Taming the wild
The settlement of Cistercians waste places, with their practical survival imperative for self-sufficiency, initiated an active process of improved agriculture and the conversion of moorland, woodland and scrub to better grassland.  In this the order was an important part of the European movement that resulted in large-scale land clearance for grazing. These lands mostly had acid, siliceous soils and at high altitudes the moors vegetated by heather, cotton-sedge and purple moor grass, often had peaty soils, or indeed in the wettest places a blanket of peat often 2-6 metres deep. These heaths and moors were a useful source of grazing and of fuel from peat, but were often eyed as potential agricultural land by groups of people who were willing to invest personal and animal energy in transforming them. The heaths and the lower edge of the moorland might be potentially cultivable by squatters, who were dispossessed by individuals seeking to create an commercial agricultural holding.
The boundary between enclosed and cultivated land around the Cistercian abbeys moved upward as 'intakes' of land were made; conversely at times of lower prices or harsher climate, the intakes were abandoned and the vegetation slowly reverted to the wild as the stone walls fell and crumbled away.
Paring, using a breast spade, and burning was a commonly employed practice in monastic reclamations.  Medieval farmers reclaiming upland moors in England had to pare off and burn 8-10 cm of acid peat, as well as clear away stones and construct field boundaries. Burning the peat, followed by ploughing, produced a soil with better drainage, higher pH and lower organic matter levels which was friable and fertile enough for cultivation. The lowland heaths (as found in Germany, the Netherlands and England, for instance) once enclosed were easier to maintain as grasslands or arable, so areas once dominated by them have seen the piecemeal disintegration of large areas of heathland into smaller relict pieces: the gloomy air of the Wessex heaths so strongly pervasive of Thomas Hardy's novels has been dissipated by the conversion of many of them to improved pasture. In the Suffolk sandlings until the early twentieth century the heaths were an integral part of a rural economy of sheep and rabbit warrening. This has now disintegrated, leaving odd patches of scrubby heath for military training, nature conservation, and outdoor recreation.