ERASMUS+ Arch Network NET project study visit to Norway
23 – 30 May 2016
In May 2016 I had the good fortune to go on a study visit to Norway to learn about wildlife and land management, particularly relating to forestry and conflicts between humans and large carnivores (lynx, wolves, wolverines and bears, oh my).
I was able to attend the study visit through the NET “Managing our natural and cultural assets” project. The NET project is delivered through the firm of ARCH (Archnetwork), who work with a consortium of organisations to deliver training. It is an exchange programme available to those working in the natural and cultural sectors. The project is funded by the ERASMUS+ programme. Read more about the programme here.
I travelled with a group of 7 people from other organisations. The other participants were:
- Eddie Anderson, Scottish Wildlife Trust;
- Marcin Baranski, Forestry Commission Scotland;
- Lynne Clark, Scottish Natural Heritage;
- Stuart Findlay, Forestry Commission Scotland;
- Phillip Gordon, Woodland Trust Scotland;
- Gareth Marshall, RSPB Scotland; and
- Mike Wood, RSPB Scotland.
Days 1-3 – Evenstad
We arrived by plane in Oslo rather late on Monday 23rd May, so went directly to a local B&B for some sleep. After breakfast the following morning, with lots of unfamiliar delicacies including fish paste, we were collected by Marius Kjønsberg, our host for the week. Marius is a lecturer at the Applied Ecology and Agricultural Science Facility at Høgskolen i Hedmark University. Marius is based at the University’s campus at Evenstad; his area of expertise is grouse species, or “Hønsefugl”, including black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus). The university are involved in monitoring populations of grouse and other species for the purpose of maintaining sustainable populations of game for hunting. Marius, like many Norwegians and in fact everyone we met on our trip, is a hunter.
The drive up to the Evenstad campus in Hedmark County takes a couple of hours. On the way, we marvel at the amount of forest cover (94% in Hedmark), which is made up of naturally regenerating Scots pine, birch and Norway spruce. On this relatively short drive it feels like I have seen as many trees as are in the whole of Scotland. Also of note, is the extensive fencing along the main road, designed to prevent moose-vehicle collisions. I chat with Eddie, who along with his day job with SWT manages a charity, “Wildlife Matters”, which aims to manage the impacts of beavers with the help of volunteers. We chat so easily that the hours feel like minutes, and suddenly we have arrived at Evenstad.
We quickly settle in to our home for the week, a wooden-clad building split into adjoining houses. We spend the afternoon exploring the campus, which is set in farmland along the eastern bank of the Glomma River. Along with the usual facilities, the campus also features a couple of tipis, a rustic sauna, and an enclosure containing a pair of friendly moose.
The following day (Wednesday) is spent attending lectures by university professors and PhD students. We learn about grouse monitoring, large carnivore conflicts, vole population dynamics, capercaillie predation and leopard (bit random, but they have similar ecology to lynx). By the afternoon my brain is buzzing from all that I’ve learnt and the steady supply of coffee.
After lectures the plan is to practice the presentations we have been asked to give to the students the next morning. However, these plans were waylaid as we decided to visit the aforementioned sauna. The sauna was built by a group of (mostly Finnish) students when the campus sauna was demolished to make way for a new building. It is a simple yet clever design; a wooden a-frame houses a small fire covered with large stones. The stones are heated for 5 – 6 hours until glowing red and the fire is then extinguished. A tarpaulin is then draped over the structure and a picnic bench placed inside for seating. The person nearest the stones is responsible for chucking water over them to create hot steam – as much as you can handle! We were also shown how to make a Vihta, a fragrant bundle of birch twigs secured at the base with birch bark; in Finland this is used to gentle whip yourself and others on the back. I haven’t quite figured out the purpose of this, but it was good fun. Once suitably heated, we slid down the bank into the very cold Glomma.
Days 4 & 5 – Presentations and Rondane and Dovre-fjell National Parks
On Thursday morning we each gave a presentation to Evenstad students, a mix of fishing, hunting, nature interpretation and ecology students, many of whom were international students on a placement. We each covered topics relevant to our organisations or specific projects, including forestry management, species reintroduction, capercaillie conservation, native woodlands and peatland restoration (me, of course). The students asked us many questions about our work, some of which were pretty challenging to answer. They made a good impression on me as it showed they had a good understanding about wildlife and land management in the UK and had listened carefully to what we had to say.
After lunch we piled into the mini-van and drove north past miles of boreal forest until an increase in elevation brought us into the alpine landscape of the Rondane National Park. The 963km2 National Park, the first of its kind in Norway, was designated in 1963. The landscape is dominated by the Rondane Massif, a mountainous area of closely-arranged peaks, many of which are over 2000 metres. The climate in this area is dry and soil poor, as a result there is a lot of exposed rock and vegetation includes specially adapted plants like dwarf birch (Betula nana), lichens (Cladonia spp.), and bearberry (Archtostaphylos spp.). Rondane is an important area for wild reindeer. This population was once much larger and migrated long distances between Rondande and Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park further north. Reindeer are very sensitive to human disturbance and their migration routes have been disrupted by roads and the building of cabins in the (now) protected reindeer zones.
Further north we stopped at Foldall to see the Stiftelsen Folldal Gruver (SFG), a former copper mine. The mine was operational between 1748 and 1941 and has been developed as a tourist attraction, with signage to interpret the buildings and infrastructure left in place. There is ongoing restoration work to the surrounding area and the birds-eye image below shows the scale of the former works.
Our accommodation for the night was a short drive from Folldal. “Kvebergsøya” is a traditional bed and breakfast run by Marius’ dad Martin and his wife Eris. We were treated to an amazing evening meal of stew made from home-grown lamb served with lingonberry (cloudberry) jam. Later we went on an evening walk through the pinewoods and saw beaver and Slavonian grebe, before spending the evening around the fire swapping stories and sampling whisky and home-made moose sausage.
After eating the best breakfast of cheese ever and discovering how the humble tea-light got its name (yes, keeping the teapot warm), we drove to the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre North at Hjerkinn, an area within Dovrefjell National Park. We were greeted by the very enthusiastic Heidi Ydse, a hunter and Nature Interpreter for the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (SNO), who plied us with more coffee (bzzzz) and delivered an interesting lecture on nature conservation in Norway and management of the wild reindeer. SNO are a state-funded branch of the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management and are responsible for managing protected areas, carnivores and coastal areas.
During lunch I was itching to head for the hills and paced about with my sandwich, trying to add a few alpine plants to our species list for the week.
Next on the itinerary was the nearby restored mine and military firing range at Hjerkinn. The Hjerkinn Artillery Firing Range was established in 1923 and used by the German army throughout WW2. From 1950 onwards Hjerkinn became the largest Norwegian military training area in the south of Norway. The 165km2 area has now undergone restoration, which required remote control construction vehicles due to the risk of operators being blown up! Access at Hjerkinn allows visitors of all abilities to travel through the “moonscape” to the viewpoint, and the interpretation has won awards.
(From a safe distance) we then witnessed a photographer disobey the “200 metre safe distance” rule and situate himself between two mobile musk ox (Ovibos moschatus). These formidably-horned members of the goat family weigh up to 450kg and can get pretty tetchy, particularly when females are having babies in spring. Heidi likened it to repeatedly barging into your older sibling’s bedroom – eventually you will earn yourself a dead leg. Sometimes musk oxen roam outside of the National Park and we found out that there are people employed to “annoy” the beasts back in by throwing small pebbles at them and playing a loud flute-thing, or maybe Heidi was kidding me on?
With limitless energy, Heidi then took us to see the alpine garden and Sæterfjellet arctic fox breeding station at Oppdal. A captive breeding project is being used to boost numbers of arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), a species that has been highly-prized for its fur and hunted almost to extinction in Scandinavia. The enclosures house 8 breeding pairs in an area of natural arctic fox habitat, reflecting the genetic variation amongst the Scandinavian population. The project has been largely successful so far, with 40 – 60 pups are released into the wild each year, with good numbers of pups surviving and going on to breed.
We spent Friday evening travelling back to Evenstad, stopping off at Jutulhogget, one of Northern Europe’s largest canyons at 2.4km long. It was created at the end of the last ice age when a vast proglacial lake broke free and forged its way 300 metres down, bringing the rock with it. The evening sun, although beautiful at the time, has meant that the photographs don’t really do Jutulhogget justice.
Day 6 – Fly-fishing
I wasn’t all that fussed about fly-fishing to begin with, but this adventure ranked highly in terms of enjoyment. Perhaps it was the magical combination of lie-in, post-Dovrefjell excitement, good company, barbeque and beautiful surroundings?
We were guided by Mads, Markus, Marte, Væbjørn and Paul – all first year fishing, hunting and nature interpretation students at Hedmark. I hope I have spelled all of their names correctly. They split us into groups and led us into the shallow Søndre Osa River, near Rena. We stumbled over the rocks like overgrown toddlers dressed in waterproof romper suits. Marte showed me how to perform a short cast into the deeper areas just in front of me, and I spent about an hour trying to untangle myself. After a time, I felt comfortable enough to artlessly dump the fly into the water, let it drift before it sank and then gently reel it back in again. I didn’t master the technique or catch anything but weed, but really enjoyed the repetitive action and the tranquillity of standing quietly in the river.
Day 7 & 8 – Forestry Museum and Moose conflicts
Sunday we had rain, but this was okay because we spent much of it indoors at the National Forestry Museum in Elverum. This is an interesting museum with a variety of exhibits related to forestry, nature, and hunting and fishing. It was fascinating to learn about the old tree harvesting techniques and imagine how hardy the foresters must have been to carry out this work. A large part of the museum is outdoor, and we were able to see various constructions (mostly cabins) and machinery. We added some more species to our list and witnessed a punch-up between red squirrel and fieldfare, who was fiercely defending its chicks. It was nice to see fieldfare in its breeding residence.
That evening Lynne, Marcin, Gareth, Philip and I went exploring up Trokberget, the hill behind the campus. It was exciting being out in the woods in the late evening, especially knowing that the region has the largest wolf pack in Norway. We climbed the hill, not really knowing if we were on the right track (despite good directions from student Mads) or how long it would take to reach the summit. After a few sweaty stops, we decided to keep going. Eventually we emerged above the fog and were rewarded with a great view down to the campus. A little further still and we located the small cabin at the top, where we rested in the lichen and hugged some pine trees before making our descent.
Our last day was Monday 31st May and I felt a bit blue about it. We packed up and drove back to Oslo airport, stopping on route to visit a project testing methods to discourage moose browsing and allow woodland regeneration. This area has a high moose population, despite hunting activity. This has led to conflicts with foresters as well as increased moose-vehicle collisions and given the size of moose this can have disastrous results. The techniques being trialled include moose fencing, diversionary feeding and chemical deterrents. Within the moose exclosure, the pine woodland is regenerating well to the decreased browsing. The fencing prevents moose from entering but a gap at the bottom allows smaller animals to travel between areas. We wondered if there were potential risks to grouse, as these birds fly fast and low and are often killed by fence collisions. In Scotland, fence markers have been successfully used to prevent collisions, and this is something that CEI volunteers have helped RSPB to implement across Airds Moss RSPB Reserve.
Exhausted and full of fresh ideas, we caught our plane home to Scotland. It was sad to say goodbye to the wonderful people with whom I had shared this experience and we decided to meet up again at the end of the summer.
I can highly recommend the ERASMUS+ Arch Network programme as a way of broadening your understanding of natural and cultural topics. Much of what I learnt in Norway can be applied through my role with the CEI, particularly in regards to conflicts between nature conservation objectives and land management for forestry, agriculture and hunting.
Along with being educated by the Norwegians, I gained so much from speaking (at length) with my fellow travellers. Coming from various organisations and having different backgrounds and areas of expertise we could share our own experiences. We had some lengthy and stimulating debates about Norwegian and Scottish practices in forestry, wildlife management and hunting. Certainly, there was information that would have passed over my head if I wasn’t able to then examine it with the group in the context of how we currently do things in Scotland.