South West Norway Report

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From 1 to 8 September 2017 we took part in an Erasmus+ study tour of south west Norway, led by Duncan Halley of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA). This is a brief report to summarise the lessons learnt from the visit.


The main reason for the trip was to look at woodland cover and regeneration in south west Norway. This area of Norway is on the same latitude as the north of Scotland and shares a very similar climate and geology, and so highlights the potential for woodland cover in Scotland. SW Norway was deforested for centuries (for similar reasons to the Highlands) but in the last century, and particularly in the last 50 years, there have been large increases in woodland cover, mainly by natural regeneration.


The main areas we visited were the Flekkefjord coastal region (Gården Li and Fidjadalen) in the extreme SW and which are comparable to the west coast of Scotland, and Byklehaiene near the town of Bjåen which is a bit further inland and akin to the Cairngorms. 

At the end of each day we all participated in group discussion, going over the main points of debate and topics that we had covered, and at the end of the trip these were summarised in a bulleted list for each theme. The rest of this report consists of these group discussion notes and theme summaries.


(from left to right in photo above):







The Landscape


We all experienced the WOW! Factor in the landscapes we saw in SW Norway. The landscape was beautiful on both a large and small scale, with different habitats varying in texture, and the range of vegetation colours, particularly in and above the birch belt where the rich autumnal shades were developing. It reminded some of us of a deep, untouched rockpool, where the different natural zones were clearly marked. It was striking to walk up through these zones and note the richness of changing textures and colours. Experiencing different habitats around the world can also give the WOW! factor, the difference being that this part of Norway is directly comparable to Scotland: we could have this!

One of our group was lucky to go hunting reindeer with an experienced young local man. They drove 20km up a track with no public access into very remote country, then walked a 25km route through rough ground. No reindeer, but it gave access to an unhindered view of habitat which we have no experience of in Scotland. There was a diversity of flora in the woodland which is completely different from Scotland, and sub-montane shrubs creeping over exposed ground at 1300m.

In the world atlas, Norway doesn’t appear particularly big – but when you are there you begin to realise the scale of the place. It is a complex landscape, heavily glaciated, and very ‘familiar’ – akin to the Highlands of Scotland. The most striking difference is the woodland cover. The Flekkefjord coastal region1 we visited reminded us of the north-west Highlands and the western isles: sheltered fjord inlets, exposed coast, hills and glens. The weather was glorious when we visited so we had rather a skewed view – it IS generally a very wet and windy place! It was interesting to see farms in remote glens – some are holiday homes or walkers’ huts, but we saw one which is back in use and grazed by goats, cattle and sheep. The area around Fidjadalen2 is similar to West Affric in terms of climate and geology, and the landscape reminiscent of Glencoe.

We travelled through a dramatic landscape of steep-sided, pine-clad glens with fast-flowing rivers, inland to Bykle3, a township in the birch belt at around 900m. We’d been told this was akin to the central Highlands – and it really was – with the addition of high-altitude birch forest and sub-montane scrub. Without the forest interest, it could be compared perhaps to Dalwhinnie.

Finally we visited the coastal Jaern area, famed in Norway for its sandy beaches. The hinterland is treeless, level and fertile: good productive farming land with dairy herds and large glasshouses. This was a striking contrast to other landscapes we had seen.  


The natural creation of soils uses the same mechanisms the world over. Therefore for given rock types, in similar conditions, it should be safe to assume that the potential for the creation of habitats would also be similar. However the diversity of habitat is far greater in Norway than in Scotland.

In the South West of Norway there are healthy woodlands that have regenerated in the past 100 years on soils that are very thin, and in an area that is as exposed as the West coast of the Hebrides. Further inland there are trees growing well at 1000m in areas that have a similar climate, topography and geology to the Cairngorms. Above this there is the scrub zone that is all but gone in Scotland, with little sign of the nutrient ‘hotspotting’ that we see in some parts of the Highlands of Scotland. The rivers run clear with no evidence of sediment loading. The few soils pits that were dug showed good aerobic podzolic soils with a complete lack of pans forming, and little gleying where it could be expected. All of these indicate that the soils are in good condition. The nutrient cycles are working well, so plants are able to get everything they need to be healthy, making them resilient to other factors, such as exposure.

Culture and, in some cases the effects of the topography on that culture, have played a part in the present condition of the soils. The traditional Norwegian agricultural systems kept people in remote glens, spread out over the landscape, and spreading nutrients with them. They still only graze their livestock on the hill ground in the summer for what would be considered a very short period in Scotland, thus reducing the amount of erosion caused by the livestock and the amount of nutrient that the livestock can export from these areas. The Norwegian traditional burn cycle was quite long compared to the burn cycles used in some of the worst affected crofting areas of Scotland. These traditional burns also stopped with the decline of agriculture in Norway. In Scotland we still see a lot of incidences of uncontrolled burning in crofting areas. In Norway they now have their trees back, mining and cycling nutrients efficiently, aerating and protecting the soils for future use.

Duncan Halley responded to some questions about Mycorrhiza– ‘This isn’t a subject we in Norway know much about. Getting woodland regeneration established is not, these days, any problem; the perceived problem so far as there is one is that we have too much of it, even in the wettest and most windswept parts of the country – wetter and windier than anywhere in Scotland. As a result, almost no research on mycorrhiza has been done here and its salience, even among specialist woodland botanists, is low.’ We might not have learnt anything new from the Norwegians about mycorrhiza, but at least we got to see nutrient cycles that are working. 


Although Norway started from a similar point of view to Scotland, in that there was a worry that woodlands would disappear altogether their approach to dealing with this problem has ended up being very different. In the early days some planting was carried out. But the decline of agriculture and increased control of deer to improve their health gave the perfect conditions for the accidental re-establishment of woodland that is present today. Although the woodland re-establishment is extensive it is obviously relatively recent, evidenced by the lack of veteran trees.

As mentioned in the Soils section above, in Norway there are trees growing in areas that in Scotland would be considered unplantable. These woodlands aren’t just good habitat, they are also put to use in Norway, for sheltering and grazing livestock, for hunting and for wood fuel. These woodland types are valued in Norway in a way that they are not in Scotland, helping to ensure their longer term management as the objectives are not wholly economic.

The re-establishment started off slowly, before snowballed to the point they are at today where natural regeneration is seen as an issue. In Norway they are quite happy to admit that their landscape is managed for maximum benefit to humans. There is deemed to be so much woodland in Norway now that they are now trying to control regeneration that is encroaching on cultural landscapes, removing woodland that is threatening rare plants that require open sites, clearing view points on tourist routes, etc., with widespread public support.

In Norway very little formal planning is carried out, compared to the processes that we go through in Scotland. Instead the use science to back up their management decisions without having to worry about having to cover their backs all the time as well. This can allow them to react to issues that arise far quicker than is possible in Scotland.

Norwegian professionals also use a lot less jargon than their Scottish counterparts, making communication between different stakeholders far easier. There is also further evidence of greater respect for the woodlands in Norwegian professionals in the lack of a formal felling licence structure as we have in Scotland. While they don’t need to apply to fell trees in Norway they do ‘have to ensure adequate regeneration after felling’. They can be trusted not to fell everything for economic gain in the first place; it’s then also expected that the woodland will be healthy enough to get sufficient regeneration without planting. This is a good example of the relaxed approach to planning, and the integrity of the land managers that we were shown in Norway.

Perhaps the most striking things were the similarities. The vegetation types, the geology, the climate, the remnants of granny pine now surrounded by young pine forest. Norwegian woodlands really show the potential of what would be possible in Scotland with the right management.




The moorlands of Norway had a very different appearance to those in Scotland with many of the same species having a bushier form and greater height than we would expect at similar elevations in Scotland. The prostrate ‘wind-clipped heaths’ that we see at similar elevations, in Norway often reaching heights of 30cm or more and there was a richness and diversity of plantlife in comparison.

The most striking comparison between Norway and Scotland was the extent of montane scrub at high elevations. It was felt that this particular habitat ought to be more extensive in Scotland.


Land Management


Only when noticing the little round boundary markers beside the roads did the small size of the landholding units become apparent – as there are very few fences. Much of the landscapes we spent time in were recently naturally re-afforested, with no silvicultural management. Contrast the situation in Finland or Sweden (also generally lacking in fences) where individual forest holdings are heavily managed and land ownership patterns are much more obvious. In many of our crofting landscapes, fencing is a recent (post WW2) phenomenon; people used to work much more co-operatively in managing domestic animals. We also have the issue of high numbers of deer needing to be fenced out of sensitive areas. Small land holdings can be productive and support families in rural areas, if they are diversified: woodland, grazing, adding value to primary products, tourism infrastructure, etc.

Given our group’s composition, it is maybe not surprising that we agreed that land management must radically change in Scotland to make our country more resilient for the future. Now we just need to help to make it happen.



Grazing pressure in SW Norway has reduced over the last century, initially because of emigration in the late 19th century, and then because of another period of agricultural decline from the 1950s onwards. The result of reduced grazing pressure (and associated land use such as muirburn) has been huge pulses of tree regeneration without fencing, which have snowballed and resulted in the landscape scale increases in woodland cover discussed above. The lower grazing pressure has also led to well-developed woodland understorey and uninterrupted transitions into montane scrub and structurally diverse dwarf shrub communities at higher altitudes. There is such wide variety of plant species, including browse sensitive plants which in Scotland are only found on ledges inaccessible to herbivores.

Our discussions often returned to the topic of the ‘sweet spot’, the ideal level of grazing, or the ‘Grandmother’s recipe book’ of grazing which could be adapted to different situations. When grazing pressure in Norway reduced this happened by accident rather than by design and there is no way of knowing what the stocking density was when this woodland regeneration got away. Our impression was that grazing pressure is now on the rise. The decline in moorland and its value as a cultural landscape was clearly a concern to the people we met, and we felt that Norway is perhaps moving in the direction of increasing grazing pressure to achieve a balance of open and wooded habitats. Perhaps Scotland will meet Norway somewhere along this line?

We saw various different examples of grazing by sheep, cattle and goats, and all of the stock looked to be in good condition. Domestic stock both within and outwith woodlands were having a diverse range of effects, generally positive through helping to maintain habitat mosaics. However, in some cases there was obvious damage to woodland at a local scale and this seemed to be accepted, presumably because there is so much established regeneration. A recurring question was whether it will be possible to graze domestic stock in woodland in the long term or if there will be eventual loss of woodland cover? Perhaps because there is now so much woodland, soils and seed source are improved, and there is long term low pressure from red deer and other wild herbivores, there may be localised losses but woodland regeneration will keep pace with woodland loss at a landscape scale?


Culture and the Landscape

 Every country is both a product and a prisoner of its culture and its landscape. In Scotland there has been a recent trend to look to the Nordic countries as exemplars of land management, particularly in relation to woodland management and hunting. Our impression was that Norwegian’s did not feel the same need to look at other countries being generally content with their lot. Norwegians are proud of their outdoor, hunting culture – a high percentage of Norwegians attend outdoor school, have a cabin in the country and hunt. However, all was not sweetness and light: while we pine for pine they want more moor. They have lost over 90% of their moorland which was used for livestock winter forage (rather than driven grouse shooting). This reflects changes in agricultural practice and reductions in livestock numbers. However, the remaining 10% of moorland is not strongly protected and despite some concerns there does not appear to be a concerted effort to reclaim moorland on a significant scale although subsidies are available to encourage its restoration. The large scale woodland regeneration we witnessed appears to be an accidental product of farming decline rather than a conscious decision to increase woodland cover. As such it appears to have crept up on most people, and therefore most are accepting with the exception of concerns about loss of coastal moorland habitat.

Society and Economy

Norway is a richer country than Scotland and this is reflected in its higher quality rural infrastructure, agricultural subsidies and standard of housing. They have a strategic policy to focus agriculture on self-sufficiency and this directs resources to maintaining efficient production. However, because landholdings are small this has not led to larger farms. The Norwegian rural economy is also more diverse with income streams coming from agriculture, woodland, hunting and tourism. There were tensions between increasing development of tourism infrastructure (ski-ing) versus traditional reindeer hunting. In contrast most of the tensions we experience in Scotland are between hunting and conservation.

We noted that despite fewer planning constraints than Scotland many hut developments eg at Hovden, although comprised of many 10s of huts, these were built in already wooded areas, essentially the ‘birch zone’ and the design / use of appropriate materials ie wood and particularly the use of living / turf rooves made the developments sit well in their environment allowing for economic activity whilst not overly spoiling the landscape and habitat.

Rural Skills

In Norway, in comparison with Scotland, there is a much stronger connection between people and the landscape with rural skills such as hunting being taught to children from an early age. There was also not such a disconnect between urban and rural lifestyles with many ‘urban’ people making use of cabins in the countryside. This connection with rural life and a wider knowledge of rural skills was seen as a strength. In comparison, in Scotland, many of the difficulties which arise between recreational use of the countryside and land management come from a disconnect and a lack of rural lifestyles.

Society in the Past

 The most relevant “past” for our learning was the later 19th Century and early 20th Century, the society that lived in and shaped the landscape from which the landscape we were learning about evolved.  Clearly, society has changed in Norway since then but the past culture was still apparent in the landscape despite significant landscape change.  This seems to tell us that landscape change need not destroy cultural heritage. Rather, it changes the setting in which it is presented.

There are parallels between society in Norway in the 19th Century and early 20th Century and that in the Scottish Highlands and Islands at the same time.  Literacy levels and commitment to education were high in both places.  Dispersal and settlement patterns were marked by waves of expansion and contraction in the population, moving onto or retreating from marginal land with a more or less desperate search for fertile growing conditions.  Adaptations to life on marginal land were similar (e.g.: cattle farming, peat cutting) although the rural economic and institutional framework was very different, particularly in terms of landownership (large holdings in Scotland, smaller in Norway), the influence of which is discussed elsewhere in this report.


 There is a strong culture of valuing community in Norway, embedded in the system of communes. People are highly individualistic and community based, with the view being that it is in one’s self-interest to have a community. We were taken aback at an enormous tunnel built through a mountain to serve a small settlement, which highlighted the contrast with home where we pay lip service to community in comparison and where we struggle even to keep schools and post offices open. The default vocabulary in Norway is socialist, whereas capitalism is the default in Britain. “natural capital” is not a term that is used in Norway. Although community empowerment is important in Scotland and carries weight, we still need to make the capitalist argument.


The cabin culture is very prevalent across Scandinavia and Finland. Whilst different to the bothy culture in Scotland it is comparable in some respects, particularly the Norwegian Trekking Association cabins which are widely used by the general public and visitors. A lot of these cabins are run on an honesty system that works well. The cabins are kept clean, food and facilities paid for as they should be, and volunteer labour can easily be found to help with maintenance. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Scottish bothies.

The private cabin culture varies for individually built and sited cabins, much like the hutting scene in Scotland, to large cabin villages, commercially built near resorts. The individual cabins can seem quite idyllic with their setting, aesthetics, simplicity of design and features (many not having running water, electricity and only a drop toilet), being very comparable with the hutting movement in Scotland at present. They stand out more in the landscape, but because of the small numbers and pleasing appearance they do not appear intrusive.

The large cabin villages however differ greatly from this, being very much like second homes, with all the facilities and communal heating and sewer systems in most cases. However Cabin design on this landscape scale enables designers to effectively ‘hide’ a lot of cabins in the landscape using features such as wood cladding in neutral tones, and turf roofs. This can give make them less noticeable from a distance, but still give a suburban feel when close by.


 The deer management system used in Norway is highly specific to the country. Over decades the metabolic biomass of large herbivores on the ground has been calculated and analysed with the eventual effect of giving an ideal average carcass weight for the country. In Norway they have found that if the carcass weight is kept at the optimum then everything else in the environments used by the deer follows. If carcass weight, and hence condition of the animals decreases, they increase cull targets to improve condition. This is a very simple measure, but created a lot of discussion within the group as to its effectiveness with regards habitat condition. We didn’t see any habitats where deer were the limiting factor, but there is a definite perception in Norway that there is too much tree regeneration, which is limiting other habitats.

The data is not directly comparable to Scotland as dressed carcass weight in Norway is measures with the skin off, in Scotland it is measured with the skin is on. Other deer data from Scotland can be disputed, making a direct comparison very difficult. While the group couldn’t get close to agreeing what a suitable system for deer control in Scotland could be, we did agree that where there is no regeneration this is often because deer numbers are still too high.

At a local level the delivery of the deer cull is controlled by the commune. A person is employed by each commune to ensure that cull targets are met. While this is an expensive way of managing the cull game management pays for itself in Norway, even in a small commune such as Bykle which the group visited on the trip. This is in direct contrast to Scotland where our agencies that manage culls are increasingly short staffed due to a lack of funds. Norwegian farmers non-farming income makes up the largest part of their overall income, with hunting making a significant contribution to this. For non-local people to gain access to Reindeer hunting in Norway they are entered into a ballot and if selected can then have to pay up to £2,000 for one beast.

The commune system of game management is comparable to the Deer Management Group system that we have in Scotland, but in Scotland we generally don’t try to manage all of our resources together. This is evidenced by the example of DMG’s that get along because they are all trying to achieve the same objective, until someone wants to change something when it fragments. The commune system gives a less confrontational platform as it de-couples land and politics. The suggestion was made during group discussion that instead of landowners paying DMG fees each year they could all put that money towards employing someone to manage the culls and effectively set up a ‘commune system’ as in Norway.

There is less conflict over what is hunted in Norway. 10% of the population actively hunt, so it is a lot more accepted than in Scotland. There is still conflict over wolves, but this is the great exception in Norway. The compensation system in Norway causes a lot of the tension. Duncan felt that a system similar to one used in Sweden, where landowners are paid to tolerate the presence of large predators would work far better in Norway. The system would also cost less to run as the presence of the predator is all that needs to be determined in order to calculate what the payment should be. Beavers can also create tension, but generally only in the areas where they are not yet present again. There is also resistance from Reindeer hunters towards the designation of new national parks because it is perceived that they can struggle to deliver on conservation and the increased tourism they bring through, building of new resorts, cabin fields, infrastructure, ski trails, etc. can displace reindeer and act as barriers to their migration.


We saw Rhododendron ponticum growing in gardens and, on discussing the issue with various conservation and land use professionals, it became clear that the plant is not viewed as a serious threat in Norway. We explained the severe issues we have with rhododendron in Scotland and stressed the importance of getting on top of the situation now before the species allowed to spread. Due to the similar geology, soils and climate it would be expected to become as invasive in SW Norway as it has in Scotland. We are following up these discussions with a separate report to professionals involved in invasive species work in SW Norway with the aim that they can learn from the issues we have in Scotland and tackle rhododendron before it becomes a serious problem. 


 There is not a strong culture of regulation in Norway because there is such a strong culture of trust. We noticed this in a variety of situations, but overall there seemed to be a totally different approach to risk compared to Britain, which seems very risk averse in comparison.

This was highlighted in access by the public and in the culture of “allemannsretten”, or the right to roam, and in the cabin movement. The lower regulation of the forest industry was also noted (for example in relation to felling licences, discussed above). The different land ownership in Norway may have an impact by spreading risk.


In terms of protection of the natural heritage, our own systems are very tied to the regulatory process which can foster complexity and make decision making bureaucratic. There are different tiers of protected areas in Norway, as in Scotland, but there were a few obvious differences. Firstly, at a local level, environmental regulation seemed much more integrated. For example, the same people employed in the conservation of protected areas were also involved in hunting, agriculture, forestry, and the regulation of water and air quality. Secondly, as Norway does not participate in the Natura network this may have reduced regulation and allowed for a greater degree of flexibility. There did not appear to be any barriers to landscape scale change, or the ‘ecosystems approach’, allowing for dynamic systems and habitat change over time.

How might we might learn from the Norwegian example and instigate change back home? We need to skill people up to make informed opinions about the consequences of habitat change, with good understanding of key skills (such as plant identification) but also the ability to cut through jargon and clearly communicate. Change should ideally come from people and communities themselves.

Norway’s Future

 South West Norway can be said to have reached a “sweet spot “with its forests, with the forests regenerating into a strong pioneer woodland and an increasingly substantial understory. This regeneration has being facilitated through the large scale reduction in grazing pressure, through agricultural use with sheep and cows, to a large culling of red deer. With its snowballing regeneration.

However, the loss of the cultural landscape mean that these primary woodlands that have developed since the 1960’s, indicate that they may now or in the future, be under threat to a change once more back into a more traditional and perhaps culturally acceptable landscape. Alternatively, perhaps the cultural trend may have changed enough to facilitate the protection of the woodlands into reaching its primary stage.

Future influence

  • The effects of grazing pressure upon the forest ecosystem; the consequences of grazing pressure over the long term under the present model is insignificant, while the numbers of sheep and cattle remain low. However, once the numbers increase then the effect upon the forests could be devastating, halting regeneration and clearing the understory. Initially there had being a huge pulse in regeneration, that was originally faster than the herbivores could keep up with, tipping the balance in favour of the woodlands. However, around Haugesund and Stavanger the evidence was that grazing pressure was halting the development of woodlands creating once more an open landscape. The problem is if this farming practice spreads throughout Norway, then the woodlands could be in jeopardy. It is only a short time since their establishment, with the trees still in the pioneer phase, meaning that they could be vulnerable to intensive agricultural intrusion. This pressure is highlighted by the fact that present practices favour sheep over cattle. The sheep would do more damage to the woodlands, where-as the cattle with their mouths can generally help. This increase in livestock would devastate the forest understory. However, at the present time, there are large areas of woodland with a deep and healthy understory, with no or minimal impact from resident herbivores. grazing pressure that had dropped drastically from the 1960’s is now on the rise again, how far it invades into and impacts upon the woodlands is to be anticipated.
  • Rare species; such as Arnica Montana, are now on the decline due to the increase of woodland. Therefore, does woodland need to be sacrificed to protect those species? The question is how big is the tradeoff between having new woodlands and losing developed plant species, and at what point is it that either the regeneration is halted or the acceptance of the species loss is acknowledged.
  • Exotic species; may be a threat to the new pioneer forests as locals start bringing in plants like rhododendron into their gardens. The reintroduction of exotic species could create a massive problem in the future taking away what is a now a pristine woodland ecosystem. However, with careful management and control this could be prevented.
  • Loss of cultural landscape; moorland loss, caused by the regeneration of the native woodlands is causing conflict with some locals who view it as a loss of their natural cultural landscape, putting into conflict the levels of regeneration of the forests. When people start to believe that there are too many trees, then the trees it is natural to commence felling. The question is though, at what point and when would that stop.

The forests of Norway are increasing, with the height levels exceeding expectations, reaching over 1000mts. on exposed hillsides often with poor soils. Even with pressure from agricultural grazing, and the loss of certain cultural heritages in the landscape the forests are still on the increase. This may be put down to an overall acceptance of the forests and people integrating themselves into the woodlands, rather than fighting against them. This creates a healthy matrix upon the landscape, integrating different agricultural practices within the woodland ecosystem, allowing for a rich and diverse woodland flora to develop. Alongside the farming communities evolving to incorporate the woodlands into their farming practice, hunting has assimilated into the woodlands, with the hunt being more about quality rather than quantity. Also, due to the increase of woodland, wood that many foresters wood consider useless, or too scrubby has become a source of a regular wood supply for many of the homesteads, without impact upon the new forests.

Only time will tell if the forests are future proof, and are able to withstand the conflicting pressures of loss of cultural heritage, grazing pressures, invasive exotics and loss of certain species as the woodlands grow. However, at the moment they are in the “sweet spot” with the forests and the people who live in and around them integrating well, allowing for the growth and regeneration of the woodlands. There was evidence of oak regeneration showing that the woodlands are now, moving from the pioneer woodland towards the climax, primary woodland, how this develops is now down to the people of Norway and how far they are prepared to assimilate the woodlands into their lifestyle.

Demonstrating Potential in Scotland

 South West Norway demonstrates the potential for profound landscape change directed largely by natural processes within human lifespans.

The key challenge here is to understand what the people who determine what happens to land in Scotland will think when they hear us talking about this “potential”; potential for what? 

The dominant school of thought in nature conservation remains that we need to get back to a past state and stop it changing, albeit this is shifting, see, for example, the editorial in Sept. 2017’s In Practice, “Change Is Inevitable: How Can We Make a Difference?”.  Our regulatory and land management grant system remain largely wedded to this static and controlling view of land management with their designations based on a snapshot ecological status and grant conditions that impose highly detailed outputs.  Our concentrated land ownership patterns also place control in a few institutions or individuals.  These tend to want to determine in detail the future of their land because of the impact the state of the land has on their finances, reputation and other interests. 

On the other hand, factors such as the democratisation of access via right to roam, political interest in rural land use, and a powerful local community movement provide for a healthy public debate in Scotland about land-use change.  Nevertheless, “potential for profound change directed largely by natural processes” does not sit easily in our rural land management framework.

The other complicating factor is that the change we favour, towards a more productive ecology for which one of the signs will be more wooded landscapes, in Scotland requires a significant reduction in sheep and wild deer grazing pressure and probably more tree planting in remoter areas to increase seed source.   Sheep numbers may fall as an unintended consequence of Brexit but it seems almost certain that reducing wild deer grazing would require a lot of effort by a lot of people, many of whom make a living reliant on large numbers of deer or who believe that large numbers of deer is a good thing for cultural reasons.  Tree planting is also difficult with its cost, fencing in wild areas and controlling grant and regulatory conditions.

We are therefore trying to motivate our fellow land managers to make a huge effort to reduce deer populations and plant seed source woodland in a way that challenges their values and risks their livelihoods when the outcome is uncertain in a framework that puts a premium on certainty.  We can see the impact of this in some upland areas where the story seems to be “the only way the upland ecology will become more productive is to get deer densities right down, this is really hard to do and even then we are not sure it will work, we don’t even know what we mean by “work”, so it is not worth trying”.  In many places, we are stuck.  In others, we have smaller scale examples (e.g.: exclosure experiments or research into remnant suppressed woodland vegetation) and some emerging examples of landscape scale change, e.g.: Cairngorms Connect, Glen Affric.  We do have inspiring examples.

We need to use the South West Norway model allied to our own examples to demonstrate that with reasonable interventions we can help nature to get things moving rather than to try to define an end-point that we could get to.  The former seems more likely to motivate the kind of broad coalition of adventurers that we need.  The latter seems more likely to get us mired further in a debate about what the right end point is, whether the grants and regulations allow us to get there, whether we can afford it, who might win or lose….

We should tell stories of marvellous journeys not provide instructions on our perceived desirable destination.


  Fidjadalen in 1927 (left) and now (September 2017) showing landscape change in woodland cover.

Appendix 1: Group Discussion Notes


  • Creation of soil must have a mechanism and this will be the same as ours so we should have the same potential for habitats.
  • Amazed at the height of the trees growing at 1000m on very poor thin soil and rock.
  • The hut had outlines of fish and weights caught. Big fish. Which means that the soils and nutrient status must be pretty good.
  • Soil profile – smelled good (aerobic), associated smell with good brown earth. Soil profile thin topsoil, no peat layer, 5cm topsoil, subsoil was 20cm then into gley. Gleyed soils in second soil sample then into clay.
  • There was no evidence of sediment load/scouring in the streams – they were running clear.
  • Why were some areas browsed to a carpet and areas next door not touched. What drives this process, is the soil in those areas more mineral rich?
  • Good to look at the soil, what is going on underneath the vegetation? Relates back to mineral uptake. We are so used to our degraded landscape with Nardus stricta everywhere this is what we expect, yet we could have some of this. This was answered during the trip: firstly their burn cycle was much longer (40-45years) than it is/was in a lot of the crofting areas of the Highlands, so a lot less phosphate export; secondly they also have trees mining and cycling the nutrients for them again. We don’t so they just leach out of reach of the other plants.


  • The moorland we saw at the first site has a different structure than in Scotland.
  • We saw different types of moorland on the trip with different levels of grazing.
  • There was a ‘Wow!’ response from whole group on experiencing the moorland mosaics and the richness of plant life.
  • Grouse moor – perception of what management is needed for grouse is very different from what we currently do. Just need to get people over here to see what can be done. There is no bad about what is here for grouse. The bag may be less but the quality and the skill and experience will be better than the numbers shot.
  • The lasting memory is walking through the birch line and seeing montane scrub.
  • Observed less moss species than we have on the west. Could be that the area is not so wet as our west coast. Could also be a result of lack of grazing favouring herb layer.
  • Juniper understorey also seemed to contradict what we had been told – worth trying to grow with a nurse crop of birch.


  • What a lot of trees, including decent sized ones on really thin soils and on islands raked by gales. Encouraged by snowballing of woodland regeneration here.
  • The tree regeneration started slow and snowballed. The regeneration wasn’t a result of a national decision but the policy changed when it was recognised that all the trees would be gone if something wasn’t done and then small areas of trees were planted however the main part of the regeneration has been unplanned. The first field trip showed how recent and how extensive the regeneration is. It’s worth noting that they did this without fencing as well.
  • There was an understory in areas where there wasn’t domestic stock
  • At one site, there was no woodland there in the 60s and we were looking at very recent establishment shown by the lack of veteran trees.
  • The land managers appreciate woodland which we would consider very marginal, as they take a product from it (firewood). The firewood from the scratty woodland around here is regarded as productive whereas in Scotland those areas would be overlooked and not considered as a resource. These areas are therefore valued.
  • This is creating a landscape with the maximum benefit to humans. We are not so honest and clear about saying we want eg. Woodland or we want to keep this or that.
  • Our forest industry seems to be an example of how bad to use a policy which doesn’t take natural factors into account.
  • We have an obligation to restock but this could be achieved through regeneration. In Norway they have an obligation to ‘ensure that there is adequate regeneration’ after felling. With our system we have an Obligation ‘to restock felled areas’. The difference in wording highlights the mindset. They say ‘regeneration’ because that’s what they expect. We say ‘restock’ because we expect to plant. There’s no reason why we couldn’t use natural regeneration more (and we are starting to), but natural regeneration isn’t always as certain as planting, so our very planned systems can’t cope with that.
  • The lack of a plan here would worry our foresters, it would make them uneasy. They might have to start thinking about the natural processes and they may not have that knowledge
  • In Scotland, we could be at the point of a pulse but maybe aren’t noticing, eg. Glen Finan is much more wooded. There is more woodland than there was in our living memory. Our biodiversity trends such as woodland cover are pretty good. We have more work to do in some areas controlling all herbivores, but there are a lot of areas that have regenerated in over the last few decades.
  • Need to create vista points for roadside tourists.
  • Coming across the odd granny pine in Norway, felt that even though some aspects are better there is not a massive difference in between what they have and our potential.
  • Rarities: Arnica Montana declining, get rid of woodland to favour it. But that is a trade off – if you have a lot of something else you could sacrifice it to get more of the rare stuff.

Land Management

  • We were struck by how different the land ownership is in Norway, with small owner- occupied land management units. The scale and complexity is akin to crofting, with grassland areas forming a mosaic in the forest. We agreed that mosaics of habitats are the richest for biodiversity and landscape value. We noticed the lack of deer fencing – in fact any fencing – in the landscape, and a pleasant lack of hill tracks (or if they are there you don’t notice them because they are in a forested landscape). Farm and woodland are much more integrated
  • We noted that in Scotland many large estates are dedicated to a single form of land management eg driven grouse shooting, and do not have this mosaic of habitats.
  • In Norway things are a bit more integrated, with the land manager also having the hunting interests. With the current ownership structure in Scotland, this would be hard to replicate at home.
  • We felt there is a need in Scotland to break through the barriers between ‘traditional’ land management on big estates and ‘conservation’, to understand each other’s expertise and work with each other. Otherwise it is a ‘See No Evil’ situation and nothing will change.
  • There are fewer value judgements in Norway, the larger scale of the country results in a more relaxed approach compared to Scotland.
  • Land management is an art informed by science, and its interpretation is personal.


  • Can you have grazing and still have woodland in the long term? It is about numbers and type of livestock. Kasper and Erik were pressing for more cattle than sheep grazing however existing husbandry favours the latter.
  • In some areas the sheep were doing a good job. The first farm the grassland was a bit rank and it could have done with more grazing, whereas the second farm, the grassland was more diverse with grazing by goats, sheep and cattle.
  • The clumsy mouth of a cow and grazing randomly has benefits.
  • Grazing goats were doing some significant damage to the trees in places, however there seems to be an acceptance of damage.
  • Is there monitoring to say when there is enough grazing?
  • What was the stocking density when the pulse of tree regeneration got away?
  • Haven’t seen a scrawny sheep on this visit.
  • Compare grazing pressures now and then. When they lost the grazing pressure were there other factors involved.
  • They need a baseline to inform carrying capacity today. If we don’t record sufficiently the baseline when doing stuff we won’t be able to draw robust conclusions to apply elsewhere.
  • There is some sceptism over modelling, due to the complexities such as aspect, altitude. If you write down what you do, you can adapt it. Analogy of Grandmother recipe book- adapt recipe to situations.
  • The grazing pressure has gone right down and is now on the rise
  • How do you drop browsing pressure and how do you manage deer are two different topics. Norwegians haven’t tried to achieve this, it has just happened.
  • The areas that we looked at on the last day grassy habitat, and in the long term it is maybe not as sustainable for wood pasture. In these areas were there too many sheep?


Culture and the Landscape

  • Norwegian culture is much more outdoor orientated: from a high percentage of pupils in outdoor schools; to almost half the population having access to cabins and a higher percentage of hunters. They pride themselves on their close relationship to the land.
  • Norwegians have a cultural attachment to their moorland landscape and are concerned that their moorland is disappearing: ‘Coastal heathlands are anthropogenic nature types that have existed along much of the Norwegian coast throughout several thousand years. They are an essential contribution to the coastal biodiversity, but today they are about to disappear. Only 10% of the former coastal heathlands have survived until today, and they are regarded as some of the most threatened types of vegetation in Norway.’ Christian expressed sadness about the loss of a cultural landscape. His perspective is that the problem here is too much regeneration especially onto the moorland.
  • Norwegian use of moorland is very different than ours – their historic use was for winter fodder for livestock in Scotland the primary use is driven grouse shooting. We didn’t see a good example but Duncan sent us some pictures (see below)
  • The disappearance of heather moorland reflects the decline in marginal farming. There is a strong romantic attachment to the ‘old days’ and the hardy, pioneer, backwoodsman spirit.
  • There appear to be some tensions in Norway around the level of regeneration. The regeneration occurred due to livestock decline rather than a planned re-afforestation
  • Cultural landscape is a matter of choice and opinions differ. Perspectives can colour what you see and how you think it is doing eg. Woodland.
  • Culture is not necessarily a good basis for rational decisions. What is? All decisions are value judgements. Culturally there are some sacred cows.


Society and Economy

  • This is the ‘least worst country’ Duncan has lived in
  • The Norwegians seem to have a vibrant rural economy and culture.
  • As you walked down the glen on Day 1 it was resonant of Lochaber but the houses were smart, not ruins. Norway is an obviously wealthier country
  • There are less economic class issues here whereas in Scotland there is more of an urban rural split. Average income was £42K almost double that of the UK. This changes what is possible. How does this compare with Scotland and our subsidies? Could it be done without them?
  • Farming talk showed diverse income streams – gender equality also apparent – eldest inherit, traditionally the male although the women had certain rights (large key)
  • Lunchtime gathering to get in the sheep showed gender equality.
  • Though the hunting showed more male than female balance.
  • Tourism figures shows huge influx at certain times of year. No tourism tax here. Property tax, yes.
  • Public policy around food security here. Whereas we have food security and global supply chains. We have a fragile food chain. JIT process is not robust. Eg. Grangemouth strike.

Rural Skills

  • Here, people have more connection with the landscape and forest schooling with people learning rural skills and respect for the habitat from an early age.
  • Education and responsible access is very much needed in Scotland. Norwegian children grow up knowing how to use knives, guns and tools in the countryside. Whereas Scottish people see guns as weapons rather than land management tool. Seen as politically incorrect to promote it in brochures, magazines for example. Forest school network is developing. Still an exception. Kill it cook it eat it?
  • We liked the way that the trails were marked by red paint rather than signposts, though the quality of the trail was bad and it showed a large amount of braiding. Norwegian view is you will get there if you are tough enough.

Society in the Past

  • The Norwegian social history is amazing – they were literate in the 1902. Children had homework and the parents read the paper. Biggest newspaper reading population in the world.
  • Big contrast in the way that society was organised eg. Mills up the stream.
  • The culture at this time was to use the peat that was closest to them, eventually they had to climb a long distance to get peat and fuel. But they carried on living there despite having to go a long way to get peat so it must have been fertile.
  • There are some exact same parallels in Scotland. As families spread out, the marginal areas filled last but land hungry people would occupy poorer areas.
  • Norwegian history shows that they are resilient and will adapt and change.
  • On the walk up Berdalen to the sheiling even though the landscape had changed you could still tell the story of the culture.


  • The default vocabulary is socialist here whereas in Britain it is capitalist. Natural capitalist is not a word that they use.
  • There is a different view about social economics eg. Tunnel built for small settlement.
  • People here are highly individualistic and community based. It is all self interest even to have a community. Whereas we pay lip service to community in comparison. We can’t even keep our schools and post offices open!
  • Community empowerment is big with us. It carries weight. Still need to make capitalist argument.


  • Finland and Norway have made provision for visitors to have bothy barbq indoors. Whereas our bothies are getting trashed. The quality of the bothy we visited – obviously respected by those who visit.
  • Cabins in the landscape are very much different from what we might think – rack and stack. Too many – almost one per family and they are more like houses than little huts.
  • Cabin services – what happens? Septic tanks or long drop toilets still the norm in the high level cabin areas.
  • Turf roofs integrate the buildings really well into the landscape. Almost cant see them! This would work really well in the cairngorms
  • Timber cladding also helps things to blend in. our traditions stand out more and are a bit unimaginative.


  • The system for managing deer is highly specific to Norway. Proxy for habitat condition is weight of the animals shot. If low weight, then condition is poor. If condition of the animal goes down, the cull targets go up. As a measure, it is indisputable and can’t be fudged. Whereas habitat condition can be debated. Having said that we didn’t see any places where deer were the limiting factor, so is habitat condition monitoring really necessary with regards deer density?
  • The system to run commune based hunting that we have seen is expensive. Every commune has to have somebody to manage cull targets. The game management pays for itself whereas our agencies are all getting more and more short staffed because of lack of funds.
  • JMT is in seven deer management groups and has to pay fees to each of them. The fees could pay towards a system like here.
  • Their commune system is a bit like a DMG but we don’t think of managing resources together, but it would need to have a less confrontational platform than we have at the moment. Land and politics – it would be good to separate these out. DMG all get on as long as somebody is doing the same thing but as soon as somebody wants to do something different it fragments. It takes a long time to take DMG around (oil tank).
  • Christian also didn’t want the National Park because he didn’t think it could deliver for conservation and would just bring more people who would displace the reindeer herds. New breaks in areas used by reindeer caused by roads and people. As a herd they are quite diffuse until they meet one of these barriers and then they bunch up.
  • To shoot a reindeer there is a ballot and will cost you a couple of £2K unless you are local. Non farming income was the biggest chunk of their income. The hunting was a greater contributor than the forestry. Not surprising because although now it is based on a clear fell system. However it will go on to small coups and annualise their forestry income. It still might not catch up with hunting unless they were to start looking at producing quality broadleaves or something like that.
  • Scottish stalking – the extra skill required for hinds versus stag culls was discussed and the implications for promoting more skilled hind cull versus trophy shoots and moving towards the Norwegian system was really useful.
  • Metabolic biomass figures and index shows how things have fallen and risen – question at what point do you suppress the numbers of herbivores. How many enough for Norway? Difficult to compare the two countries due to different metrics. Although we have a few sites with those figures.
  • Stats on deer numbers in Scotland can be disputed but what you can’t dispute is whether the numbers are right for that particular site, if no regeneration then the numbers are still too high.
  • There is less conflict in relation to what is hunted. There is still conflict on issues like wolves, but they are the great exception. They won’t introduce hunting wolves without a license until the numbers are up and sustainable. It would need a hunting season. Hunting dogs used?
  • Beavers can also create tensions and it depends on how close you live to them
  • In Scotland, we know a lot about deer, we don’t need more research, instead we need to sell the vision of a more Norwegian based model and manage the people social side of things.
  • Lynx discussions and tensions in our country are away off being resolved.
  • The concept of paying the land manager for the presence of the predator instead of paying to compensate for the loss of livestock seen as much better approach as the transaction costs would be less, eg. Don’t need to check evidence of each loss but just for presence of predator.


  • Big discussion around how it was witnessed in people’s gardens and that it would be a problem in years to come if not tackled.
  • We will send case studies of Rhododendron ponticum and the impact on our vegetation to promote a better understanding of the need to get on top of it now before it gets away.


  • Totally different approach to risk and access by the public today. There is a more risk averse society in Britain than in Norway. Not knowing something is OK, not being OK with it can lead to risk aversion. The different land ownership here must have an impact, it must spread the risk.
  • There is a difference between bureaucratic and simple decision making. Our systems foster complexity and following the regulatory process. We seem to have a society based on following the process rather than the basing it on the outcome. Following prescriptions regardless of whether it fits with common sense. The problem with our designated system it is a backward looking system. The future doesn’t allow for dynamic systems which will change. John Rodwell was keen to point out that NVC was never designed to be used as a prescription only a catagorisation. We need to get across that we want to have outcomes that are flexible.
  • In Norway there is not a lot of regulation because there is a strong culture of trust.
  • We need to skill people up to make an informed opinion and also dumb things down so that people can understand and get rid of the jargon. However you do need an understanding of the different components, eg. Plant ID and not ignore it and walk away quickly.
  • Where we go fundamentally wrong, put something in rather than sort out the systems. Treating the symptoms rather than the cause. If we did get it right, there might be some economic hits however there would be plenty other things to do as a result. Should we be investing in change management because the cost of time and effort otherwise – resistance if imposed will create drag. Needs to come from the people themselves. Why would people change if what they are doing gives them a comfortable resource/lifestyle anyway. Communication within the community is vital otherwise it can be sabotaged eg. Fences vandalised. Can result in mitigation measures after the damage has been done. Ironically, the bits that we currently value are the result of people who refused to budge to the countrys policy last time round!
  • Drivers for change – how do we facilitate this and afford it?

Norway’s Future

  • Norway is in a sweet spot but it is changing what happens next?
  • Interesting to see Scotland and Norway heading in opposite directions we are trying
  • to move towards them and they towards us trying to maintain the heath and we are trying to get more of a mosaic but are we could both come to the same spot.
  • What next? There is early succession now, what is planned? Interested in how the change will develop in the future now that the herbivores are going back up.
  • There is a cultural difference around do something and just see what happens.


Demonstrating Potential in Scotland

  • Are we looking to show the vision on a large scale or across a few demonstration places – need to work out the logistics of doing it on a large scale. Is it possible?
  • Showcase what can be done with examples across the country.
  • We need site managers as the National Park Authority can only encourage as it is not a landowner.
  • Question – how do we change the system so that it (the Norwegian landscape) happens by accident almost?
  • If we are trying to get people to value a landscape or habitat we need to not be too specialist about getting that across. We need to get across the WOW factor. How would you get people to want more of the best? To demonstrate potential we need to capture their hearts.
  • Norway is on a bigger scale than in Scotland, it is vast and the population of people and herbivores is much more diffuse. Whereas we are at a much smaller scale. We can have something similar however we would need to be much more interventionist. But also need to have something also unplanned. Kick start the semi natural processes and then let them run. Then it comes down to some short term grant funding and this is a challenge for us, what mechanisms we have available to us.
  • Nobody likes to be the first to change, like penguins jumping into the water. Good to come together as a group and have a bunch of examples which people can be used to push the boundaries. Challenges are our neighbours and the impact of what we do having an impact on them and vice versa. We are not as good as supporting change in our country.
  • Going back to deer politics, it is a collective opinion of the majority which feels differently from our approach. Need to look at their point of view and appreciate it too, however good your vision. In this age of social media it has a huge role to play eg. Need to identify key players and get them to get behind things. E-gurus! Key log guys, pull that one!
  • Growing the identity of an area, can we do that in Scotland? eg. This area, home of the xxx. Are we able to prioritise this one thing over others? Because otherwise it results in constant conflict as we want it to do all things for all people.






 Dwarf cornel (Cornus seucica) , Alpine bearberry (Arctostaphlylos alpina), Alpine sow thistle, (Cecerbita alpina), and

Alpine bistort (Persicaria vivipara).

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