Land ownership and natural resource management in Norway

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ARCH Network exchange 25 May – 1 June 2019

Michael Thornton, Scottish Natural Heritage

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Introduction

In May 2019, I was fortunate enough to attend an ARCH course, funded through the Erasmus+ programme and hosted at the Norwegian University of Applied Sciences, Evenstad Campus, Hedmark region.  The course focused on natural resource management, land management and nature conservation in Norway and was attended by seven colleagues from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Forestry, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage.     

The programme was expertly compiled and guided by Stale Nordgaards, one of the lecturers at the University. His wealth of knowledge, and great hospitality was very much appreciated during the week. This report provides details of some of the topics covered during the course.  

Land Ownership

The Odelsrett is a medieval Scandinavian law, which still governs land ownership in Norway. This law gives direct descendants, in families who have owned land for more than 20 years, a first right to purchase land.  However, if the family wishes to sell the land on the open market, it can only be sold on the condition that the new owner lives on the property for at least five years. If the property is sold to a stranger, family members have the right within a specified period, to redeem it at the original price paid, with any additional cost of improvement. One consequence of this legislation is that there are very few foreign land owners, and absentee land lords are rare.  In addition, it has been argued that this law has maintained a long-lasting agrarian culture in Norway, however, it has been criticized for not attracting a younger generations to develop more innovative land management practices.       

The Odelsrett has maintained small land holdings (average 50ha) in Norway, resulting in a diverse and shared land ownership pattern.  Most land holdings support both agricultural and forestry management, which has led to the development of an integrated land management system, with relatively little conflict between management objectives. 

The Odelsrett system is in contrast to the more unregulated land ownership legislation in Scotland, which has allowed anyone from anywhere to purchase large tracts of land.  This has resulted in less than 500 people owning 50% of privately owned land in the country.

Game Management

Hunting forms an important part of Norwegian culture, and is a more socially inclusive activity than in Scotland, with approximately 15% of the population engaged in some form of hunting activity. Furthermore, Norwegian hunting culture is primarily based around hunting for meat, rather than for sport.  In common with Scotland, hunting rights come with land ownership; however hunting days can be sold to third parties providing that bag returns are submitted to the landowner. All hunting is based on native quarry species, and the release and hunting of non-native species is prohibited.  This system has led to sustainable; more integrated hunting practices when compared with Scotland.  

Cervids (Moose, Deer and Reindeer)

The most important game species in Norway is the Moose, with approximately 35,000 harvested each year from a national population of over 100,000.  The moose hunting season is between the 25 September and 23 December, however this can be extended into the first week of January to prevent damage to trees.  Although less popular, the hunting of Red and Roe deer has become more common since the 1990s, with similar numbers shot annually.

The management of moose hunting is implemented through local Kommunes and hunting boards, who agree five year management plans and harvest quotas. Landowners, managers, foresters and hunters usually sit on hunting boards to agree moose management plans, management objectives and shooting quotas. All moose management plans are then formally approved by the Kommunes.

Because moose migrate over large distances between summer and winter ranges, moose management zones cover extensive areas. We heard from a representative of one such hunting board – Amot Utmarksaid, who are currently managing moose over an area of approximately 240,000 hectares, involving 130 hunting teams across 11 landholdings. The five year management plan for this area aims to establish a balance between forestry and hunting objectives. This system seems to working, as browsing levels have been significantly reduced, with seedling browsing rates falling from 95% in 1995 to an average of 16% in 2016.  Numbers are principally monitored by the submission of data, including hunting bag returns and the number of moose seen/hunting day, and these data are used to inform future hunting quotas.  Although moose hunting is still popular, there is evidence that the average age of hunters is increasing, perhaps reflecting a move away from more traditional rural cultures.

There is an issue with moose-vehicle collisions, particularly in winter, and the authorities have implemented a number of road management measures to address this. This has included road signage (including coloured moose antlers on trees sign-posting risks), moose proof fencing and supplementary feeding to divert moose away from roads. However, the use of supplementary feeding has now been banned due to the risk of spreading chronic wasting disease, which was detected in Wild Reindeer in 2016.

Moose can cause significant damage to natural forest regeneration, where young saplings between 1.5m and 3.0m can be heavily browsed, particularly during the winter. If habitat impact assessments show heavy browsing damage, the moose-hunting season can be extended into the first week of January to protect regenerating forestry stock. Wild Reindeer in Norway, currently numbering about 25,000, are found in 23 separate populations in the southern mountain ranges.  Although Wild Reindeer are hunted, the numbers shot have declined since 1990, with approximately 5000 shot annually.  In addition, the Sámi people in the north manage large domesticated herds for their hides and meat. Wild Reindeer hunting is administered by exception through a National Reindeer Foundation, established in 2009.  There are 23 wild reindeer boards which undertake population monitoring, set hunting quotas and agree management plans for each of the 23 wild reindeer populations. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was detected in the Nordjella population in March 2016. This highly contagious, lethal disease presents significant risks to Reindeer and other cervids in Norway, as it can be spread through contaminated land. In response to these risks, the authorities are aiming to eradicate the Wild Reindeer population in Nordjella in an attempt to eradicate the disease. 

Moose play an important role in Norwegian culture, and is one of the most important game species.

Grouse

The main grouse species shot in Norway include Willow Grouse and Rock Ptarmigan, with 140,000 and 82,000 shot respectively in 2014/15. The number of woodland grouse shot is significantly lower, with 12,000 Capercallie and 24,000 black grouse shot in 2014/15.  The grouse shooting season in Norway runs from mid-August until Christmas, and it is the responsibility of the landowner to ensure that populations are management sustainably.  All grouse species are extensively hunted by hunting over dogs or as “walked-up” quarry. No driven grouse shooting is practiced, which means that intensive land management associated with driven shooting is not implemented in Norway.  As a result, Willow Grouse occur at relatively low densities at 30/km2, compared with up to 300/km2 Red Grouse on some Scottish grouse moors.  In common with moose hunting, grouse management is administered at a county level, and all landowners have a right to hunt grouse on their land.  

A national annual grouse monitoring scheme (Honsefugl portalen) was launched in 2013, based on transect counts. This scheme is also using data collected in the 1950s, and population trends are now available for a number of species at both regional and national scales.  This scheme is being delivered through a large partnership of organizations, including NINA (Norwegian Institute for Nature Research), FeFo (a land owning enterprise in Finnmark, Northern Norway), Statskog (Sate landowner), Milodirektoratet (Norwegian Environment Agency), HINT (Nordtrondelag University), Norges Fjellstyresamband (Norwegian Mountain board who administer hunting rights on crown land) and Hedmark University. So far, the scheme has proven to be very popular, with participation from a wide range of stakeholders, including hunters, land managers, land owners, research groups and members of the public. In 2015, the scheme collected data from 7,135 transects, involving 4,483 observations across 78 counties (municipalities). All data held in the scheme are publically available (except for privately owned land) and used to set local hunting quotas.     

Forestry

Forestry is an important land use in Norway, with approximately 37% of mainland Norway in forest cover, of which 26% is productive forestry.  The majority of forestry is managed by the private sector, with 79% of forest managed in 120,000 private landholdings, with less than 10% managed by the government.  Historically, forestry is managed alongside agriculture, resulting in a more integrated land management system.

Most forestry is managed on long-term felling rotations (100+ years), and felling coups tend to be relatively small (15ha), with seed trees retained and protected in felled coupes. Most restocking occurs through natural regeneration from seed trees’, however, planting is implemented in the absence of natural regeneration after 3 years of felling.  There are restrictions on the planting of non-native tree species, such as Sitka spruce, and only 50km2 of planted Sitka spruce occurs in Norway, however the species has spread and now occupies a larger area.  The growing stock of both conifers and broadleaves has been increasing since 1933, and currently stands at over 900,000 m3, resulting in forest expansion.  In common with Scotland, the number of people employed in forestry is falling – from approximately 30,000 in the 1930s to 5,000 in 2010. This decline has largely been due to increased mechanization within the industry.  

The industry is increasingly servicing an expanding “bio-economy” by reducing the countries dependency on fossil fuels, improving climate change adaptation, maintaining timber security and creating jobs to improve competitiveness. In addition, a range of alternatives timber products are being developed such as salmon feed (as an alternative to soy based products!), bio-fuels and timber for the construction of multi-story buildings. In addition, Norway’s forests are increasingly being used for informal recreation, such as walking, skiing and wild food collection. 

There is recognition that the national forest plays an important role in biodiversity conservation, with about half of the red-listed species in Norway dependent on forest habitat (particularly old growth forest). The main strategic tools used to protect forest biodiversity include legislation and national certification schemes. Forest certification requires forest managers to map their environmental assets, protect rare habitats (i.e. old growth forest), maintain riparian buffer zones and plant areas which are not naturally regenerating after three years. In addition, about 2.9% of productive forests are in forest reserves, where no harvesting is permitted.     

Conclusions

With a relatively low human population density (14/km2) and harsh climate, land use intensity and pressures in Norway are significantly lower than in Scotland. This has led to the development of low input, extensive land management systems.  However, despite these differences, we have much to learn from the Norwegian approach to natural resource and land management. 

Land management continues to be highly sectorial in Scotland, with different sectors (arable farming, conservation, game management) working in isolation, competing for limited natural resources. This has led to significant land use and human wildlife conflicts, resulting in a culture of distrust among the different stakeholders. Although human wildlife conflicts still exist in Norway, particularly around large carnivores and livestock, Norwegian land management is based on a more integrated system, with a greater culture of land stewardship, trust and shared values amongst its stakeholders. This approach to land management has largely been due to a number of factors, including:

  • The medieval Scandinavian legislation (Odelsrett) still governs land ownership in Norway, and has maintained relatively small land holdings, owned and managed by rural communities. This has ensured that rural communities, with a direct stake in natural resource management, participate in its management and sustainable use.
  • Many land holdings generate an income from a mix of activities, including agriculture, forestry, game, livestock, fuel wood and cabin sales/rental. This has fostered a culture of integrated land management, delivering a range of objectives.  
  • Local hunting boards include representation across a wide range of stakeholders, including foresters, hunters and landowners, building a sense of co-operation and land use integration.
  • Less intensive (walked-up) game management systems have encouraged integration between forestry and game management objectives.
  • There is very much a “living forest culture” in Norway, recognising the multi-functionality of their forest resources, including sustainable timber production, game management, access and recreation.
  • More recently, an emerging “Bio-economy” is developing links between foresters, land managers and industry, to develop sustainable forest products, such as fish foods, timber for multi-story buildings and wild foods.     

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