A study published in Scientific Reports suggests that most grazing land in Norway, Sweden, and Finland is under pressure, threatened by the expansion of human activities towards the north.
Reindeer herding has a long history in Northern Europe. It has shaped the mountain landscape and is seen as a way to mitigate the effects of climate change on vegetation. However, this area is increasingly disturbed due to the overuse of the land caused by intensive forestry, tourism, as well as wind farms. To understand the extent of the damage, a team from Stockholm University, Sweden, mapped and estimated the impact of these pressures, as well as other stressors, including predator presence and climate change.
While previous studies have only looked at small areas, this work used an integrated large-scale GIS analysis covering three countries: Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The results show that 85% of the region is subject to at least one type of pressure, and 60% of the area has multiple pressures. As a consequence, the quality of the summer grazing area is dramatically reduced.
“In northern Fennoscandia, we are lucky to still have one the oldest herding systems in Europe, where reindeer can roam freely over 40 percent of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Or at least, they used to. With the rising human presence taking place on multiple fronts, the resilience of northern pastoralism is under threat”, says Marianne Stoessel, first author of the study and Ph.D. student at Stockholm University.
This is not new. The reindeer herders are well aware of these problems and what it means for their animals. “What is new is the fact that we finally managed to get an overview of these pressures over the whole area. This was not easy, as the different land-uses act at different scales and can be very dynamic, so can be the predators and the effects of climate change on grazing”, said Stoessel.
“Grazing is a key process for maintaining plant biodiversity, even in the mountains. So it was important for us to study the extent of these cumulative pressures with having the summer pastures in mind, where grazing takes place”, added Professor Regina Lindborg, Stockholm University, co-author of the study and the coordinator of the research project.
Worryingly, these results suggest a high risk of changes in terms of vegetation in the future, limiting good grazing areas to less disturbed areas with more difficult access. The study is a part of the research project “The interacting effects of land-use and global warming on the grazing lands of northern Fennoscandia”
Stoessel, M., Moen, J. & Lindborg, R. Mapping cumulative pressures on the grazing lands of northern Fennoscandia. Sci Rep 12, 16044 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-20095-w