Kate Bellew, Conservation Planner from RSPB Scotland, tells us of her recent nature exchange programme in Norway.

Norway Norway over the sea

Earlier this summer, I was lucky enough to get offered a place on one of Archnetworks structured training programmes in Norway. I jumped at the chance to explore a place with so much wildlife – including beavers, moose, reindeer, wolves, lynx and bears! 

University of Hedmark, Evenstad Campus by the Glomma. Doug Shapley (RSPB Scotland)

I’d never been to Norway before and the first thing that struck me when I arrived was the amount of native forest cover. Many of the landscapes reminded me of Scotland - just with more trees! We were based at the University in Evenstad, within Hedmark County which has over 90 per cent woodland cover. This compares to around just 17 per cent in Scotland. 

The hillsides are generally densely forested, with species such as native Scot’s pine, Norway spruce, birch and aspen. Agricultural land seemed confined to the flatter low lying areas although we did come across some sheep grazing within the forestry and on the open hillsides, as well as several moose.

Adult moose hiding in the forest. Doug Shapley (RSPB Scotland)

We met our guide for the week - Marius - a University lecturer, experienced hunter and knowledgeable about all things wild. Marius explained that although the forests look very ‘natural’ they have actually been managed for generations and are very productive.  

In Hedmark, one of the major commercial timber species is Scots pine which has very slow growth in Norway, but the resulting timber is of very good form and quality. Forestry practices are vastly different from Scotland. In Scotland there is a preference for large scale clear fell and restocking whereas in Norway forests are generally managed by felling the majority of mature timber trees in a coupe (which varied in size from around half to several hectares) but leaving selected trees at regular intervals (usually about 25 m) to provide a seed source for regeneration. 

Some of the natural forest clearances provide a haven for wildlife. We came across black grouse and capercaillie, which are widespread in Norway. These birds are red listed and of high conservation concern in the UK. 

Marius Kjønsberg: Our Guide for the week. Doug Shapley (RSPB Scotland)

Capercaillie: Species which are widespread in Norway. Doug Shapley (RSPB Scotland)

Moose and reindeer featured strongly on the menu in Norway. There is a big culture of sourcing wild food locally; around 10 per cent of people in Norway hunt.  

For many people, hunting provides a vital income as well as being a recreational activity. It is also an important way of controlling large herbivores such as moose and reindeer as well as big predators. We didn’t see any big predators during our trip but we did come across a recent wolf kill. As we walked through the forests, just knowing bears, wolves and lynx were all in the area made it an exciting place to be! 

Rondane National Park. Doug Shapley (RSPB Scotland)

As well as visiting the more forested parts of Norway we took a visit to the Rondane and Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Parks which are great wilderness areas with abundant arctic alpine habitats. 

Norway has 44 national parks across the mainland and Svalbard, and the way in which they are managed is entirely different to the UK. In particular, the park boundaries are much more regulated with regards to development. In most cases there are no roads and access by the hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing are the only means possible. 

Dovrefjell is famously home to a population of Musk Ox. These large herbivores went extinct in Europe 9,000 years ago but were re-introduced to the area in the 1930’s. They are a popular ‘visitor attraction’ but they can be very aggressive especially when they have young to protect. We were asked to keep at least 200 m away in case they decided to charge.

Musk Ox in Dovrefjell- Sunndalsfjella National Park. Doug Shapley (RSPB Scotland)

The whole trip provided a great way to learn about wildlife and conservation management. Having access to local contacts and experts provided an invaluable insight into a different perspective of biodiversity. 

It was clear that there are some major similarities between Norway and Scotland, including a lot of species overlap but there are of course some significant differences. Most apparent are the cultural differences in how humans connect with the land, in particular the historical cultural connection with hunting. Another striking difference is how areas of land are managed for a more diverse range of purposes and on a much larger scale. 

Farming, forestry and hunting are all commonplace on the same land holding and are often well co-ordinated between neighbours. I think lessons can be learned from Norway and it is clear that working together at a large scale can provide multiple benefits for both wildlife and people.

I’d like to thank Libby Urquhart, Archnetwork and the Erasmus+ programme for providing me the opportunity to take part in this fantastic exchange programme. Archnetwork is a Scottish organisation which promotes learning and development in natural and cultural heritage between Scotland and other European countries. I’d also like to thank Marius Kjønsberg for his energy and enthusiasm in guiding us for the week and my colleague at RSPB Scotland, Doug Shapley, who contributed photographs and information for this blog.