Paul Roberts – Scottish Natural Heritage
I work for Scottish Natural Heritage and prior to this worked for the Deer Commission for Scotland. Wildlife management in Scotland is an important issue; culturally, economically, socially and increasingly politically. Recent debates about the effectiveness of our voluntary approach to deer management and the management of driven grouse moors has raised fundamental questions about how we manage our countryside; for whom and to what end.
My job involves working with deer, deer management and deer managers. Much of this is about managing relationships with people, and understanding how a traditional relationship with land and wildlife management interacts with an evidence based conservation ethos. I also have a personal interest in hunting: I’m learning to stalk and am currently undertaking my Deer Stalking Certificate. I’m fascinated by the intimacy of the connection with nature that hunting brings which is perhaps the most fundamental relationship with nature we have. I’m also interested in how wildlife management, hunting and culling is perceived both by the hunting community and the general public.
Learning about and seeing first-hand how Norway manages wildlife; the challenges, opportunities and some of the solutions they have found was a valuable experience for me that will influence both my professional and personal life.
Wolves in Norway
Four large carnivores are found in Norway: Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus), Wolverine (Gulo gulo), Eurasian Lynx (lynx lynx), and European Brown Bear (Ursus arctos). With the exception of wolves, carnivores are managed through eight Carnivore Management Zones. These are locally managed by regional politicians within a national framework and fixed population goals, regulated by hunting quotas. A special Wolf Management Zone with its own board has been established in four counties of eastern Norway.
The original Scandinavian wolf population died out in the 1960s due to hunting (figure 1). The wolves found today in Norway and Sweden are descended from a small number of animals from the Finish-Russian population that dispersed as far as southern Scandinavia in the 1980s and 1990s. The wolf was given protection in Norway in the 1970s under the Berne Convention and is red listed in Norway today.
In the winter of 2015-16 there were 430 wolves in Scandinavia comprising 41 packs plus 29 pairs. In spring of 2015 there were seven packs with territories entirely within Norway; mostly in eastern Norway where wolves have moved over the border from Sweden. Population monitoring uses DNA analysis of scats and hair to establish packs sizes and relationships and the current estimated wolf population in Norway is around 70. Members of the public (ie hunters) can record any sighting on Skandobs, the Scandinavian tracking system for lynx, wolverine, brown bear and wolf (http://skandobs.se/). The current population target for wolves in Norway is four to six wolf litters to be born each year within the Wolf Management Zone. However wolves can travel long distances and GPS tracking has shown that individuals can range over hundreds of kilometres.
Wolf Management & Conflict
There are four main conflicts of interest between people and carnivores in Norway:
- killing of livestock (sheep and domesticated reindeer),
- competition with hunters for prey (roe deer and moose),
- killing of hunting dogs,
- and fear.
All four carnivores will kill livestock, lynx and bears will take hunters’ prey species and bear instil fear in people in rural areas; however only the wolf conflict with all four.
The Wolf Zone was established to try to deal with the special management challenges posed by wolves. One specific aim is to minimize livestock loses. Although there is limited grazing in this part of Norway, like Scotland, Norway has an influential farming lobby which has successfully persuaded the Government to introduce a compensation scheme for livestock taken by carnivores to the tune of 1.5 million Euros/yr. The Zone is perceived as an attempt to keep the wolves in a particular area and avoid re-establishment of wolves in other areas and this is widely ridiculed. Wolves will travel long distances and there is suitable habitat and prey across Norway it is estimated that the country could support a population of 2000 wolves. People who are positive toward wolves hold the view that wolves should be allowed to move and establish themselves and that the zone is too small and is an unnatural constraint on the population.
Fencing has been used to protect livestock within the wolf zone. Unlike in Scotland, fencing is a rare thing in Norway. Norwegian sheep graze unfenced in the forests in the summer, and browsing mammal densities across most of the country are low enough for forests to be re-established through natural regeneration without the need to protect trees from moose and deer. Fencing is unpopular: it’s not traditional and it is expensive (although the fences set up in 2007 and 2008 in the wolf management zone where paid for by the government). The enclosed areas (2200ha and 1100ha surrounded by electric fences 130cm high) were initially unsuccessful as predators managed to get in, however the initial technical problems were solved after two years and the fence were a success. They remain unpopular with land managers and with conservationists who see them as intruding on Norway’s wildness and restricting Norwegian’s cherished access rights; allemansratten. Hunters also criticised the fences, their view is that the need for fences emphasises that wolves do not belong in Norway any more.
Hunting in Norway is part of the culture and Norway has the highest proportion of hunters per head of population in Europe (1 in 12 or 4.75% of the population). Hunting in eastern Norway is principally for moose and because moose are the main prey species for wolves they compete directly with hunters for their quarry. Herbivore densities in Norwegian forests are low so the removal of moose – even in low numbers by wolves – has an impact on hunters’ ability to carry out their sport. Hunting culture in Norway is communal and based around the provision of meat. As in Scotland the right to take game comes with land ownership however, hunting in Norway is more widespread amongst the population and is undertaken by a wider range of society, often working together to hunt and sharing the meat amongst the community. This contrasts to the Scottish (highland) model of sport or trophy hunting which is carried out by (usually wealthy, non-local) clients paying to access game on an estate managed to maintain a high numbers of deer (stags). Stalking by ‘local people’ does take place but tends to be more professional than recreational and it isn’t the same community experience as in Norway. Also, in Scotland, venison is a by-product of the hunt and is often sold commercially to game dealers.
The killing of hunting dogs by wolves is a particular source of conflict. Traditional moose hunting uses dogs that run loose to track the moose and bark to alert the hunters who then stalk in and shoot the moose. Wolves will attack and kill hunting dogs in the forest which is emotionally distressing and expensive for the owners. There is no compensation provided for dogs killed by wolves which contributes to a sense of alienation by hunters and the wider local community. This reinforces a perception that the economic and social burden of having wolves in Norway is unevenly distributed across Norwegian society and exacerbates a rural – urban resentment.
Although unprovoked wolf attacks on people are rare (far rarer than attacks by dogs) wolves are feared by people. This leads to a subtle but tangible decrease in the quality of life of those affected. The example we were given in Trysil was of parents feeling they couldn’t allow their children to play outdoors unsupervised, particularly in the long, dark winter evenings. I stress the word feeling. Logic states that wolves don’t attack people but perceptions are powerful; even in a rural population used to having large carnivores in their forests. The Norwegian government has invested heavily in educational programs to combat this perception and has carried out a coordinated programme of projects with the aim of increase knowledge and decreasing conflict.
One response to wolves is illegal killing: poaching makes up 40-60% of mortality for all Scandinavian carnivores. Moreover, acceptance of poaching is higher in Norway than Sweden and higher in areas where wolves have come back, and higher in rural than urban areas.
Comparisons with Scotland
Most conflicts over conservation are depicted as conflicts over economic assets (eg wolves killing livestock). However research in Norway has demonstrated that conflicts over wolves, are in fact social conflicts. Whilst some of the impacts of wolves are clearly material, others are less so: few people encounter wolves, wolves rarely (if ever) attack people, dogs are rarely attacked and the effects of wolves on moose populations varies. Yet the people most likely to have anti-wolf attitudes are those from a traditional background and in a rural working-class culture.
So if the economic issues are marginal why is there so much resentment to wolves, particularly in the wolf management zone in Norway? The conflict with wolves needs to be viewed in a wider context. The bigger socio-economic picture is one of rural economic decline, depopulation and loss of public and private services. This is often pitted against the rising popularity of conservation which appears to value nature over people and is often seen as a threat to traditional rural lifestyles. This in turn pays in to a narrative of a conflict with a middle-class urban elite who “don’t understand” the countryside yet make the decisions which are consequently portrayed as undemocratic and unaccountable. Moreover this reinforces the perception that the consequences and the costs of these decisions are not borne by those who make them, but by the people who have to live with them.
We have no wolves is Scotland but we do have wildlife that we ‘manage’, partly because we have no wolves or other large carnivores. We also have conflicts over how our wildlife is managed, by whom, for whom, who makes the decisions, who bears the costs and who reaps the benefits. The issues are the same as in Norway, only the species are different: loss of lambs to White-tailed eagle, loss of crops to geese, competition for ‘prey’ with sporting estates keeping deer numbers high verses the impact on woodland and commercial forestry, raptor persecution as a means of removing carnivores from grouse moors. Even the fear of carnivores has been raised in the recent debate over the reintroduction of lynx to Scotland.
As in Norway it is beneficial to view these conflicts in a wider societal context. We also have a rural population rooted to the land with a traditional culture whose lifestyle and values are viewed as under threat and misunderstood by a disconnected urban-based elite. We also have an increasingly powerful and influential conservation lobby that is directly challenging the traditional management of our countryside thought purchasing and managing land for conservation objectives. This has recently been augmented by the use of concepts such as ecosystems services and natural capital as a means of articulating the economic and societal values of land management for society as a whole which have gained traction politically.
The management of red deer in the highlands, roe deer on the low ground and of driven grouse moors is high on the political agenda in Scotland and the role and powers of the state to intervene in the management of private land is a live and divisive debate. Looking at these wildlife management conflicts through the perspective of wolf management in Norway can help us to realise that the underlying values and beliefs are just as important as the science and the policies. Robust, scientific evidence is essential to help inform decisions about wildlife but facts will not convince folk who feel their way of life is under threat. The key thing is to build trust and mutual understanding to build alliances and strengthen relationships.
My personal reflections from Norway are that our perception of wildlife, its management and value is a societal construct that reflects deeper cultural attitudes and values. Understanding our relationship with nature requires us to understand our relationship with each other. This can be summed up in a quote by Frank Robert Lund, a Norwegian hunter and international hunting guide who we met in Trysil, a small town within the Wolf management Zone in Norway. According to Frank: “Managing the wildlife is easy; it’s managing the people that’s the challenge.” Sound familiar?
- A Wolf at the Gate: The Anti-Carnivore Alliance and the Symbolic Construction of Community – Ketil Skogen and Olve Krange. Sociologia Ruralis, Vol 43, Number 3, July 2003. European Society for Rural Sociology
- The Persistence of an Economic Paradigm: Unintended Consequences in Norwegian Wolf Management, Ketil Skogen – Human Dimensions of Wildlife 20(4):1-6, May 2016