The 2018 North Highland College exchange trip to Hedmark University campus at Evenstad, Norway, took place at an interesting time; with discussions around land use, rewilding, and wildlife management coming into public awareness more than they have for a long time…
From the start it was an interesting week, covering topics from: the Norwegian attitude to the outdoors and wildlife – reassuringly and enviably pragmatic; to woodland grouse management and predation; fisheries and river management – with a fascinating wander around the Evenstad hatchery; living with and managing predators; elk (European moose) management, their negative interactions with the road networks – and efforts to mitigate them; beaver ecology and habitat impacts; and a look around the Forestry Museum in Elverum to accompany the forest management we had seen around and about.
On the first day we met with a group of students, who ran a workshop in the woods about Norwegian wildlife – rounded off by sampling some beaver meat, cooked over the campfire. A quiz followed by a fire lighting challenge, highlighted the ease and comfort the Norwegian people have in being outdoors. This was a reoccurring theme over the week – a knife carried on the belt at all times by students and teachers; the small fire lit at every outdoors workshop for a kettle of tea and pot of coffee; the common-sense approach to health and safety.
During our stay we sat in on lectures from both teachers and PhD students, where they discussed black grouse and capercaillie predation by foxes and pine martens; fisheries management and research into river connectivity and restoration; the history of Norwegian wildlife legislation. The Evenstad campus offers a range of study and research opportunities – from a year long guiding and wildlife management course (food for thought for future UK deer and wildlife managers?), right through to Masters and Doctorate level of study. In return, each North Highland class did a short presentation about our courses, and the roles we fulfil whilst on placement.
Some of us took a run out up North to the Jutulhogget Naturreservat – a large canyon, the largest in Europe I’m led to believe and, according to folklore formed by two fighting trolls many moons ago. On route we stopped at the giant silver moose, a relatively new addition to the Hedmark County road network. It is, alongside brightly painted sets of moose antlers hung in the trees, an attempt to get drivers to stop, slow down and take a break. According to our hosts, driving through mile after mile of forestry (unless you are a bit of a silviculture geek) can lead to a lack of concentration; tiredness; lack of awareness; and consequently, accidents when animals, such as moose run into the road. The antlers and roadside attractions are a means of waking people up, creating topics of conversation, and breaking up a journey.
During our trip we discussed and saw some of the effect of predators, with a field trip to see the remains of a wolf-killed, bear-scavenged moose. Sat around a campfire, on the farmstead we drank tea and sampled Norwegian brown cheese, while our guides talked us through the “Big 4” – wolf, bear, lynx, and wolverine. As well as each species ecology and lifecycle, they chatted about the methods of surveying, and matter-of-factly about culling, where and when it is deemed necessary. Again, that calm approach to wildlife, and to resolving predator:human interactions and conflicts, was remarkable – I feel it is worth noting that some 84% of the Norwegian population support hunting, even if they are not directly involved with it, around 10% of the population actively hunt – with the main opposition coming from the urban population in Oslo.
On our final day of fields trip with the students, we spent a morning fishing – unsuccessfully, as the sunshine over a few days had caused a large amount of snowmelt, and the river was fast and high as a result. Still, it was pleasant to get out and about somewhere new, and to meet a different group of students and discuss other elements; such as what they want to do once they complete their studies (everything from carrying on in education, to running events and groups to help young people with alcohol and substance abuse issues to get outdoors and into nature), and the interaction Norwegians have with the Saami peoples in the North.
That afternoon another group took us out to see a vacant beaver lodge and dam near a farm, and in the evening, we sat out on a river bank near an active lodge and watched the beavers going about their business. It was interesting to see the effects the beavers had had on the waterway, for example; the farmer had to intervene and insert pipes into the dam to allow some water to spill away to prevent his fields flooding; the beavers excavate ditches to allow, themselves to move around and transport felled tree materials; and the amount of vegetation and trees that had been gnawed away.
On a personal note, much like my attitude to predators, I feel these animals fill a niche – as a keystone species, they change and alter habitats, they do what they do, and they do it well – and on principle I wouldn’t object to seeing them in the UK – however, IF we have them, there will be times when we will have to manage them. We cannot ignore that the landscape they reside in is dominated by people – for recreation, farming, industry, forestry, game management, crofting…
In this instance, the farmer was quite happy to have beavers in situ, as long as they could manage the waterway to mitigate for damaging flooding effects, and cull if necessary. I wonder that if the same was done in Scotland or, once beavers have recolonised as I have no doubt they eventually will, in England or Wales, would the public be quite so accepting? Food for thought.
Our last day in Norway consisted of a trip to Elverum to visit the Skøgmuseet, or forest museum. It really was fascinating and highly enjoyable – covering all aspects of historical and modern day Norwegian forestry (some lessons to learned for Scotland…?), Norwegian wildlife, the historical and modern-day face of Norwegian hunting and fishing, and the changes in land use. Again, the awareness of the history and culture of the country, and its peoples, were remarkable, and I believe contributes to the attitudes and understanding most Norwegians have for the countryside, wildlife, and food (both wild and farmed) – and something we need to bear in mind when we come to consider land management in Scotland in future.