Native Woodland and Grazing in Central Norway – August 2022
This course was developed by ARCH, funded through the Erasmus+ programme and hosted by Duncan Halley and The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA).
This comparative report of Norway and Scotland regarding such topics as culture, land use, hunting, wildlife etc. is a collaboration by 8 nature conservation professionals working across different Scottish land based organisations including: Colin Hardacre (SRUC), Iain Sime, Sinclair Coghill, Ruari Dunsmuir, Louise Clark and Estelle Gill (NatureScot), Paul Greaves, and Nicola Williamson (Trees for Life).
From the 19 until 26 August 2022 we took part in a visit to Trøndelag county, central Norway. This gave us the opportunity to see and hear how native woodland has been responding to changes in grazing pressure in the part of Scandinavia most environmentally similar to Scotland. We would visit a variety of biodiverse, reforested landscapes from exposed coast to mountain top, where climate and geology are very similar to our own, and where multiple land uses such as forestry, hunting and farming are often practised together.
Trøndelag covers 42,202 km2 (Highland, Western Isles and Argyll & Bute: 35639km2) and is similar in latitude to Reykjavíkk, Iceland. The geology is mainly hard, infertile, acidic gneisses, schists and granites, from the same orogenies that formed Highland Scotland. The climate is generally classified as moderately continental, though there is a large amount of climatic variation with an oceanic climate along the coast to a boreal climate in the inland hills below the treeline and alpine tundra above with very cold winters.
- It’s about hearts as well as minds – cultural differences driving the landscape
“Combined works of nature and humankind, they express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment.”
This opening statement from UNESCO’s description of Cultural Landscapes included on the World Heritage List perhaps provides an indication of one reason why Scotland’s uplands, peatlands, woodlands and forests seem very much the poorer neighbour to Norway. Throughout the course the visit of ‘it’s just what we do here in Norway’ was repeated.
With comparable geology and climatic conditions, there’s a palpable difference to the upland and montane regions of Norway. It hasn’t always been this way though.
As part of the course we stayed in and explored the area around Songli which, around the start of the 20th Century, closely resembled the Scottish landscape. Forest had been cut down and peat cut to burn, leaving an extensively deforested land mass. However, more recently (i.e. within the last 100 years) there has been a significant shift by the national government, kommunes (local authorities) and the resident population.
Shifting away from land management models more familiar around Scotland, land ownership is dispersed comprising smaller plots of land in many hands – everyone has a part to play and somewhere to make the difference.
Songli itself, and the Grytdalen Nature Reserve found there, may be Government owned but a very willing and motivated volunteer group of local residents take on a lot of the management – not because they were asked to, but because they want to. Indeed two of their members, Steve and Faulke were delighted to spend the day with us exploring the nature reserve and telling us about the work the local Dugnad had done to regenerate the forests and ground vegetation.
‘Dugnad’ by the way is perhaps better appreciated as a concept rather than trying to interpret the word. It’s entrenched in Norwegian culture and focuses on the community coming together to share a task greater than an individual can achieve as well as smaller things like painting, fixing furniture or general tidying up. The point is everyone does their bit for the greater good, and so there’s a sense of duty (indeed expectation) that everyone steps in to do something.
We were fortunate enough to spend an evening with other members of the Dugnad, helping update some of the furniture in one of the lodges they rent out and felling some trees. What became apparent very quickly is that Steve and Faulke were no exceptions, these folks were getting a lot of joy from being there and doing something for ‘their’ nature reserve. In Scotland we also have volunteering, but as well intentioned as it is there seems to be a rather limited demographic participating. There’s a view that volunteering is a chore and inconvenient.
“The conventional wisdom is that education is good, and the more of it one has, the better. . .The truth is that without significant precautions, education can equip people merely to be more effective vandals of the earth.” (David Orr, 1995 “Earth In Mind: on education, environment and the human prospect”)
We’re about 50 years behind Norway, but we can get there…if there’s a will to do it. One could possibly say that it’s down to the Government, scientists and the land owners to decide what to do, how and where to do it. But perhaps taking a bit more of the Dugnad approach would ensure changes happen not only with local community support and awareness, but their involvement too.
- Grazing Pressures and Forests Regeneration
Like Scotland, most of coastal and lowland Norway had been deforested by the Bronze Age. Historically, the rural population existed on a subsistence basis, making use of all of the natural resources that were available to them for their survival. Having already cleared the forests, peat became a significant fuel source both domestically and for industrial use. Wild ungulates and boar were hunted to effective extinction.
After the mass migration of Norwegians to America in the 19th century, grazing pressure by livestock was severely reduced and wild ungulates were already in low numbers.
This abandonment has allowed vast areas of the country to be filled with natural forest regeneration and recover much of its biodiversity. Most of these habitats are still “young” with little old woodland, veteran trees of deadwood in evidence but this process of recovery continues. When we asked we found that there is no appetite for intervening to create deadwood or fill some of the gaps because of lack of old woodland, rather a willingness to await their arrival through natural processes, just as the developing woodland has.
Accessible productive woodland is clearly being managed but with few areas of the clearfell and restocking scenes we are used to in Scotland. Smaller areas of ownership appear to lead to owners managing the woodlands more intimately, removing individual trees of the right size as well as making best use of plentiful birch as fuelwood. We were advised that the cubic timber mass of Norway has tripled over the last 100 years.
Regeneration of all species is plentiful and is able to establish readily at current herbivore densities. On suitable soils this regeneration develops as a thicket and is subsequently managed to produce a range of timber products. On poorer soils the regeneration is more sporadic, allowing a wider range of species to thrive.
While the amount of trees and woodland within the landscape is what strikes even the most casual observer, the difference in diversity in the ground flora and shrub layer is equally striking with a much more diverse community of species than we have become accustomed to (or have grown up with). It is all the more striking when one sees that this is occurring at not just a landscape but a geographic scale. We noted that open habitats occurred throughout woodland areas and bird species we associate with open habitats at home did well in this much more complex mosaic.
- Land ownership in Norway: The hands of the many
Norway provides a fascinating comparison to Scottish land ownership and land use policy, due in part to the similar population size, yet there is a significant difference in the proportion of the population involved in landownership and management.
The system of landownership in Scotland is overshadowed by the Highland Clearances and is now dominated by large-scale private estates (including agricultural areas and uplands), with a concentration in the hands of a small number of ultra-wealthy individuals and public bodies. Roughly 1,125 owners own 70% of Scotland’s rural land, with an average holding size of 109 hectares. Each landowner has significant power, for both positive and negative, with regard to land use decision-making. This can range from increasing the vibrancy of communities and investing in the local economy to worst case scenarios where owners demolish cottages, plant large-scale conifer forests, damage the environment by focusing on deer stalking and grouse shooting, converting homes into holiday lets or cutting the amount of land available for small tenant farmers. As it stands, forests belong to the landowner, so if a tenant grows trees, they lose that area and accrue no benefit.
It is argued that the scale and concentration of private landownership in Scotland maintains historical inequalities and injustices, and that alternative models of land occupancy and a greater diversity of landowner type could lead to more productive land use and associated socio-economic benefits, i.e. the so-called “Norwegian model”. Contemporary land reform in Scotland aims to redress the situation and ensure that land ownership and management is in the public (and private) interest.
This situation contrasts with the small-scale ownership demonstrated in Norway, characterised by a pattern of small farms and multifunctional agriculture, with most farms incorporating both privately owned and privately managed “in-bye fields” (innmark) and communally-managed “out fields” (utmark) or hill ground; shown below. The average farm size is 23.9 hectares. The size of the holding is typically what can be managed effectively and productively by one family or extended family.
Landownership and farming in Norway are regulated by three key laws:
– The “Odel law” (Odelsrett), has been in place since the Middle Ages, and historically permits the oldest male child to inherit the farm. This historic principle now constitutes the Allodial Act, which granted female children equal rights to male children in 1975. Today it remains that close family members in the direct descending line of the landowner have pre-emptive rights of farm purchase. This maintains land in family ownership, avoiding the fragmentation of properties and maintains strong connections to rural areas. In Norway, the owners of farmland must be resident on their landholding (which is not required in Scotland, unless under crofting tenure) and they must undertake “active” farming on the land, which limits farm expansion through land purchase. In the Norwegian sense, ‘farming’ includes maintaining woodlands on your holding.
– The Concession Act regulates land purchases by legal persons and gives preference to buyers who state their occupation as farming.
– Finally, the Land Act (Jordloven) aims to ensure that all land resources are best used for society and farmers, through promoting rural settlement, employment, and agricultural development. This key legislation confirms that it is the landowners’ responsibility that land is “actively farmed” and maintained in good condition.
Norwegian farms are multi-functional, generating an income from a mix of activities, including agriculture, forestry, hunting, livestock, fuel wood, and cabin sales/ rental. This has fostered a culture of integrated land management, delivering a wide range of objectives and benefits and is known as ‘landbruk’ which is usually translated as ‘land use’ or ‘agriculture’ but is actually a wider concept which involves making a living from the land, most usually from diverse sources.
Such a system allows farmers to contribute more to rural economic development and makes them better stewards of natural resources, conserving biodiversity and safe-guarding the future sustainability of agricultural production. Any potential conflicts between hunting, forestry, arable/livestock farming and wider community interests are easier to resolve, because the same people are doing all activities and live within the community.
In contrast land management continues to be highly divided in Scotland, with different sectors (arable farming, conservation, game management) working in isolation and competing for limited natural resources. This has led to significant land use and human wildlife conflicts, resulting in a culture of distrust among the different stakeholders. It would take a considerable shift in land laws to move Scotland closer to the “Norwegian model”, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it cannot be done. Perhaps putting smaller pockets of acknowledged unproductive land into separate ownership may be one way to start a quiet revolution.
- Local government in Norway: Democracy, autonomy and effectiveness
Local government is one of the key areas flagged up when Norway and Scotland are compared as both countries have adopted different structures to governance. Such differences began to emerge in the 19th century. In Norway, the mainly rural population dominated and strong local government was seen as a way of distancing the elite from local decisions while in comparison the UK (and Scotland) tended towards centralisation.
The local government sector is well-established in Norway with the Alderman Act of 1837 first defining local government’s rights and responsibilities. The Act has been revised a number of times but has remained basically the same, with the idea being to give local government increased freedom and scope for problem solving by giving more autonomy in the choice of solutions for their various activities.
Today Norway has three levels of government: the national government, 11 administrative counties (fylke), and 356 municipalities (kommune). In essence, the municipalities function as flexible implementers of central policies, and it is the municipalities which form the principal units of local government, having a wide range of responsibilities, including: social services, primary education, unemployment, municipal roads, cultural tasks, and operating as the main planning authority. Each municipality has its own governmental leaders: the mayor (ordfører) and the municipal council (kommunestyre). The mayor is the executive leader and the municipal council is the deliberative and legislative body of the municipality with members elected for a 4-year term.
Municipalities are commonly defined as independent, popularly elected service providers, community developers, authorities and democratic arenas for the inhabitants. They are an individual legal entity which can contract debts and accumulate wealth from such sources as tax revenue and hydro-power schemes as well as utilising a fiscal equalisation scheme which transfers resources from richer to poor municipalities thereby allowing better provision of rural services.
Due to their extensive responsibilities, the local government sector manages a significant part of Norway’s financial resources, and it accounts for significant economic activity, with total revenue amounting to about 19% of GDP for mainland Norway. On average 60% of municipalities’ revenue is raised locally and one in five Norwegian employees are employed in the local government sector.
The value of such a system is shown in local political participation, with the turnout for municipality elections in 2021 at 77.2% (compared to 44.8% for local elections in Scotland in 2022). This local democracy contributes both to social and physical ‘closeness’ between citizens and government as well as to the government’s knowledge of the needs and priorities of citizens. It also shows that people recognise that local government matters and is a voice for citizens. Norway has approximately 5.4 million inhabitants, the same as Scotland, with municipalities varying significantly in size, topography and population. More than half of the municipalities have less than 5 000 inhabitants and only 19 have more than 50 000 inhabitants; the very strength of local government is the fact it is local and accessible.
|Total area||385, 207km2||77, 933km2|
|Population||~5.4 million||~5.4 million|
|Number of municipalities/local authorities||356||32|
|Highest population of municipality/local authority||702, 543 (Oslo)||626, 410 (Glasgow City)|
|Lowest population of municipality/local authority||188 (Utsira)||22, 190 (Orkney)|
|Largest municipality/local authority||9, 707km2 (Kautokeino)
Equivalent to Western Isles and Argyll
|25, 657km2 (Highland)
Equivalent to Belgium
|Smallest municipality/local authority||454km2 (Oslo)||59km2 (Dundee City)|
In broad terms Norway’s 365 municipalities are roughly comparable to the 32 Scottish local authorities, though in large parts of Scotland they are not ‘local’ and are about administration rather than about democratic decision-making. The local authorities act as both service providers and regulatory authorities and have generally similar responsibilities as their Norwegian counterparts with two main exceptions: water and sewage.
In contrast they receive the majority of their funding from the Scottish Government (56% in 2019-20) with only 20% raised locally from Council tax. Further, there is no system of fiscal equalisation between authorities to compensate for higher costs or lower revenues. This situation means that most local authorities have very few free resources that they can decide to allocate in accordance with wishes of the local inhabitants.
Between Norway and Scotland there is a difference in powers and financing of local government, voter turnout, and local presence. Norway has more, smaller, local governments with more responsibilities and powers, a higher percentage of local revenues, and some ability to make fiscal choices.
Hjortevilt is the website for the Norwegian National Deer Register. A public website that hosts the data collected by NINA, hunters and other stakeholders on Roe, Red, Reindeer and Elk. The data includes hunting quotas and leases and the attached landowners, current living and mortality figures (not just hunted), disease and current research projects. Data is actively uploaded by the hunting community so they can get a better understanding of the health of the wildlife and associated habitat.
By the 1950’s roe deer had become extinct, red deer were in their 100’s and moose in their 1000s. The Hunting Law of 1951 was introduced to protect the species from extinction and create a sustainable hunting system. In 1981 the Wildlife Law replaced the 1951 Hunting Law, creating a hunting system based on quotas and funded by licenses.
Land-owners owned the quota and could sell these to hunting groups. This ensured that hunting quotas were set to protected wildlife and their habitats.
NIBIO (National Forest Research Office) and NINA have collaborated since 2005 on the grazing resources of cervids. Data on many cervids, including moose and reindeer have been collected for over 40 years. This data looks at grazing availability, stock density, calf production and gender composition. This monitoring data feeds into the municipalities.
In 1991 – the National Monitoring Program for deer game was established and is owned and financed by the Norwegian Environment Agency but is operated by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. NINA monitors 19 different sites across the country, collecting data about deer, moose and reindeer. Most of the knowledge around deer ecology and management is based on this data. The program relies heavily on the data collected by the hunting community, the data is populated into a report every year, which is supported by hunters and set quotas.
This increased level of protection of the hunting resource has resulted in all species expanding their range and density across the landscape. Local estimates of deer densities are at around 5/ per km2.
Impacts can be seen, but are not preventing normal woodland and upland habitat restoration continuing to progress. Hunting is a very strong part of the culture here with much higher participation rates in the population than we see in Scotland.
The hunter instinct is prevalent in the Norwegian attitude to large predators, which is to say they are not welcomed at all. Compensation is provided for stock deaths from predators, but in the view of our host, this maintained hostility towards predators, as something that shouldn’t be there. An alternative path could be a cultural shift towards acceptance of a level of predation and/or changes in farming practices to reduce predation. The Norwegian perspective on predators feeds into the narrative on predator reintroduction in Scotland, particularly in the sheep sector. Hunters in Scotland are also wary of the prospect of predators such as lynx altering prey behaviour, e.g. potentially making roe deer control more challenging.
It is interesting to consider how some Norwegian hunters look at our open habitats and hunting experience compared to their own, preferring our ability to see quarry from distance and in numbers they have no experience of: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
As a group primarily interested in habitat restoration at a landscape scale, we found the results of Norwegian circumstances very attractive to our eyes. The resultant landscape is very different to our experience and requires a different set of skills, abilities and expectations from hunters. Our immediate thought was “just reduce deer numbers and we can have all the benefits that Norway enjoys”. That thought is simplistic and heavily biased by our own ambitions for our country.
We have our specific issues to work through:
- Much of the ground flora in Scotland has been heavily modified by centuries of heavy grazing, trampling, and burning; restoration will require a range of methods, e.g. seeding and transplanting as well as reducing herbivore pressure.
- Selling the idea is probably the biggest task we have, not to ourselves but to the larger “traditional” landowner and their employees. We heard that the landscapes we saw were much more productive than many of our uplands with owners able to use the land for firewood, timber production and berry harvesting and much greater biodiversity as well as higher productivity hunting.
- We would need strong political leadership and support for rural communities to transition from the current open habitat low productivity system to a higher productivity ecologically restored system. It would take time before the land could start to produce forest-related products. People would need funding, training and infrastructure development during that so that they could thrive in a changed landscape. This may be an opportunity to use private finance.
- Vegetation/plant communities
Upland vegetation restoration and biodiversity
There is a concern in Scotland that allowing large-scale regeneration of trees and shrubs will lead to a loss of diversity, in range of habitats across the landscape and the number of species at a local scale. Lower grazing pressure and richer soils appeared to allow our ‘rare’ plants and ‘ledge’ habitats to occur over a much wider range of habitats, rather than being outcompeted from the landscape. However, it appeared in Norway that there were many healthy and diverse open habitats within open woodland and clearings in a largely re-forested landscape. In addition, the landscape supported many species which are rare or absent in Scotland. Various factors limit the density of trees, shrubs and sward, allowing niches for less-competitive species. Wet peaty soils, exposure to wind and snow, thin soils, disturbance from humans, animals, water and frost-heave mean that species we associate with open habitats are maintained within the upland landscape e.g. calcareous grassland plants, mountain hares and curlew. Although trees could hide predators (less so in an open woodland), the wooded landscape also provides more food and shelter, so we should be wary of over-simplifying the needs of these species. Some species could decline, but this does not necessarily invalidate attempts to restore more productive ecosystems with higher tree cover.
Insistence on the use of local provenance stock for tree and plant reintroduction may limit the success of such projects. For example, UK populations of species such as Alpine Blue Sow thistle, show inbreeding depression, compared with continental populations. UK alder appears to have been selected for vegetative reproduction in response to grazing, which limits its genetic diversity and ability to re-colonise new areas.
Dagma Hagan, from NINA, spoke about the large-scale restoration work carried out on the former military training area of Hjerkinn in the Dovrefjell area. Establishment of seedlings on degraded land is the hardest step and this can be assisted by the use of propagated pioneer plants e.g. Salix that improve the soil for the colonisation of other plants. Sheep’s fescue was also used in upland Norway, as a site-native, easy to germinate pioneer. The area was not densely seeded/planted, but gaps were left to allow colonisation of other species. Fertilisation by helicopter had to be used in some areas, where top-soil and nutrients had been stripped away.
Large scale ecological restoration in Scotland would generate larger areas of various healthy natural habitats, as was seen in Norway, allowing us to be more flexible about changes and loss of extent of open habitats at the local level. Open habitats occur across the landscape in Norway, for example, beaver dams frequently produced areas of rich pasture which eventually succeeded to woodland, only to appear again elsewhere by the same process. Scattered trees and scrub have re-colonised exposed areas and/or high altitude areas in Norway, on formerly acid grassland or alpine heath dominated areas, so we should be open-minded about where trees ‘should’ occur in Scotland.
Key points and principles of landscape-scale restoration in Norway
- They have moved away from red-list focussed conservation, towards supporting natural processes;
- Big projects and policy changes require political bravery and adequate funding;
- No introduced plant species are used, as the aim is to restore a natural, co-evolved system;
- The projects should give immediate benefits, but will need time to be functioning natural system;
- Healthy open habitats and their associated species persisted in a landscape with more trees.
- Trees and shrubs increased upland ecological diversity;
- Conservation work should avoid further avoid new disturbance; and
- Avoid ‘greenwashing’ e.g. planting for carbon that harms biodiversity.
- Montane zone
Walking up a mountain in Scotland you could almost be forgiven for thinking there is something missing in the low growing heather rich landscape.
Montane scrub once filled the gap as a natural zone between the upper edges of woodlands and the alpine zone, now however this type of habitat is virtually absent in Scotland. Species which make up montane scrub are generally slow growing, soils and climate will have played a part but the major factor for its disappearance is overgrazing by herbivores meaning this habitat has been almost entirely eliminated. Small pockets of montane scrub can exist on cliff ledges which are inaccessible to grazers. In comparison, the reduction in browsing pressure over the past decades in Norway has allowed this habitat to naturally regenerate and thrive.
Ryphøa Mountain 1022m (equivalent to Cairngorm summit)
We arrived at Barnas Naturverden (approx. 750m) to some turf roof topped cabins, within a five minute walk from here we are transported into a lush birch woodland. The understory comprises a range of species including juniper, blaeberry and downy birch. The higher we climb the more gnarled and low lying trees become; the trees are bushier but more open in structure which helps provide some protection from snow. The willows here generally survive better at higher levels as they do not have to rely on the seed producing process to regenerate. Montane scrub in Norway supports a diverse variety of flora and fauna including bluethroats, mealy redpolls and willow grouse, the Norwegian term for red grouse. We find patches of Alpine bearberry and cloudberry which provide a (sometimes) tasty snack for any hillwalker and a number of plant species which are considered rare in Scotland such as alpine sowthistle are found within the site.
At approximately 800m (Scotland equivalent 1100m) the scrub fades out into open ground which continues to have a rich diversity of ground flora. Grazing is still present within this habitat in Norway, semi-domestic reindeer and sheep were observed feeding at varying altitudes, however their impacts are not at a level which would prevent natural regeneration.
- Beavers – restoring freshwater ecosystem function
Beavers in Norway were driven to the brink of extinction in the late 1800’s when they were hunted for meat, for their skins (which were used for clothing) and for a secretion they produce, called castoreum, which was used as a medicine and more latterly in perfumes. Once given legal protection, approximately 170 years ago, the population began to expand and it has reached carrying capacity in many areas.
We were fortunate enough to visit several beaver territories during the visit, both active and abandoned. They varied from those in good habitat with an availability of food for many years, to those in suboptimal locations where food availability was low and much of the woody material of trees felled had been used to build dams.
Where beavers had been active it was clear to see why they are considered ecosystem engineers. They had created a range of habitats including standing deadwood, wetland areas, variations in flow, large and small in-stream woody debris and new coppice growth. It isn’t hard to imagine how this mosaic would support a diversity of other species, both terrestrial and aquatic.
We observed that in certain situations beavers can build significant dams on small streams and that they can also burrow into banks a fair distance to access food tens of metres away from a river. Despite this, we heard that beavers were generally not causing lots of problems to the human population. Natural regeneration of woodland appears to have happened at roughly the same time as the beaver population expansion. This is encouraging given the recent decision by the Scottish Government to support the translocation of beavers within Scotland. Nevertheless, having a beaver management strategy would be prudent for instances where there is conflict.
In Norway landowners get no compensation for beaver activity on their land. If activity is perceived to be excessively damaging they can apply to the municipality for a licence to remove dams and lodges or trap/shoot the beavers responsible.
Dr Duncan Halley from NINA standing on a beaver dam
A beaver at Teisendammen reservoir on the outskirts of Trondheim
- NINA research and projects (Reintroductions)
Our host for the visit, Duncan Halley, is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), headquartered in Trondheim. To help us understand their position and role in the research and public sector, he described NINA as akin to a cross between the James Hutton Institute and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Duncan possesses a truly impressive range of knowledge and expertise in upland and animal ecology. Projects he is involved in or leads, and which were discussed during our visit, included not only comparisons between land use in Norway and Scotland, but also forest management and ecology, botany, the ecology of beavers and their reintroduction to Scotland, and Norwegian eagle releases in Ireland and Spain.
NINA headquarters, Trondheim
We were lucky enough to spend a day at NINA’s impressive headquarters in Trondheim. There we met with some of their researchers. Particularly Dagmar Hagen, who introduced us to ongoing work on ecosystem restoration. She highlighted the efforts that Norway, and NINA, are putting into the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration from 2021-2030. Dagmar described their efforts to restore the huge Hjerkinn former military training area to ecological restoration and inclusion in a national park, including the removal of eye-watering amounts of unexploded ordnance. We also discussed deer management and their national monitoring programme, run by NINA (see above section).
We were struck by the impressive range of research and ecological restoration underway in Norway, and the opportunities for collaborative research. And throughout our visit by the value of knowledge exchange from Scotland to Norway – Duncan particularly highlighted the potential benefits of Norway learning from our experience on topics including invasive species management, peatland restoration techniques and others. Therefore we were determined to maintain and encourage collaborative links, despite the unfortunate closure of our access to the Erasmus scheme that supported our visit.
With our group member’s varied backgrounds, roles, and interests each person took from the trip different ideas, conclusions, and action points.
Estelle – Supporting large-scale ecological restoration, via dramatically reduced grazing pressure, would give us the greatest gains for climate change, biodiversity and the rural economy. Agricultural funding mechanisms, land management practices and at times, nature conservation orthodoxy and legislation prevent ecologically degraded landscapes and depleted soils from recovering. This needs to change.
Nicola – I have learned a lot from our trip to Norway, mostly that a healthy and more sustainable landscape is possible in Scotland if we reduced our grazing pressure and stopped muirburn. However, it is our land ownership and cultural heritage that impedes this happening anytime soon. I would be very keen to take a group of traditional stalkers out to Norway, to see how the landscape would influence their mind-set about what is possible in Scotland, as it is the people who live in work in our rural areas that need to see this future so they can be part of the positive process to get there. I would like to have met with local hunting parties to learn about their views on hunting and the landscape. I strongly believe Scotland should have a strong bi-lateral partnership between Scottish and Norwegian institutes and Governments, so we can share knowledge and cultures and research. The big ecological question it left me with was succession, how do we get the understory ground flora to be as species diverse as in Norway. Currently a lot of our natural regeneration is dominated by rank, tall heather, nearly a metre high. This stops the blaeberry, cowberry, cloudberry and all the shrubs and herbs from creating a species rich mosaic landscape. I think we have a lot to do in Scotland; reducing deer numbers is paramount and then we need to give nature time.
Iain – The course was really inspiring. Demonstrating both what is possible and needed for habitat restoration, at scale, in Scotland. It was particularly striking that access to the initiative, Erasmus, that supported this and previous courses is ending for the UK. A further mechanism for fostering and continuing our relationship and knowledge exchange with colleagues in Norway will be extremely beneficial. For a whole range of potential participants including those working directly in wildlife management, farming/agriculture/forestry, nature restoration etc. Additionally, landowners and managers are the key to many solutions to realising the potential we know exists for Scotland’s landscapes – could/should we look at sharing these findings with stakeholders (Land Commission, GWT, DMG’s, Scottish Land and Estates, etc. plus MSPs).
Ruari – The diversity of habitats, species and land use across the landscape in Norway sets an example for us to aspire to in Scotland. However, as it was stated during the trip: the ecology is easy, we know what needs to be done, it is the social and political aspects which are the difficulty. My aim then is to share my experience and knowledge within my team/ organisation, stakeholders and the relevant communities/ landowners, particularly farmers/ estates, to show that the landscape can accommodate the multiple land uses as shown in Norway.
Paul – Actually seeing somewhere directly comparable with the Scottish Highlands and seeing the ecological recovery that has taken place was inspiring. The experience has prompted me to look at the work I’m involved in and frame it with the question – will what we do facilitate similar restoration of ecosystem function? I feel I am now better placed to challenge myself in this regard and also to discuss what is possible with colleagues and landowners. The course has shown me that perceived barriers can be navigated to bring about the ecological change we need in Scotland.
Colin – Replication in Scotland is not possible in our current cultural climate however Norway has shown us what is possible.
Louise – This Erasmus+ Arch Network course provided the opportunity to network with people working in the Scottish environmental sector that we wouldn’t normally meet. Those links and a greater understanding of roles will undoubtedly open doors for collaborative work in the future.
The course was an excellent learning opportunity for us all and we would like to thank Duncan Halley, Dagmar Hagen, Erling Solberg, Steve Halsetrønning, Folke Forfang, Libby Urquhart and Seona Anderson for their time investment in making it such a success.