This paper presents a regional case study of forest development and the history of forest use and management in the north-eastern lowlands of Switzerland during the 19th and 20th centuries. The analysis draws on historical documents related to forestry to consider the following aspects of forest change: forest types, growing stock, trees species composition and non-timber forest uses. Based on the data presented, three overlapping periods of forest use and management can be discerned. The 'period of traditional multiple use' lasted until the second half of the 19th century. From the mid 19th to the mid 20th century, a 'period of primacy of timber production' occurred. During the 20th century, the 'period of modern multi-impact management' has developed. For these three periods, groups of main actors, their needs and interests, and how they were causing the changes in the aspects under study were defined. This procedure of defining periods and the respective groups of main actors is a critical link between landscape ecology and history, as changes in demands of the society can be directly linked with changes in land-use and land-cover.