys. Farms in that country that dated from colonial/revolutionary times became unprofitable compared to those in the Midwest, and either converted to dairy/maple, or were abandoned. Bushes grew in the former fields, and were replaced by scrub trees, and eventually forest. So you could be out hunting in the woods, and stumble across old stone walls & foundations, or patches of naturalized daylilies. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 19, 2021 at 23:13

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The natural state of most of western and central Europe (and of the northen parts of eastern Europe) is an endless forest; any land left alone will quickly revert to this natural state.

This is how the Ukrainian city of Pripyat looked like 25 years after it was abandoned as a consequence of the Chernobyl accident. (And Pripyat is in a continental temperate climate. I would expect the forest to grow even more vigorously in an oceanic temperate climate.)

Pripyat

A panorama of the Ukrainian ghost city of Pripyat in 2011. Photograph by Bkv7601, available on Wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Here is a picture of a large-ish construction site in Bucharest, 20 years after it was abandoned in 1989:

Derelict construction site of the Song of Romania Creative Center

In the late 1980s, the Communist government of Romania embarked on a large scale urban remodelling project, intended to change the face of Bucharest. One of the projects was to be the Creative Center "Song of Romania". In 1989 the Communists fell from power, and the construction was abandoned. This is how the site looked like 20 years later. Own work, available on Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

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  • $\begingroup$ And the biggest inhibitor of forest growth in these situations is the presence of paved roads, concrete pads and buildings. They are not a common feature of medieval farmland. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ If you think there were no trees in Pripyat before 1986 you are wrong. There was forest around and there were trees inside. $\endgroup$
    – D'Monlord
    Aug 2, 2022 at 11:28
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20 Acres in the Country:

My family wanted land in the country, even though we lived in the city. So we bought 20 acres of former pasture land (semi-wooded) and set up a really large garden where we gardened about three acres on weekends and tried to grow various things and found what the animals would or wouldn't eat up while we were away for the week.

Eventually, we bought a house in the country and stopped trying to garden on the 20 acres. So after about 30 years of being left to grow up, the hugely oversized garden is now a cluster of bushes in a spot in the woods where it looked like a tree might have once fallen. Even the wild raspberries growing nearby have been completely overgrown, and you can no longer tell where there was any garden. Something shifted in the drainage, and one end has become a muddy puddle.

The rest of the land, most of which was clear, we had planted in trees to try and get Christmas trees to sell. Those tiny pine seedlings we didn't end up selling (mostly those that turned out imperfect) are now full-grown trees. You'd never imagine there was ever pasture there at all. Where there were gaps in the trees, other trees grew in to fill the empty spots and the only way you know we planted the trees is that some are conifers and others are deciduous.

The rusting hulk of a car we abandoned there is still recognizable, and surprisingly the abandoned outhouse we built looks semi-normal (but don't go in, the floor is bad).

So if your land was switched to pasture 80 years ago, and then abandoned to grow wild 40-50 years ago, there might be a slight effect on the nature of vegetation due to starting trees. But after that long (and in a medieval setting) I doubt there would be much to find at all except crumbling buildings.

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I've only encountered terrain like this once. It was in South Carolina. The former farm fields had been taken over by tall grasses, and trees and prickly-pear cacti were beginning to gain a foothold. The forests around the fields were beginning to expand, and one could often see traces of old cabins/farmhouses hidden in an overgrowth of vines, trees, and shrubs.

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