NORWAY NATURE EXCHANGE VISIT 2012
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This study exchange took place between 7th and 13th May. It was organised for us by Libby Urquhart of Archnetwork and very generously funded by the Leonardo da Vinci fund. We are very grateful to both organisations for the opportunity to take part in this trip.
Six of us, with varying backgrounds in the management of Scotland’s wildlife, visited Norway to learn about how land and wildlife management are practiced there, and to contrast this with our experiences in our own country. We were encouraged to exchange and discuss our experiences with our hosts, so that we could learn from each other.
We were hosted by the staff and students of the University College of Hedmark, based at Evanstad campus. This is over 150 miles north of Oslo, and is based on the eastern bank of Norway’s longest river, the Glomma. While it neighbours small scale agricultural land on the flood plain, the campus is surrounded by extensive semi-natural forest which extends up to the tree line on the hills and mountains on either side of the Glomma valley. This provides the students and staff of the campus with a fine environment in which to study forestry, hunting and wildlife management. We were looked after very well and greatly enjoyed the campus food which is largely based on game. We can all thoroughly recommend moose!
Our principal host was Trond Ofstaas. He is a part time lecturer in hunting at the University, and also works for the Government as an adviser in wildlife management. His extensive knowledge, practical experience and network of contacts amongst academics, land managers and hunters provided us with a wide range of experiences that form the basis of this report. We are very grateful to Trond for all the time he devoted to organising our programme and for personally conducting our stay, so that we were able to see so much.
The six participants were Kelvin Wilson, Andy Lawton, Steven McKillop, Fiona Cruickshank, Rob Raynor and David Bale. A brief biography of each is given in Appendix 1.
The opinions presented in these reports are our own based on what we saw and heard during the week’s programme, and as compared with what we do in Scotland. While we have limited the report to the main topics of our visit, we saw a wide range of wildlife, wonderful scenery, habitats and architecture – and met great people. All of us are keen to visit again in our own time. We have all benefitted from this exchange and are keen to share what we have learned with our colleagues at home.
Cover photo view towards the mountains of the Rondane National Park – photo David Bale
Arch Network Exchange Norway May 7-13-2012
Part of the exchange looked at the management of forestry in Norway, and the importance of this industry in the rural economy, how these forests have been managed over the years to create potential for livestock grazing and their value as habitat for large herbivores was also looked at.
Given that Norway has a woodland cover of some type on 38% of its land mass, forestry and its management obviously has a large effect on the value of that land. Total land coverage is 12million Ha, with 7million Ha of ‘productive’ forest. Difficult terrain and distance to market the rest of the forest cover non viable economically. Because of the growth rate and harvesting methods there has been a growth in the actual volume of timber from 300million cubic metres in 1919 to 740 million cubic metres in 2006. 47 % of the woodland cover is comprised of Picea abies, 33% Pinus sylvestris, 18% Betula, the rest filled by other species. 80 % of Norways forests are privately owned, 12% state owned, and the rest owned by business, forest or other. The breakdown of markets is as follows, (in million NOK) Timber 3079, firewood 311, hunting 463, and Christmas trees 179.
The limiting factor on its management is the length of crop rotation due to climate and soil type, and not restricted capacity as is the case in Scotland where forest cover is still limited in area. 23% of Norways forests have a protected designation.
The main types of woodland we visited were comprised of Pinus sylvestris and Picea abies, with Betula species used as cash crop to be harvested throughout the life of the rotation, supplying the large firewood market. The main system of harvesting in the past was hand felling in the autumn/early winter, using horses to extract the timber. Each landowner/forest company had its own brand, identifying it to the mill owner/timber merchant. The resultant timber being transported to the mills by use of the river systems, a technique used as recently as the 1970’s. Rivers were dammed to create a head of water which was then released to move the produce downstream. We visited an old water powered sawmill which was recently refurbished. Forest management is now carried out with machines, though there are areas where felling is not possible due to the terrain.
A system of small felling coupes is used. On each coupe a number of mature trees are left to provide the seed source for the following crop, with the ground disturbance from the machinery increasing the uptake of seedlings. In addition some trees are ‘topped’ to leave standing deadwood thereby increasing the conservation value of the forest. In this way the pine crops are re-established with little input. Spruce crops are re-planted and this is grant aided by the state.
Older clearfell coupe with some birch standards as a seed source for the ‘cash’ element of the forest income. Birch is used for firewood, and the bark is used for the tiles which lie under the turf roofs seen on many rural homes in Norway.
Much of Norways timber is exported as the slow growth rate gives the high strength needed in construction. There is some small scale clearance of woodland in the valleys, to increase agricultural land and food production, which is grant aided by the state.
Herbivores and forestry – a conflict of interests?
The area of Norway we visited has a number of large herbivores present in its woodlands. These include Moose, red and roe deer, with Reindeer found further north. Looking at the sites we visited their impact on the regeneration of the forests seems to be minimal, despite the fact that pinus spp. are generally prone to browsing damage. The control of herbivores is managed through a regional forum, involving all the landowners in the area. The views of all landowners is taken into account, whether their priority is forestry, hunting or non-hunting and an area cull is agreed through consensus. The base population is created by gathering sightings over the year with this information collated to give an overall estimated population for the region. In this system each landowner is given a number of licenses to cull a certain number of animals on their property. This individual cull is split into sex, size and age brackets. The cull returns are assessed over the years to see if there is any fluctuation in the make-up of the population and the cull target and break-down is adjusted to maintain a balanced population of old, young, male and female.
In contrast to scotland where these herbivores are generally treated as a pest in forestry terms, in Norway they are treated as a valuable forest resource, giving an valuable annual income from the sale of shooting rights and meat/skins. (up to £2800/moose for meat alone). The only area where we saw a substantial impact on forestry was in areas where the moose were fed in the winter. Winter feeding is carried out to draw the animals away from the valleys and roads in winter, and this increase in densty in the feeding areas has had a major impact on the regeneration of trees. In addition it has had an effect on the breeding potential of the population with increased calf:cow ration. Since feeding is a recent programme it remains to be seen whether culls will be increased to compensate or whether there is still capacity in the forest habitat to absorb the increased population. This increase may in the future be managed by wolves.
It is interesting to see how the Norwegians still have a closer link to the countryside that we seem to have in the UK. There management of the forests seems to one of valuing all of the resources the forest offers and managing them in balance. Whether this comes from the sheer scale of the forest area and the terrain limitations on the management possibilities is difficult to say, but the willingness to use what is there naturally is impressive. The economic value given to mammals in the forest and the co-operation in their management, from the outside seems to be an effective form of management which will ensure the long term conservation of these species.
Capercaillie in Central Norway
Capercaillie are an important game bird in Norway found at relatively high densities. There are up to 25-30 capercaillie/km2 in Norway which is in complete contrast to the very low numbers found in most parts of Scotland. The most recent capercaillie survey estimated a population 1285 capercaillie in the whole of Scotland, which is a decline from the last survey which estimated 1980 in 2003/4. The area that I cover is Deeside and Donside which is estimated to support just 124 capercaillie. The drop in numbers is attributed to a number of factors including warm springs affecting condition of hen capercaillie and wetter weather in June causing high chick mortality. Predation by other birds and mammals, changes in habitat quality, overgrazing of habitat by deer, and collision with deer fences are additional factors. One of the key issues for capercaillie in Scotland is a lack of suitable extensive habitat and also the lack of linkages between these habitats. Many of the small sub-populations are now very isolated from one another and so if one sub-population declines dramatically, or disappears, it is unlikely that the area will be re-populated from elsewhere.
|Capercaillie hen © Andy Lawton|
The key difference I observed between the situation in Norway and Scotland, is the extent of pinewood habitat. The majority of land in Norway is covered in continuous pine and Norway spruce forest. In Scotland, the majority of the land is open due to historic widespread deforestation and woodland now exists in relatively small pockets. Norway’s timber industry is a key factor in maintaining this woodland. Landowners in Norway are legally obliged to re-forest any areas that are felled. Felling coupes are small in size and restocking is either by planting or by allowing re-seeding to maintain the woodland cover. This results in a continuous habitat cover for capercaillie. Scotland also requires restocking of forests, but woods are already smaller, and felling coupes tend to be larger so that the impact on forest cover is much more significant.
Due to the extensive nature of the forests, managing with fences is not practical and so herbivore numbers are kept low enough to allow for woodland regeneration. The quota for the hunting of moose and deer is in part set in relation to the need to allow the forest to regenerate after felling. The animals are managed as woodland animals in balance with their habitat. The lack of fencing means that fence strike is not an issue for capercaillie in Norway. In addition, the presence of low level grazing throughout most woodland will maintain the important blaeberry habitat essential for chicks. In Scotland the widespread use of fencing for woodland regeneration means a total exclusion of grazing, which leads, in many woodlands, to an over-dominance of heather, which shades out the important blaeberry habitat. On the flip-side, woodland areas in Scotland managed without fencing are subject to heavy grazing by deer, especially during winter when they move down from the open hills for shelter. This results in over-grazing of blaeberry habitat and destruction of regenerating trees.
Another key difference between land management in Norway and Scotland is that there there doe not appear to the big private Estates that we see in much of rural Scotland. Land seems to be divided up into much smaller parcels, which encourages, or perhaps necessitates, a more collaborative approach to management. Individual landowners seem to be working towards a similar aim, which is maintaining woodland cover in balance with game hunting. The forest we saw was largely based on native species on soils that have been covered in forest since the end of the last ice age. This continuity of very extensive semi-natural forest over millennia contrasts markedly with Scotland’s fragmented forests, and where the semi-natural woods are small scale, and much more emphasis has been placed on intensive plantations. Also, Norway does not appear to have the same sport shooting industry which we have in Scotland. In highland Scotland, the emphasis is commonly on managing high deer populations in open hill ground. These deer move into the forest in winter, which either damages the forest habitat or requires fencing for protection. Norway does not have big areas of moorland derived from cleared forest, all large game are managed in the context of the semi-natural forest. I think that these factors mean that Norwegians don’t have the same conflicts that we find in Scotland. For example in Scotland there is often a conflict between forestry and deer management within an individual estate, and also with the neighbours. This is often seen as a conflict between private landowners, whose primary interest is in sport shooting, and land owned by the government or charities such as RSPB and NTS, who are managing their land for native woodland habitat. This is what has lead to extensive fencing of woodlands and the collision risk for capercaillie, or to more intensive shooting of deer on the forest land and accusations that sporting deer are being lost. In Norway, the collaboration between different landowners in a geographical area, and the desire to manage both the forest and game in a sustainable manner, seems to be adequate to maintain relatively low moose and deer numbers. According to our guide Trond Ofstaas, there is legislation to force a landowner to control deer if they are not already doing so, but the implementation of these powers has never been required.
In Norway the key focus, in terms of management for capercaillie, is predator control. A researcher from the University gave a talk on work that had been done on capercaillie looking into the population size over the years. In the 60’s/70’s fox pelts had a very high value, which maintained fox numbers at a low level. Foxes are a significant predator of capercaillie. When the fur value fell, the numbers of foxes increased. The research also looked at the potential impacts of pine marten, another key predator of capercaillie in Norway. Pine marten were protected from trapping in the 1940’s due to low numbers, which allowed their numbers to increase. In the 80’s and 90’s the protection for pine marten was removed, allowing trapping to start again. The capercaillie numbers fell when predator populations were high, and rose when the number of predators was controlled..
In Scotland, predator control is also an important part of capercaillie management. Most of the control is of foxes, stoats and crows. Pine marten have, until recently, been very rare. Past persecution meant that pine marten were restricted to the far north west of Scotland and they are currently a protected species meaning it is illegal to kill them without a special licence. Recently the population seems to be expanding, and some are blaming this as contributing to the continued decline of capercaillie. RSPB at Abernethy in Speyside recently carried out a study which found that 30% of nests were predated by pine marten – this seems to fit with the findings of similar research in Norway.. No moves have been made yet to control pine marten for the purpose of capercaillie management, and it is probably too early to tell whether this is a localised issue, or whether it could be a factor more widespread in Scotland.
This trip highlighted how important landscape scale management will be for the conservation of capercaillie. With the current threats from climate change, capercaillie will need to have habitat to expand into to increase their numbers and improve the overall resilience of the population. Currently in Scotland the collaborative approach is probably not happening widely enough to allow for large scale habitat expansion in core capercaille areas. Financial incentives, or their limitations,, may contribute to this. However, the key issue probably lies with traditional land use, and conflicts between relatively small areas of forestry and management of large numbers of deer and grouse in extensive areas of open moorland. A long history of this type of conflict means that a big cultural shift would be required to take concerted action to save capercaillie numbers from dropping even further in Scotland.
Large predator management in Norway
The Hedmark region supports populations of all the large carnivores that naturally occur in Scandinavia , namely lynx, wolverine, wolf and brown bear. At least two packs of wolves are currently present in Hedmark. These have originated from animals that moved westwards from central southern Sweden where the population of wolves is building following recolonisation of the region from the north.
The wolf population of Norway is estimated at 30-40 individuals. The national border between Sweden and Norway cuts right through the Scandinavian wolf population. The issue of wolf conservation and management therefore concerns both countries. In Hedmark, and elsewhere in Norway where conflicts with large predators exist, the government has demarcated areas where wolves are allowed to live and where there is presumption against issue of licences to control them. Thus in Hedmark, the south-eastern part of the county has been zoned for wolves. To the north is a buffer zone surrounded by three areas where sheep and cattle rearing has priority and any wolf straying into the area can be shot under licence. Not surprisingly, the experience of having to live with wolves, has resulted in a generally low level of tolerance towards them. The vast majority of sheep that are attacked by wolves are maimed rather than killed outright. The wolves often snap at the sheep, but only kill perhaps 10% of the affected animals. Many sheep farmers in the core wolf area, and adjacent buffer zone, have given up their operation, or moved to those areas where licences to control wolves, and other predators, are more readily granted.
The southern Scandinavian wolf population needs to be treated as a single entity and requires a cross border strategy to achieve this. Whilst the majority of the population is still in Sweden, it is expanding and more wolves are dispersing into Norway and established new packs. A key problem, particularly in Norway, seems to be rooted in the fact that sheep are traditionally free-ranging in the summer months and left largely unprotected. This contrasts with areas in southern and Eastern Europe where large guard dogs have traditionally been used. Whilst acknowledging the attempts that have been made by the government to maintain a small wolf population in south-east Norway and to manage conflicts by the creation of appropriate zones, it is difficult to see how this approach can be sustainable in the long term without additional measures to protect sheep and/or compensate for the losses, as the Swedish wolf population builds and more animals disperse into Norway. In 2011 a total of 13 wolves were shot or died of other causes. Five were shot as a nuisance and four were shot under licence. NoK14 million is required annually to fund the necessary preventative actions.
Originally, brown bears were found throughout Scandinavia but were almost exterminated by the end of the 19th century, disappearing first from the lowlands, and surviving only in a few mountainous areas in northern and central Sweden. The low point for the brown bear population was about 1930, when about 130 bears were left in four populations. The Norwegian bears are a peripheral part of the main Swedish population. In common with the wolf, bears are an important predator on the >2 million free-ranging, unguarded domestic sheep. It is estimated that each bear in Norway kills on average an estimated minimum of 50 sheep annually. This is in great contrast to the situation in Sweden, where sheep are kept within electric fences in areas with bears, and there are very few losses. The Norwegian government has decided that the number of bears should increase and that predation losses should decrease, but in view of the current husbandry practices it is difficult to see how this objective can be achieved without significant changes to sheep husbandry, or separating sheep and bears geographically. Twenty-seven bears were shot in Norway in 2011.
The Norwegian wolverine population is estimated to be around 330. Although almost never seen, predation on domestic sheep and semi-domestic reindeer has led to a low level of tolerance for wolverines.
They are found mainly in mountainous areas in south-central Norway and along the Norwegian-Swedish border from Hedmark county northwards. Wolverines were hunted to near extinction in southern Norway, where the species received protection in 1973 and subsequently started to recolonise the area in the late 1970’s. There is now evidence of an increase in the range and population of wolverines in south-central Norway during recent years, despite an increase in the numbers killed under licence. In total, 105 wolverines were shot in 2010/11,or died of other causes, including 58 that were shot as nuisance. 37 of these were shot under licence (8 in Hedmark).
Of the four large carnivore species, the least controversial one is the lynx, but it is still widely hunted. In the mid 19th century an average of 127 lynx were shot per year, leading to a dramatic reduction the population. However, since 1960 there has been a gradual expansion of the lynx population in Norway. In recent years the number of family groups (female lynx with kittens) has varied from 44 to 92, and the annual harvest has exceeded 100 animals again. Quota-based hunting for lynx takes place in February and March. The quota is set for each county by the local administration and anyone who meets the requirements can hunt lynx in areas where quota hunting is in effect. In 2011, a total of 175
hunting licences for lynx were issued and 136 were shot.
In general, roe deer are the most important prey for lynx in southern Scandinavia, both in summer and winter. There is concern amongst some hunters over the number of roe deer that are predated and how this affects the roe deer population. Locally, the effect of this predation on the roe population can be high in areas with low roe deer density and low population growth. In those areas lynx can kill the entire surplus that would be available for hunting, even when the lynx density is low. On the other hand, the effect of lynx predation on roe deer is relatively low in areas with high roe deer density. Lynx predation on sheep does not appear to be serious problem although there are some losses. In Scotland, the abundance of roe deer and, in some areas, sika deer, raises interesting economic (as well as purely biodiversity-based) questions about potential advantages of reintroducing this predator. Given the resources that are devoted each year to controlling deer numbers in forestry plantations, there could potentially be significant savings to be made, particularly if a reintroduced lynx population targeted sika as well as roe deer. Such selective predation on the former might even reduce the level of hybridization with native red deer. Perhaps some of the savings to be made in deer management could be directed towards genuine claims for compensation in those cases where sheep predation does occur.
A key observation from our visit is that the Norwegians take a much more pragmatic approach to amending the legal protection of predators in response to changing population status than we do in Scotland, or the UK as a whole. There is perhaps a lesson here: if we to wish to build a higher level of trust between conservation organisations and game-keeping interests, that may one day facilitate the reintroduction of a large carnivore to Scotland, we need to be seen to be taking a more flexible approach to reviewing the protected status of certain species, in response to robust scientific evidence for the species’ recovery.
Fisheries Management in the River Glomma, Norway
The River Glomma runs from its source around Lake Aursund for approx 600 km to the estuary at Oslofjord, Fredrikstad. Along its course the river is joined by numerous tributaries with the major ones identified as the Atna, Rena and the Vorma.
View of the Glomma river from our cabin
The river has been heavily utilized by man over the years as a transportation route for timber to the sawmills and other wood processing facilities at the estuary, and in more recent times as a source of hydroelectric power.
The activities ofman along the river Glomma over the centuries have impacted heavily with the same types of problems encountered in Scottish rivers that were used by industry. These are namely habitat degradation, pollution, blockages to migratory routes and over fishing. Some of these factors or even a combination of them all has had some significant effects on the fish species and other flora and fauna present in the river.
The river Glomma hosts a range of fish species some of which have been identified as extinct species in Scotland, namely the burbot Lota lota and a white fish Coregonus lavaretus. Although considered important within the river system by fishermen and fishery biologists both these species do not generate the same status or appear to be prized the same as brown trout Salmo trutta and grayling Thymallus thymallus.
Unlike in Scotland there are no river fishery boards or fishery trusts to aid the management of the river and the flora and fauna present, though some landowners have come together to establish some type of management by regulating the fishing, licence sales and stock management. The lack of consistency in the river management practices however does lead to problems for the biologists who are assisting with the management of the rivers resources. A lot of the work carried out in relation to restocking is funded by the hydroelectric companies who have a legal obligation to do so. It is assumed that this funding will help negate the impact of any hydro electric scheme, but this would not appear to be the case according to the biologists studying the river.
The short lecture we received from Kyell Langdal at the Hedmark University College, Evenstad Campus, outlined the issues they are trying to address. The management of brown trout in the Glomma appears to be done in much the same way as Atlantic salmon Salmo salar is currently being managed in Scotland; improving habitat, releasing hatchery stock to supplement the natural stocks, fin clipping to identify hatchery fish, brood stock capture and breeding program, tagging and tracking research. The fishery biologists have demonstrated however that the river habitat in the spawning areas is good and all spawning areas that can be used effectively are being utilised by the wild fish. This leads them to conclude that other factors are impacting on the wild stocks and influencing recruitment, including habitat loss in the main river (hydro electric schemes), predation, overfishing.
One of the major differences between Scotland and Norway is the hatchery release programs. All hatchery release programs do in some way hope to have a positive impact on the numbers and availability of stocks in the river system they were released into. In the Glomma hatchery release program however restocking is not restricted to the release of fry or ova planting but has in some cases involved the release of thousands of fish that were around the minimum takeable size limit for the Glomma of 25-30cm. Some of these fish released were apparently in the 400 – 500g weight range. Stocking fish at this size could have a serious impact on the ecology of the river system. The fishery biologists have identified this type of release as a potential problem especially as competition with wild stocks for food and spawning could increase. The competition for food situation may not be as bad as that for spawning however as research by the university demonstrated that the hatchery released stocks were outperformed by wild stocks showing much poorer growth patterns. This may be related to the longer time spent in the hatchery system where food was readily available with very little effort required to hunt.
The biologists felt that this stocking practice was carried out to ensure a surplus of fish was available for capture by anglers who had reported stocks were ‘not like they used to be’. This is something that is also stated by some anglers in Scotland (thankfully now becoming a minority), who expect to still catch as many fish as they used to in similar numbers and of a similar size without showing any self restraint or willingness for catch and release. This type of angler was identified by the Norwegian biologists as the ‘country’ or harvest angler, who was described as very efficient and who caught fish to store for the winter as they have always done. Although the activities of this type of angler could be managed to some extent by imposing legislation in relation to bag limits and minimum sizes (which has been done especially with grayling), this would be difficult to police on a river the size of the Glomma.
There is a desire by biologists to attract more anglers in the categories identified as; family, tourist and expert (professional), especially the tourist and expert categories. If landowners were brought round the table and could agree on a management plan for the river system which would involve not only the management of the flora and fauna but also the control of licences sold, minimum sizes, bag limits and policing to enforce the rules then it was felt they would attract a lot more tourists to the area. It would be hoped that by improving the quality of the fishing, especially the brown trout, the anglers categorised as tourist and expert would be more attracted to the area. To achieve a goal like this would require a long term commitment and investment by landowners in the local infrastructure such as accommodation, angling guides, availability of high quality fishing and other leisure activities to ensure visiting anglers would be appropriately catered for.
The Norwegian biologists on the Glomma face an uphill struggle but seem determined to succeed and should note that in Scotland it took many years to change the attitude of anglers, especially in relation to catch and release. This is a method of stock management that is becoming more widely accepted and practiced by the majority of anglers and in most cases is completely voluntary. This has meant that it is less common now in Scotland to encounter the ‘country or harvest’ angler. Due to the work of fishery boards, fishery trusts, biologists and angling bodies, there is more awareness among anglers in Scotland that fish are a finite resource that has to be managed to ensure a harvestable surplus in the future.
Beavers were hunted to extinction throughout much of mainland Europe including Scandinavia. The value of their fur and castoreum was the main cause, but some also perceived them to be a threat to forestry and agricultural interests. A small population of about 1200 animals was left in Norway before they received strict protection in the 1840s.
This protection has allowed them to grow in number and expand to fill most if not all of their original range across the country. There has been no cause for any reintroduction initiative here. They occur wherever there is a suitable combination of adequate water for protection and woody growth for winter feed. This combination is very common across much of Norway.
There are countless pools, streams and rivers in Norway, even in the relatively drier east of the country around Hedmark. In association with all this water, the size of the natural forest in Norway is huge. In the journey from Oslo to Evanstad and onto Dovre, we travelled though continuous native woodland all the way. This was of Norway spruce, larch, Scots pine and birch. With altitude the larch and spruce decrease and eventually disappear, leaving pine and birch. Eventually pine also declines at about 900 metres leaving birch up to 1000 metres at the altitudinal tree limit. The only gaps in the forest cover were small towns and even smaller farm clearings. Even above the natural tree line there was abundant dwarf birch (Betula nana) and various species of dwarf willow amongst the high altitude heath, again associated with numerous pools. The potential habitat available to beavers is thus very great in extent, and can extend to above the tree line because of the availability of woody shrubs next to water.
While beavers do not feed on the conifers the water bodies are lined by various willow species, silver birch and grey alder. These are important sources of food for beavers. During the growing season, they get access to the foliage by felling trees and low hanging branches. They browse freely on green water side herbage during the summer, which is abundant in riparian situations and around the margins of most pools and lakes. During winter they feed on bark. The winters in Hedmark are long and very cold, regularly down to minus 20 centigrade and lower. Water is frozen for up to 6 months, and snow cover is deep and protracted so access to fresh food is very difficult. They cut the smaller branches into short lengths for storage in caches on the river or lake bottom in still or slow moving water, where they can be retrieved from under the ice during winter. They then strip the bark for food.
Their lodges (“kabins” in Norwegian) are built on the banks and constructed from lengths of branches and sticks arranged in a low dome with no obvious internal structure but clearly very stable. These lodges have burrow entrances which emerge under the water level, and more importantly under the ice level so that the beavers can swim down to the cache without being exposed to hungry land based predators.
They tend to range only 20 to 30 metres from water as they have a number of land based predators including lynx, dogs and humans. Once in water they feel safe. They have no natural water based predators so are easiest to approach from water. We did this by canoe over two evenings on the River Glomma and saw up to 8 beavers along a 6km stretch of river. Two beavers were seen on land – one ran and leaped into the river having heard us approach. It then slapped the water with its tail to warn of danger and dived out of sight. A second was passed while sitting on a shallow sloping river bank feeding on herbage which it held in its front paws. It clearly did not smell or hear us. The sight of us was obviously of no concern probably because it had no expectation of a water-borne predator. We were thus able to drift by within about 5 metres distance with there being no concern whatsoever. The other beavers were seen lying at the water surface with nose, eyes ears and the upper back above water level. We were able to approach most before they caught our scent. If they could not smell or hear us they would actually approach a canoe.
This lack of immediate fear when in water means that this is a good way to conduct surveys or watch beavers in the wild without alarming them. It is also how most Norwegians hunt them. On land they are very wary.
Beavers are very common on the River Glomma which flows past Evanstad and is Norway’s longest river. The evidence of numerous gnawed and felled trees and branches was testament to this, as was the regular occurrence of well worn tracks down the bank into the river and many lodges. We also saw a few dams in very slow moving back waters and open drains on areas of cultivated flood plain.
While beavers are still in receipt of legal protection, this is no longer absolute. In accord with Norwegian culture they are again hunted and as such are regarded by many as a valuable natural resource. The protection means that hunting activity is controlled, with quotas being set by the municipal council, and exercised by consent of land owners. Advice from government is also available to ensure that quotas are sustainable. On the Glomma, advice by our leader, Trond on behalf of the government, has resulted in the beavers in agreed sections of the river being protected from hunting to allow a wide age range of beavers to develop. Elsewhere, the beavers are hunted in accordance with the agreed quotas.
Beavers are not considered to cause any major problems for forestry as the trees they seek out are not of high commercial value. Also, once felled the trees re-sprout and regrow. The only limitation on this is secondary browsing by moose. This occurs particularly during the winter when the moose move down to low ground for shelter. The coppiced trees can provide a good source of nutrients for fish from falling invertebrates and leaves. There are no salmon in the Glomma owing to an inaccessible lower reach (as well as 15 man-made dams along its length), so no conflict with salmon here. According to Trond there are no problems in the west of Norway where salmon do occur as the flow of water is too great for any significant dam building by beavers.
If dams do cause a problem by flooding farm land or valuable forest crops, then a licence is issued to remove them. The favoured Norwegian method seems to be dynamite. If beavers persist in causing problems then lethal control is readily available. This pragmatic approach to management seems to result in beavers being very common but not controversial in terms of land management. I believe this situation is helped by the low human population density and the immense scale of semi-natural habitat in Norway. However, I also believe that a sensible balance between protection and ready control/management of any problems caused by beavers could also help to gain more acceptance of beaver reintroduction proposals in the UK. Norway has moved from a strict protection system to a more balanced one. In Britain, and the EU, the law is often reluctant to move from strict protection to a more pragmatic approach of licensed control. While Norway is outwith the EU, we think that much can be learnt from the approach adopted in Norway.
Wild reindeer in Norway
Norway manages the only remaining populations of wild European mountain reindeer in 23 more or less separate mountain areas in Southern Norway, which means that they have a unique international responsibility.
Reindeer are creatures which habitually keep on the move. They move constantly when feeding and will move to different areas according to the time of year and food availability. As a general rule, mountain reindeer tend to occupy the high ground above the tree line in winter because the wind blows most of the snow off these parts making it easier for the reindeer to access lichens, a main part of their diet at this time of year. In the spring and summer months they tend to move into the upper woodland fringes to feed on the more nutritious grasses. This coincides with the birth of the reindeer calves. In ancient times reindeer would wander throughout the whole of the mountainous areas of Norway and the only restrictions they would have would be natural factors such as climate, vegetation and geographical factors. In the past the reindeer used to inhabit 4 large geographical areas which boundaries were due in the main to river valleys.
Wild reindeer seem to be shy of human presence, and the disturbance from vehicles on the road and rail networks. Unfortunately in recent times, roads, rail networks and the ever increasing popularity of cabins in the mountains has had a detrimental effect on the migratory habits of the reindeer. This factor seems to make them resist crossing roads, railways and steer clear of areas around cabins. It is due to the successive development of roads, railways and the increasing popularity of cabins that the 4 former reindeer are now divided into 23 smaller areas. This means that each group of reindeer now occupies a smaller area and therefore cannot migrate as they would naturally do so to optimize the seasonal food availability.
This situation demonstrates how important it is that a proper environment assessment is carried out as part of the planning process for any development. This allows the environmental impacts to be identified, and where possible, avoided or mitigated before any form of construction is consented and started. The Environmental Impact Assessment process introduced by the EU requires this to be done for significant proposals in member states. If this had been done properly for road and rail developments in this part of Norway we felt that the impact on the reindeer could have been avoided. For example, new roads crossing the migration routes could either have been built in a tunnel, or in a cutting crossed by a wide green bridge to allow the migration route to be uninterrupted. We saw a wide green bridge over the main dual carriageway north of Oslo, presumably for moose. This measure can be done retrospectively however it is likely to be more expensive and cause more disruption to humans and animals alike. Another measure could be restriction on the numbers of cabins built.
The history of wild reindeer and Norwegians has always been closely interwoven. They have being hunting and trapping reindeer since they returned to Norway after the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. The remains of ancient pit traps and butts are found in large numbers along the traditional migration routes. There also many finds of stone age arrow and spear heads an the area which had been made for the reindeer hunt. The tradition of hunting still continues today. The number of reindeer that are harvested is agreed in collaboration with land owners, government and the hunters in order to maintain sustainable numbers.
The Norwegians are aware of the international, cultural and ecological importance of the wild reindeer. They also recognize the importance of education on the subject and have built a very impressive visitor centre called the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre Pavilion. Unfortunately we were unable to visit this due to the deep snow.
Pale pasque flower in reindeer territory – Norway’s national flower – photo David Bale
Musk Ox Introduction
Musk oxen are a distant relative of the woolly mammoth. They have not been present naturally in Norway for over 30,000 years, so their presence in Norway is not a reintroduction of a species lost within historical times. A small group of musk oxen were first introduced to an upland area which now forms part of the Dovre National Park by whalers in the 1920s. They brought them from Greenland, presumably as calves, having killed the adult attendants to be able to capture them. The original small population was wiped out during WWII, but animals were introduced again in the early 1950s. 20 animals were released and 10 survived. While the population has fluctuated since, it has had a growing trend with the latest population count being 300.
They have very dense coats which are ideal for the extreme winters of their homeland, and also those of this high part of Norway above the tree line. Unfortunately, this means that they are susceptible to over heating in the summer. In recent years the summers have been unusually warm and humid and this has led to much stress on the animals with a number dying from pneumonia.
The male and female musk oxen can be distinguished from each other by their horn plates. There is a permanent gap between those of the cow, while those of the male meet to form a completely reinforced forehead. This creates a formidable weapon which they deploy at the charge during rutting. Both sexes are very capable of lethal defence from any perceived threat, and especially in defence of any calves. As thay can be so aggressive all visitors are warned to keep at least 200 metres from them for safety reasons.
The desire to keep out of the heat has resulted in some oxen taking shelter in the rail tunnel that passes through the region. Unfortunately, their instinct to attack a threat has led to some animals attacking the oncoming train. The train always wins. They have also attacked army bulldozers on the neighbouring army range, and even had a go at helicopters trying to move them on.
The oxen are left to their own devices but are only tolerated within a defined part of the National Park. Those which stray outside are killed because they are so dangerous. Unfortunately there are a number of houses in the area close to the road and rail and the oxen do wander amongst them to graze on the early grass growth. If this happens occupants are warned not to try to shoo them away. The story was told of one woman who had to be rescued by helicopter when she could not get out because of a group of oxen between her and her car.
The oxen have no discernible negative impact on the upland scrub and grasslands, but have not filled any vacant niche either as they have not been resident for many millennia. Instead they appear to remain here as more of a curiosity. They are tolerated by residents within limits, but much appreciated as a tourist attraction.
A bull musk ox pays a visit – photo David Bale
Annex 1 – The participants
Forestry Commission Scotland wildlife ranger
I work in the central belt of Scotland, covering mainly commercial and semi-urban woodlands. I manage the deer populations within these woods to ensure we achieve establishment of commercial crops, including broadleaves. I also have some input into the forest design process and conservation issues within the district.
Since visiting from Norway i have a wider understanding of how forests can be managed in a more varied manner to suit the objectives and unique situations of some of the woodlands we manage. How different management systems can be employed and the outputs from each wood could be measured in different ways.
The way we look at deer management could also be improved. In Scotland the deer is treated in different ways by different bodies whose objectives may differ. In Norway there seems to be a presumption that each species has an economic value and it should be managed to maximise that potential. In Scottish forestry they are seen simply as a pest and there economic value over the course of the rotation is not taken into account. After all this is a potential revenue stream which will last the 40 years of the rotation and if managed properly can be a valuable asset, whilst still achieving the goals of forest establishment or conservation.
Barony College, Lecturer in Aquaculture and Freshwater Fisheries Management
I have been involved in aquaculture and freshwater fisheries management both in employment and delivery of education since 1994. I am currently a college lecturer and for the past two years have been actively involved in developing work based learning materials for the aquaculture and fisheries management sectors.
During the visit to Norway I found that wild fisheries face similar problems to that encountered in Scotland’s wild fisheries. From an educational perspective this will allow me to make valuable comparisons on how management practices are carried out between the two countries. The ways in which the fisheries are managed between Scotland and Norway are quite different in some areas, especially regarding the restocking of rivers and capture limits.
A second point of interest for me was how deer and other large mammals are managed. This again was different from how deer management, as a recreational stalker, is carried out not only in Scotland but the UK as a whole. Deer, especially red deer, have always been regarded as an iconic animal in Scotland by tourists but are almost considered as a pest species by some organisations. In Norway they are considered a valuable resource and in the area around Evenstad, moose, deer and other large mammals are held in high esteem as an important part of the local economy, contributing not only food but also financial benefits from visiting hunters and the sale of any surplus. Although this does happen in Scotland to a certain extent there doesn’t appear to be the same appreciation of the resource, which is in some cases dealt with in a low key manner through fear of causing offence or upset. Efforts are being made in Scotland to change attitudes to deer and their management, and also to improve public perception of deer as a healthy food option as well as a valuable part of Scotland’s wildlife.
Scottish Natural Heritage: Policy & Advice Officer (Mammals)
My current role within Scottish Natural Heritage requires me to provide specialist advice and the development of policy guidance in relation both protected mammal species and certain key problem species. A substantial proportion of this advice concerns species conflicts, such as advising on problems with protected predators such as pine martens in buildings and as predators of vulnerable species such as capercaillie. Wildlife management is a significant and increasing area of work within SNH and this visit to Evenstad has certainly broadened my knowledge base in this respect. The Norwegians clearly have a very pragmatic approach to managing wildlife and are not averse to changing the protected status of species in response to new information on their population status. In the UK, there is a tendency to avoid relaxing the legal protection from species when their populations have recovered and are no longer under threat. This was an excellent and enjoyable learning experience, providing me with a much better understanding of the Norwegian approach to hunting and wildlife management. The visit benefited me by providing a valuable insight into the management of important mammal species, notably the large carnivores that have been lost from Scotland. It also provided plenty of opportunities to discuss different approaches to wildlife management with both the various Norwegian contributors and the other members of the group.
Scottish Natural Heritage, Area Manager
I have worked for SNH (and its predecessor Nature Conservancy Council) in NE Scotland for over 23 years and have experienced a great deal of the policy, politics and practice of land management, including the interaction between nature conservation and other land management objectives. As Area Manager for Tayside and Grampian, the itinerary for Norway covered many topics of direct relevance to the management of the work of my team – and also to the Cairngorms National Park, a large part of which falls within my Area. This includes the management of deer, beavers, salmon, capercaillie, black grouse and the conflicts between protected species and those of more commercial value.
I was especially impressed by the sheer scale of the habitats, especially the semi natural forest in Norway, but also the richness of its wildlife and its land use culture. There is a great level of collaboration between land owners, the community, municipal councils and government in the management of land. The conflicts of objectives so common in Scotland appeared to be rare in Norway, and where they do exist, there seems to be very well established procedures for resolving them through consensus. There was an obvious integration between objectives for forestry and hunting, with a great deal of pragmatism in managing conflicts and maintaining a sustainable balance between them. While many species are protected, this does not prevent quotas for a sustainable yield from hunting, or control to deal with problems. This contrasts with the protection afforded to many species in Scotland which tends to be far more inflexible. I thought there is a great deal to be learnt from the Norwegian model, although the greater population density and the much smaller woodland resource compared with open moorland, would make some of this difficult to implement in the context of established Scottish land use practices.
Scottish Natural Heritage: Operations Officer
I am an Operations Officer covering the Grampian part of Tayside & Grampian Area for Scottish Natural Heritage. In particular, I am the lead contact in the area for many of the designated sites in the Upper Deeside part of the Cairngorms National Park. I also assess grant applications from farmers and landowners to manage their land to improve their management for the benefit of habitats and species. Part of my job is providing advice on the management of designated sites, the features of which include native woodland and capercaillie. The key issue affecting the condition of most of these sites is over grazing by deer and so deer management is a topic I spend a lot of time working on.
Overall the trip highlighted to me why certain conflicts exist in Scotland between forestry and deer management, and what factors are contributing to the continued decline of capercaillie numbers in Deeside. In Norway, the land is divided up into smaller land parcels, which means collaboration between landowners is key to acheiving the outcomes they want. Forestry is the priority outcome for most landowners and so herbivore numbers are kept low. Due to the extent of forest fencing is not practical and so hunting is the primary way in which landowners acheive this. This, along with the sheer extent of habitat, allows capercaillie numbers to thrive in Norway. In Scotland, capercaillie habitat is very small and fragmented in extent, so if capercaillie numbers are going to improve in Scotland we need to look towards managing habitats at a landscape scale. Encouraging much more meaningful collaboration between the landowners is likely to be the only way that this can be acheived and this something the conservation agencies and charities should be looking to encourage.
Forestry Commission Scotland wildlife ranger
I am a Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger working in Argyll, Scotland. My main role is to cull deer in the forest to limit damage to a forest crop. The aim is to maintain damage levels on a restocked forest to 10% or less. In my area I have three species of deer, Sika, Red and Roe. I enjoy being able to manage my day to make the most of deer movement patterns. To help me do my job I work German Wirehaired Pointers (dogs). They often indicate unseen deer and help to find deer that have been shot. I usually work alone, however some jobs such as habitat management (chainsaw work) do require team work. I occasionally take people out for work experience from local schools and from the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. Occasionally I will be required to take paying guests out to shoot deer. I have worked in this position for 11 years. I have in the past managed game, wildlife and woodland on sporting country estates. I have also done deer control on a contract bases. Conservation is also part of my work. Reporting wildlife sightings, creating nesting platforms for red-throated divers and habitat management are some things that I am involved with. Some of the notable species in my area are Golden eagle, Hen harrier, Black grouse and otter.
My main reason for the Norway exchange was to see how they manage their wildlife compared to Scotland’s wildlife management. The Norwegian’s seem to have a strong tradition of hunting to acquire meat. This meat from the animals they hunt is looked upon as a resource that is used now and is much respected and appreciated. The timber in the forest is a resource of the future and since the pine trees takes about 200 years to mature in Norway it is a long term scale. In Scotland there is very much a feeling of that venison is a by-product of the deer control which is conducted in order to protect a forest crop. This in part may be because there are more deer culled in Scotland by less people. In recent times much has been done to promote venison to the British public and now the prices of this has increased as the demand has. This is now an important part of the revenue in the Forestry Commission. However the saving on forest establishment costs is the main reason for deer control in Scotland.
What I learned?
I have gained a lot from this exchange. I have learnt that great care and considerations have to be engaged in the planning stages of roads, rail networks and building developments to prevent problems that may affect wildlife. This was illustrated by the effect that the infrastructure and other developments has had on Norway’s wild reindeer population. So I have greater an appreciation of SNH’s planning processes including environmental reports.
The Norwegian’s seem to make more use of the natural resources than we do. They seem to have a strong connection with the times when it was necessary for their ancestors to hunt to get meat to survive. This hunting is still very much conducted these days in a managed way in order to harvest animals in a sustainable way. The Norwegian’s appear to make full use of the timber in their country. The fact that pine takes about 200 years to mature in their environment must encourage them to make the most of this resource. I was amazed by the construction of their houses and how durable this slow growing pine was in their country. The Norwegian’s have been using wood as a fuel for centuries. This seemed to be very much the norm and is obviously better than burning fossil fuels for the environment. In Britain this seems to be a growing trend to go this way too.
From the comments and experience of our host Trond I came to the conclusion in my own mind that in the conservation of carnivores care has to be exercised as to the levels of protection that species must be given. If for instance there is a vulnerable prey species in the area where a predator is having a negative impact on the prey species establishment then it may be necessary to remove the protection status of the predator in that area yet for it to remain elsewhere. The British government all ways seem to implement protection statuses nation wide and also seem reluctant to remove the level of protection when that species becomes a pest or a problem.