Abstract The Holocene period (last 11,700 years BP) has been marked by significant climate variability over decadal to millennial timescales. The underlying mechanisms are still being debated, despite ocean–atmosphere–land connections put forward in many paleo-studies. Among the main drivers, involving a cluster of spectral signatures and shaping the climate of north-western Europe, are solar activity, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) varying atmospheric regimes and North Atlantic oceanic gyre dynamics. Over the last 2500 years BP, paleo-environmental signals have been strongly affected by anthropogenic activities through deforestation and land use for crops, grazing, habitations, or access to resources. Palynological proxies (especially pollen grains and marine or freshwater microalgae) help to highlight such anthropogenic imprints over natural variability. Palynological analyses conducted in a macro-estuarine sedimentary environment of north-western France over the last 2500 years BP reveal a huge and atypical 300 year-long arboreal increase between 1700 and 1400 years BP (around 250 and 550 years AD) that we refer to as the ‘1.7–1.4 ka Arboreal Pollen rise event’ or ‘1.7–1.4 ka AP event’. Interestingly, the climatic 1700–1200 years BP interval coincides with evidence for the withdrawal of coastal societies in Brittany (NW France), in an unfavourable socio-economic context. We suggest that subpolar North Atlantic gyre strengthening and related increasing recurrence of storminess extremes may have affected long-term coastal anthropogenic trajectories resulting in a local collapse of coastal agrarian societies, partly forced by climatic degradation at the end of the Roman Period.