Ben Ross – SNH
As Scottish Natural Heritage’s Licensing Manager I oversee the delivery of over 2000 licences each year to allow people to undertake activities affecting protected species that would otherwise be an offence. This includes control of geese to protect agricultural interests, deer authorisations, survey and monitoring licences and many other areas. Much of this work relates to resolving conflicts between the needs of people and society and species that have been given protected species status on account of their rarity, sensitivity to disturbance or for reasons relating to animal welfare or a history of persecution.
In May this year I had the opportunity to visit Norway as part of the Erasmus + programme. The focus of the visit was on wildlife management in Norway, in particular looking at moose, reindeer, small game and large carnivores. At a time where there is increasing interest in the UK in wildlife management and species reintroductions this was an excellent opportunity for me to examine how a different country deals with wildlife management conflicts, to look at the similarities and differences and opportunities to improve how we deal with similar issues.
Protected Species in Norway
In the UK there are four main pieces of legislation offering protection to species of bird, plants and animals. Whilst the level and type of protection varies, it generally operates on the basis of lists of species which are annexed to the legislation. In Norway the system is different in that all species are protected unless they are listed as game species. Some key species listed as game in Norway include badgers, pine marten, beaver, cormorant, capercaillie, raven, red squirrel and mountain hare.
If a species is listed as game then hunting is permitted between defined dates. Hunting can only be undertaken by registered hunters, who pay for an annual hunting licence and have to undergo a hunting proficiency test. Persons wishing to hunt big game (red and roe deer, moose, reindeer, musk ox, bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine) must also pass a shooting test.
The law in Norway allows control of wildlife, regardless of protection, where it is necessary to do so for protecting either people or livestock. If this takes place the person carrying the control must contact the municipality immediately and they may inspect the evidence to ensure it has been carried out legally. The law also allows for permissions (licences) to be given for the control of predatory wildlife if they are causing serious damage to cattle or reindeer or for the control of other species and removal of beaver dams in order to prevent damage to other interests (including flooding).
Although a signatory to the Berne Convention, because Norway is not part of the EU it is not subject to the requirements of the Habitats Directive.
Wildlife management conflicts in Norway
During the course of our visit to Norway it was interesting to hear about the nature of wildlife management conflicts. We saw evidence of and discussed many such conflicts including those relating to moose, reindeer and large carnivores. In Scotland such conflicts can often be bipartite between a conservation or welfare interest and a single land-management objective (e.g. timber production, agriculture or sporting interest). However, in the land-ownership model prevalent in much of Norway it is not uncommon for a landowner to manage his/her land for the benefit of timber production, whilst also using it for grazing and hunting purposes. Because of this more integrated approach the impression was that conflicts were often less severe on account of these shared interests and what could be argued as a more holistic approach. Additionally, and possibly because of this, many areas of wildlife management in Norway seemed to be far more publically acceptable and seen as part of normal daily life than they might be in Scotland.
A notable exception to this was in relation to large carnivore management where, for a variety of reasons (including relatively recent increases in populations, perceived public health risks and fragile conservation status), there can be much more significant conflicts between stakeholder groups.
Approaches to wildlife management
The existence of certain species on the game list in Norway means that they can be controlled without any significant regulatory burden. As such control appears relatively well accepted and uncontroversial, with the exception of some of the large carnivores. Many of the game species in Norway (such as pine marten, badger and beavers) are given protected status in Scotland. Whilst sometimes it may be possible to manage them under licence, this can only be carried out for specific purposes and subject to strict legal tests being met. However, this decision making can be controversial, with the evidence-base often challenged.
Where licences are granted in Norway, or where hunting is permitted of economically or culturally important species or those of conservation concern, this is largely done on the basis of a quota, which can be set at a national or municipality level. These quotas can be set against a range of objectives, from minimising the impact of a species on a particular interest to ensuring a future sustainable take to maintaining viable populations.
Another important difference between our own and the Norwegian system relates to the use of information gathered by Hunters to inform estimates of abundance or range of various species in Norway. Much of this information can be provided online. Whilst there will also be species population information gathered by government agencies, hunting bag data as well as information on tracks and signs of other species is extensively used to indicate health or otherwise of various species populations. This data can be used to inform future hunting effort and quotas.
In Scotland, whilst there are voluntary schemes of reporting what has been shot, there is no statutory duty to do so in most cases and there is no systematic or publicly accessible system to gather this information other than the national gamebag census. Most population data gathering exercises are undertaken either by or on behalf of government agencies or various environmental non-governmental organisations.
The visit to Norway was extremely interesting, thought-provoking and enjoyable. I’m hugely thankful to Mariusz Kjønsberg for organising the trip and hosting us and to all of his colleagues who led, fed, and informed us and were subject to our unending questions. As someone with a keen interest in wildlife management and the legislative framework under which it takes place I found the week absolutely fascinating and it went by all too quickly.
Norway and Scotland share a number of similar of similar issues when it comes to wildlife management, dealing with conflicts involving wild animals predating on livestock, damage to forestry and impacts of development on protected species. Sometimes, such as with the regional approaches to moose management and our own deer management groups, our approaches to dealing with wildlife management are quite similar. However, in other areas they are markedly different and one fundamental area of difference is the inclusion of various species on the game lists in Norway that are classified as protected species in Scotland.
It was interesting to note that some of the most significant conflicts, albeit often dealing with large carnivores, were also some of the ‘newest’ conflicts, often arising in light of expanding ranges and numbers of species that were either absence or very scarce in the past. Parallels can be drawn between this and with conflicts in Scotland associated with populations of species that are recovering / increasing in terms of numbers or range (e.g. pine martens, ravens or badgers) or newly introduced species such as beavers.
Additionally, in Norway there seems to be a greater acceptance and awareness of the principle and need of wildlife management. To some extent this may be a product of the land-ownership model in Norway and the associated multiple objectives of individual landowners, but linked to this it may also arise from a hunting culture that appears to be much more widespread and accepted throughout Norwegian society.
Striking too was the principle of setting clear quotas for culling of certain species and approaches to zoning in relation to tolerance of the presence of certain species. This is accompanied by a live and reactive reporting process for those species of higher conservation status/risk to keep track of numbers. Whilst exact quota figures may be (and indeed are) subject to debate, there are benefits associated with the quota approach, particularly in terms of transparency of objectives to all stakeholders as to what level of population of a species is acceptable or appropriate. This approach also facilitates a much more adaptive approach to wildlife management than currently exists in Scotland.
Another difference between Norway and Scotland with implications in terms of both wildlife management and in conservation is the scale and interconnectivity of habitats. In particular the difference in woodland cover and connectivity between the two countries is striking: Norway has more than twice the level of woodland cover than Scotland and with much greater connectivity. As a result it could be argued that populations of woodland species in Norway may be far more resilient than those in Scotland and therefore that the implications of changes in management may be less severe.
Finally it was interesting to consider Norwegian approaches to wildlife management in relation to species listed in the Habitats Directive (and therefore classified as European Protected Species in member states). Whilst Norway is a signatory to the Berne Convention, because they are not an EU Member State they are not bound by the terms of the Directive. Earlier this year a decision to licence the cull of 40+ wolves in Norway was subject to significant public and political debate and much of the discussion revolved around whether or not this would be compliant with the Berne Convention, to which Norway is a signatory. The outcome was that the level of cull permitted was drastically reduced. However, the interesting point here, and particularly relevant given the UK’s imminent departure from the EU, was that this decision could only be ultimately challenged at a national level. Had Norway been in the EU then ultimately any decision could be challenged in the European Court of Justice.