Visitors and the countryside in Norway
Robert Coleman – RSPB
First impressions count when it comes to visitor experiences and from the flight out to the flight home Norway made a lasting impression. Friendly people, fantastic landscapes and iconic wildlife…so where did we start… INDOORS!
Our first visitor experience in Norway was an indoors one focused on the outdoors and it did a great job at setting the scene and demonstrated that ‘stuffed’ animals can tell stories. The Norwegian Forestry Museum was established in 1954 and is one of the most visited museums in Norway with over 100,000 visitors a year. Compared to the galleries of some museums in Scotland this place was alive with wildlife. An aquarium gave close encounters with a wide range of the fish species present in Norway and there were well presented ‘stuffed’ specimens of all the other iconic wildlife of the country. One of the recurrent themes of the whole trip was ‘stuffed animals’. These are very prevalent in Norway whether it is in a museum, in a hunting lodge or in the offices of ecological advisors, they were without exception of a high standard and despite being told on many occasions that hunting was not driven by a trophy culture, there were some fantastic trophies.
Figure 1 Norwegian Forestry Museum. Bård Løken
The strong links between people and the wildlife were emphasised by the entertaining live interpretation provided by our museum guide. The story telling was great with a good use of props and even a tune or two on a guitar. A particular favourite of mine was when he was crawling about on his belly describing the excitement of ice fishing; it almost made me want to try it. Overall the museum was a fun place but there was a lot of factual information and always with a strong link to the cultural importance of the natural environment of Norway.
There was a lot to see indoors but the experience was not limited to a traditional museum experience with a range of outdoor spaces and events. The highlight is a four day ‘Nordic Hunting and Fishing Festival’ which seems similar to the Scottish Game Fair but Norwegian style. This event is in its 54th year and attracts 30-35,000 visitors a year.
Wildlife icons are easy to come across in Norway especially when they are metal and over 30ft high. Norway’s answer to the Kelpies is a road side stop incorporating a huge installation of a moose and its droppings. The interpretation of this area is a light touch after you get over the massive chrome herbivore. The droppings had trail signs from other wildlife on them and included some of the key carnivores from the area. Like all good interpretation it gets you talking and thinking about the subject and one of the benefits of this particular sculpture is it gets drivers thinking about moose. There were almost 15,000 registered vehicle collisions with moose in 2009-2013 and this is a big management issue within Hedmark which is seen as one of the main moose areas of Norway. With about 6,500 deer/vehicle collisions in Scotland over a similar five year period the problem would appear to be less of an issue but still significant. How long until the A9 gets its own 30ft chrome deer?
Figure 2 A lost jogger at Stor-Elvdal Moose and Droppings
Spanning the border of Sweden and Norway, Fulufjellet National Park is a 82km2 national park located inTrysil, Norway. Established in 2012, its eastern border lies along the Norway–Sweden border and forms a continuous protected area with the Swedish Fulufjället National Park (330km2 established 2002). We visited the Swedish side as this had visitor facilities and the chance to walk to the oldest tree in the world. It also had Sweden’s highest water fall which our Norwegian guides were quick to point out that at 93m is still only an eighth of the height of Norway’s tallest. Despite the waterfall (which was still spectacular) the experience at Fulufjället was fantastic. It was a busy when we visited as it was a special day to celebrate national parks. There were lots of families having fun in the outdoors, but it did not feel overcrowded. The paths were a mix of boardwalk and mountain paths, some of the boardwalk was poorly maintained but not unsafe. Interpretation was focused around the entrance and visitor centre and out on the paths the only interpretation were path signs and the odd painted rock for route finding on the tops. The scale of the landscape felt wild and big and that was exciting. It emphasised that this is one of the main differences in Scotland. We do have wild expansive landscapes in Scotland, but not on this scale and they are becoming much more isolated and unloved.
As we walked the path we came across shelters and seating with fire pits and barbecues. This was not dissimilar to some of the provision increasingly seen in Scotland but was delivered with true Scandinavian style. The access code in Norway (and Sweden) is similar to that in Scotland with a few exceptions. Most notably dogs must be kept on a leash between April 1 and August 20 and open fires are not permitted in or near woodland between April 15 and September 15. Dogs are predominantly working animals in rural Norway but also a loved part of the family. We heard stories of the emotional publicity generated with wolf attacks on hunting dogs but we also never saw a dog of a leash in the countryside. This is in stark contrast to the situation in Scotland where the use of the term ‘close control’ in the access code does not deliver the same benefits to wildlife and countryside users as it appears to in Norway. Is this something that could work in Scotland? With increasing publicity about sheep loss and cattle harrying perhaps it’s time to try something different in Scotland.
Figure 3 Fulufjället National Park Visitor Centre
The billed highlight of the walk was ‘Old Tjikko’, the oldest tree in the world! Interestingly enough this wasn’t sign posted or highlighted in any interpretation at the entrance? This is a clonal tree aged at over 9,550 years old. To some it has spiritual and medicinal properties and this has caused damage, in the form of small samples being taken of the bark. For this reason you can only visit as part of a tour, or if you manage to stumble across it yourself, but it is not signposted. The only indication that it is significant is the small rope which forms a ‘barrier’ between visitors and the modest 2.5m Norway spruce. It was clear that despite the stronger connection to the natural world which is inherent in Norway and Sweden there are similarities with visitor management/conflict between Scotland and Scandinavia.
Rondane and Dovrefjell National Parks provided more stunning scenery and interesting visitor management. On route to Dovrefjell we stopped at another roadside facility which provided a moment to enjoy the landscape. The Sohlbergplassen lookout point was a concrete viewing platform providing an artistic interpretation of the Rondane National Park. This is part of the National Tourist Routes, selected and managed by the Norwegian government. The award winning structure and objectives seemed very similar to the Scenic Routes initiative which is being supported by Scotgov delivering similar outputs in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Heidi Ydse a Nature Interpreter for Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (SNO) met us at the Dovrefjell Wild Reindeer Centre. After some introductory talks we headed out to look at the visitor experience. It was clear that many ideas being used in Norway are similar to those in Scotland. Heidi spoke about a planned revamp to the existing centre to get more of the experience outside, changing the design of the building to create shelters and walkthroughs without the need to open the building or man it. We also saw and evolution of the ‘container’ visitor centre which has been used in various sites across the UK.
The walk up to the Snøhetta viewpoint was a journey through the history of reindeer and the people that have hunted them for their existence. The interpretation stones to the viewpoint were translated for us by our guide who also had a bag of props to help tell the stories. This is one of my favourite sorts of interpretation and it really worked here with a stunning backdrop and a great story.
Figure 4 Reindeer comb
As well as reindeer the musk ox population provides a focus of interest and the use of live size silhouettes helps manage the safety of visitors. This is a great example of how to use interpretation to manage behaviour, with the size of the silhouettes appearing as they should when you are at 200m distance. This is the safe distance to approach musk ox as they can be aggressive, charge at 60 mph and have a skull thickness of 2.5cm (males).
Figure 5 Musk Ox
Once we reached the top we got a view across to Snøhetta and the decommissioned firing range. The view was suitably majestic but what made it even more interesting was the £400k piece of architecture. The Snøhetta viewpoint has won numerous awards and provides an organic and modern focus point at the end of the interpretative path. Inside there are no panels or words just a great view and a fire. During the summer months SNO provide a live interpreter who maintains the structure, cleans the windows, but most importantly acts as the map for visitors. You can take in the view and ask questions about the park, its wildlife and history. Heidi told us that the structure itself has attracted large numbers of new visitors who come specifically for the architecture and the whole project of £700k attracts about 27,000 visitors a year.
The sad news is that one of the key elements of the experience: the live interpreter is under review. SNO are having to make savings and are looking to cut the roles of nature interpreters in the park. This is a role that is fundamental to a good experience, especially for new audiences to the outdoors. This is an important aspect to visitor experience in Scotland were recent studies have shown a huge disconnect between people and the natural world. The cultural links to our natural environment are not as strong as in Scandinavia and these links can only be rekindled and awakened with great story telling from enthusiastic and passionate communicators.
Scenic routes Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/things-to-see/scenic-routes-viewpoints/