Deer and Gamebird Hunting Management in Norway – 2017

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Duncan Orr-Ewing – RSPB

Introduction

In my work as Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland, I am presently involved in discussions with land management, hunting, and conservation stakeholders in Scotland around improvements to our present systems of deer management, as well as a proposed inquiry into the options for the licensing of “driven” grouse shooting announced recently by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Climate Change and Land Reform (in response to concerns about prevailing levels of wildlife crime against raptors in particular). In recent years there has been growing momentum to set up appropriate natural resources management systems for Scotland for both deer and gamebird species, which are presently both managed largely on a voluntary basis, with some support from Scottish Natural Heritage (in the case of deer). In this context, I was particularly interested during my recent visit to Hogskolen I Hedmark, Norway and the associated structured course, to explore how hunting systems and natural wildlife resources were administrated in that country to inform my understanding as to how systems might be improved in the future in Scotland.

Land ownership in Norway

The differences in land ownership patterns, as well as hunting and other relevant traditions and cultures, are all important parts of the background to developing appropriate administration systems for the sustainable management of hunting suitable for each particular country.

The Norwegian Government has a policy objective of keeping people in rural areas to support local economies and to maintain thriving local communities. This is apparently in contrast to nearby Sweden which has a more centralised approach, and some rural areas are apparently suffering as a result from de-population. Scotland also has policies to support fragile and remote communities, but which seem to be less well formulated, integrated, and financially supported, than in Norway.

In the north of Norway most land is owned by the Norwegian state, and in southern Norway land is owned by both the state and private individuals. State owned land is considered community land and is managed for a combination of farming and hunting with local people having priority use. Farming in Norway takes place on forested land as well as open pasture and arable land. In Scotland, there is a more sectoral approach to land use, with land usually managed primarily for farming; forestry; conservation; or sporting. Most land in Scotland is privately owned (50% of land is owned by 432 individuals/families/organisations), although the state Forestry Commission is Scotland’s largest landowner, and there is growing movement towards community landownership encouraged by the Scottish Land Fund and Scottish Government. In Norway, land management policies and practice can therefore be considered to be more integrated and centred around the needs and priorities of local communities. In Scotland, sporting rights may be held separately from the landownership and leased to a third party. In Norway, if you own land privately, you also own the hunting rights, and can therefore sell hunting days to third parties, subject to compliance with game quotas, providing bag returns to the landowner, and so forth.

Background to Hunting Arrangements in Norway

There is a strong culture of hunting in Norway. “Moose is culture” according to the hunters that we met in Trysil Kommune! We were advised that hunting in Norway is for food rather than for trophies or what we define as “sporting”. We did though note on our travels that large moose heads and other taxidermy animal specimens do feature strongly in various buildings that we visited! This approach contrasts with Scottish hunting culture, developed largely by the Victorians in the early to mid 1800s, which is largely centred around “sporting” for trophy red deer stags or large hunting bags of wild and reared non-native gamebirds.

It was estimated in 2014/15 that out of a population of c5 million people, at least 140,000 Norwegians are actively participating in hunting, mostly in moose and deer hunting. We were advised by various parties during our visit that all hunting in Norway is centred around native game species, and for example the release of non native releases (eg. pheasants) for hunting is not allowed.

Moose and “small game” (defined as gamebirds and small mammals) hunting, along with populations of red and roe deer, are largely administered at a local level by the Norwegian Kommunes (local Councils) along with local hunting boards comprising mainly of local landowners with hunting interests. The Norwegian Government still sets the overarching rules and regulations as a framework to be complied with, in accordance with the Norwegian Nature Diversity Act 2009, and other relevant legislation.

Wild reindeer hunting is administered as an exception by a National Reindeer Foundation, established in 2006. The National Reindeer Board (Stiftelsen Norsk Villreinsenter) is a private foundation administered in partnership with the Norwegian state and with some funding support from the latter. They have two main offices in Norway, including one that we visited in Dovre National Park. The National Reindeer Board have a quasi statutory remit to undertake population surveys, produce management plans; set harvest quotas; as well as commenting on development proposals in reindeer areas. Local Wild Reindeer Boards are also in place to cover the 23 wild reindeer areas in Norway, and comprise of elected individuals from each relevant municipality. The Local Wild Deer Reindeer Boards also approve management plans and stop adverse development plans. The National Wild Reindeer Board sets the rules for sustainable management, and we discovered from a local Board participant that it is questionable whether the Local Wild Reindeer Boards do more than provide local cover for the implementation of national Government wild reindeer policy.

Hunting exams are mandatory for all practitioners to gain a hunting licence. The minimum age for a hunting licence for small game is 16 years and for large game it is 18 years. The exams are a combination of 30 hours of theory, and then practical exercises, including quarry identification and marksmanship. Hunters are required to achieve an 80% pass mark to obtain a hunting licence. The system of licensing is overseen and administered by adult education associations in Norway, with Kommunes issuing licences. Annual hunting licences are relatively inexpensive. Foreign hunters to Norway are required to purchase a hunting licence. It is a licensing requirement to renew your licence at the end of each year and to make a report back to the authorities on the number of large and small game shot. This data set of hunting licensing returns has been running since the 1870s.

 

No night shooting or use of lights is permitted in hunting moose or other game species. No motorised hunting is permitted. Norway has access rights for the public to all open land similar to the “right to roam” Scotland as defined by our Land Reform Act 2004. Access to all land for hunting purposes in Norway has to be on foot, however if an animal is then killed access by quad bike is then permitted to extract the carcass. We heard that similar access arrangements are in place in Sweden.

Norway was the first country to ban the use of lead ammunition for hunting. However, the use of such ammunition has now been reinstated following lobbying from hunting groups. No use of lead ammunition is permitted over wetlands in line with international treaties. Lead shot is used for shooting grouse. Upon butchering more meat is now cut out around the bullet entry area on the animal to prevent contamination. The public health authorities in Norway have tested game products for lead and found elevated levels.

Norwegian hunters are allowed to sell moose meat. Previously all moose meat had to go to central butchery, however a “black market” then developed with locals selling moose meat clandestinely from the authorities. Now all hunters can go on 2 day course in butchering carcasses and can then sell moose meat themselves.

Moose hunting in Norway

About 35,000 moose are shot by hunters each year in Norway. This is a strong cultural tradition and hunting moose is primarily for the purposes of providing (originally winter) food rather than for sport shooting or trophy hunting.

The hunting season for moose in Norway is 25 September until 23 December. The season can be extended though into January for example to prevent tree damage in a particular management area. The main rutting/mating period for moose is in October and there used to be a hunting break during this period, although it is understood that there is no impact from rutting on condition of moose meat. Most shooting of moose takes place in the first month of the season until the locally agreed quota is met. Moose calve in the spring so no hunting takes place in that period to ensure the safeguard of the next generation of animals for hunting and wildlife protection purposes.

The system of administration of moose hunting in Norway has developed since the 1940s. At that time the population of moose was low, and it was widely acknowledged that greater cooperation was required. The system has then grown incrementally along with associated regulation.

Moose and deer hunting is essentially managed at three levels in Norway; the Government set the overarching rules and regulations; the Kommune (Council) administer at a regional level and approve management plans/quotas; and then local hunters manage at local level. The local hunters in the Kommune (or hunters in neighbouring Kommunes working jointly) set up a moose management board comprising of elected local people; they develop a 3-5 year moose management plan with the principle aim of establishing a stable population of moose; the hunters count moose that they have seen or shot (moose contacts per day act as an indicator of moose populations); and set proposed quotas for moose hunting each season. The setting of quotas is therefore a dynamic system, with quotas set according to recorded moose population indices. The local hunting board have an annual meeting, where moose quota is voted upon, and a 50% majority is required to approve. Voting rights are set according to amount of land owned, with a minimum landownership (in Trysil Kommune at least) of 10 ha.

Hunters can call on expert advice, such as carrying out measures of browsing pressure (habitat impact assessments) or dung counts using standard approaches. The Kommune can approve or improve a locally developed moose management plan. If the local 3-5 year Moose Management Plan is approved by the Kommune then there is no need to apply annually for a moose hunting licence. The Kommune can therefore still have a large say therefore in setting final moose quotas, and provides a regulatory backstop.

All hunters are required to make data returns on moose killed to the local municipality and enter information onto national database administered by Norwegian Environment Agency (Miljodirektoratet).

To hunt moose you need to own land. By way of an example, if you own about 300ha of land then you may have the right to hunt 1 moose per annum, although the parameters will vary from Kommune to Kommune. In Trysil Kommune, we learned that 1000 moose are shot per annum. We learned that hunters generally select small and young animals first for hunting and leave adult males and females for good reproduction. 50% of the animals shot are calves, and 20% are 1.5 years of age, with a maximum of 15% large bulls and cows. Hunting of moose can be sold by landowners to third parties, however most moose hunting is undertaken by local people.

The hunting of moose is also important in terms of preventing browsing damage to forestry, an important Norwegian land-based industry. Moose tend to browse the level of 1.5-3m of emerging trees and can damage tree leaders critical for commercial forestry. Feeding of moose using hay is used in some places to prevent tree damage, and also to divert moose away from roads, where collisions with vehicles can be a significant issue. Systems can be put in place to spread the costs of moose damage and benefits of moose hunting between summering and wintering areas (for example feeding moose has costs to landowners who are seeking to prevent tree damage).

As wolves have recolonised Norway from Sweden in the past 30 years, wolf zones have been created to protect wolves in certain geographical areas. There are now 5-6 wolf packs in eastern Norway, with 3 wolf packs in Trysil Kommune that we visited. Each wolf pack occupies about 100,000 ha of land. It is estimated by hunters that wolves kill about 130 moose per annum in Trysil Kommune area, which makes moose hunting by locals unviable to a large extent. There are also significant concerns around wolves killing “barking” dogs used traditionally by hunters for moose tracking. There is compensation by Norwegian state for livestock killed by wolves, but not for moose killed and loss of hunting. It is estimated in Trysil that half of annual moose surplus is being consumed by wolves, at a commercial cost of £1000 per moose.

All large carnivores in Norway, bear, lynx, wolverine and wolf, have licensed hunting quotas authorised by Norwegian Environment Agency established in 2013, and this system is enforced (amongst other environmental legislation) by the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (Statens Naturoppsyn). However, the Norwegian Government made political decision before Christmas 2016 to stop licensed wolf culling so now no licensed hunting quotas are available for this species. NEA/SNO also have remit to prevent illegal hunting and investigating, confirming and reporting, for compensation purposes, incidences of livestock predation.

Small game hunting in Norway

There are generally less administration and rules and regulations for hunting of small game in Norway. Some local hunting boards do though count grouse and set levels of hunting, but this is not a universal approach.

The gamebird hunting season in southern Norway is 10 September until end of February, and this is extended into March in the north of Norway. However, in most places in Norway hunting of gamebirds does not take place after Christmas, and often finishes in early November. In 2014/15 220,000 grouse o fall species were shot, with 140,000 willow grouse and 82,000 rock ptarmigan forming the bulk of the harvest.

Hunting of grouse is not a significant interest to hunters in Norway and according to surveys that were reported to us, about 95% of hunters in Norway are not willing to pay high prices for hunting grouse. Payments by hunting clients of around £20 per day are the norm. A hunter of gamebirds needs permission from the relevant landowner and must report back on number of birds shot to landowner. Most of those who do go grouse hunting are interested in the day out, working with their dogs, and the countryside experience. This system is more akin to the “walked up” style of grouse shooting encountered in Scotland rather than the “driven” system of grouse shooting that is also applies in this country. It is also noted in this context that it is a requirement of Norwegian access legislation that dogs are kept on a lead during the bird breeding season.

 Small predators such as red foxes and pine martens are generally not hunted (although legal quarry), however some local subsidies agreed by Local Hunting Boards are available (eg. £50 for a fox) for those who kill such species due to benefits to ground nesting bird species. There is no bounty for large predatory animal species, such as wolf, wolverine, bear, and lynx.

Since 1950s some line transect work has taken place using various methodologies to count grouse numbers. From the mid 1990s there was some use of distance sampling methodology to count grouse by public and private landowners. From 2006-11 a trial National Grouse Project was instigated in the light of apparent population declines in some grouse species and wider interest in knowing how grouse populations were faring. The project has gown and developed since that time with the involvement and support of Hogskole I Hedmark and NINA.

 The final National Grouse Project (http://honsefugl.nina.no/Default.asp) was launched in 2013, and it is financed by MD/Statskog/Fefo and NINA. It operates at 4 levels; administration (NINA); regional manager; local manager; and field personnel. It aims to provide conservation evidence for hunting purposes. The level 3 local managers organise field personnel and secure required permits and landowner permission. The level 4 people involved are mostly volunteers who collect and submit grouse data, which is logged via a bespoke on-line web portal. At the moment only results of data collected on publicly owned land are published due to concerns that private land data may be used for marketing purposes. NINA has been working on development of statistical models to show national and regional gamebird population trends. A good population of willow grouse in Norway is considered to be an autumn density of 20 birds per sq km in contrast to autumn densities of grouse on “driven” grouse moors in Scotland of around 200 per sq km or more.

By 2015, 170 areas were involved in the National Grouse Project, covering 78 Kommunes and with more than 710km of distance sampling transects walked. The scheme is supported voluntarily by landowners who then pay the National Grouse Project to get analysed data back for their individual property or Hunting Board area to inform sustainable management of grouse species. Overall the project is relatively low cost when compared to other similar systems. Private owners are increasingly keen to participate. Training courses are available for data entry and for field methods. Consistency of data entry has been an issue, which is now being rectified. At present the scheme does not cover rock ptarmigan, the second most important quarry species (after willow grouse), however suitable methodologies are now being developed and piloted.

Hunting research and monitoring

The Campus of Evenstad, Hogskole i Hedmark and the Norwegian Natural Research Institute (NINA) are engaged in cooperation between researchers, business and landowners. These organisations aim to understand what knowledge is required and deliver applied scientific support. The focus of the Hogskole I Hedmark scientific support is around wildlife management, forestry, agronomy and aquaculture. The University seek to use ecological theory to optimise the sustainable use of natural resources.

 Conclusion

One of the key benefits noted of the Norwegian system of moose, deer, and “small game” management is the effective integration between local hunters; administrators of hunting; collection of data to support sustainable hunting; and applied research support. Both Hogskole I Hedmark and NINA play a key roles in this system. The monitoring systems are generally set up to cover the whole country of Norway; they are reasonably well resourced; and are informed by effective voluntary data returns from hunters and other fieldworkers. Scotland has much to learn from this approach.

 

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