Heathlands get status as select habitat

The heathlands around the Norwegian coast have been given status as select habitat type by the Norwegian government. "This underlines that the heathlands at Lygra, north of Bergen, are of national interest," says Professor Peter Emil Kaland.

Professor Peter Emil Kaland of UiB's Department of Biology at the Heathland Centre at Lygra north of Bergen.
DELIGHTED: “This is fantastic news, and calls for champagne,” exclaims Professor Emeritus Peter Emil Kaland at the University of Bergen’s Department of Biology and one of the driving forces behind the Heathlands Centre at Lygra north of Bergen.
Eivind Senneset

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“This underlines that the heathlands of Lygra, north of Bergen, are of national interest,” says Professor Peter Emil Kaland at the Department of Biology at the University of Bergen (UiB). He was also one of the driving forces behind establishing the Heathland Centre at Lygra, north of Bergen.

The coastal heathlands of Norway are the northernmost of this type of landscape in Europe, with more than 1,000 kilometres stretching all the way from Norway’s border with Sweden in the southeast to the islands of Lofoten in the north.


Essential for food production 

Now the Norwegian government has classified the heathlands of Norway as a select habitat type. This means that municipalities must take account of the heathlands when planning construction and use of land. It also means a recognition of the heathlands as part of Norway’s cultural heritage.

“The heathlands have been an essential part of food production in Norway, but has sometimes been frowned upon,” says Kaland. “In the past it was believed that the lack of forests suggested an impoverished landscape, when rather the opposite is the truth.”


Research underpins habitat status

Ever since the Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, the people on Norway’s coast used the heathlands for food production. The relatively mild winter climate along the coast enabled domestic animals to graze all year, feeding on grass in the summer and heath in the winter.

Underpinning the decision to award the status as select habitat to the Heathland Centre is research from UiB’s Department of Biology and the centre itself. Previously, researchers travelled along the coast and identified 23 heathland areas that have been included in this national habitat. This was summarised in a report called Kystlyngheiene i Norge (The coastal heathlands of Norway).


Preserved, but not protected

The status as select habitat type does not imply landscape protection. Kaland thinks this is a good idea.

“Full protection would be too expensive and the state would find it hard to follow up an actively used landscape such as the heathlands, where you must use fire to renew the heather,” Kaland says, who was knighted in 2012 for his efforts to preserve Norway’s landscape heritage.


New interest in traditional methods

He is, however, delighted that Norway is taking care of this particular landscape. In Europe there are more than 3,200 kilometres of  heathlands along the coast from Portugal to the Arctic Circle. A third of these heathlands is located in Norway, and according to Kaland there was pressure on Norway to take care of its cultural heritage from the rest of Europe.

Today between 10 and 15 per cent of Norway’s original heathlands landscape is in use. However, there is growing interest in this landscape from a new generation of farmers, in particular amongst those who are concerned with ecological issues and questions of sustainability.