Goats help reclaim the Bergen city mountains

Herds of goats equipped with GPS collars will help combat reforestation in the mountains surrounding Bergen.

Goats at Storøyen
GOATHERDING: Oscar Hovde Berntsen from NoFence, the creator of the GPS collars, readies the collars.
Knut Krzywinski

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At Storøyen, outside of Bergen, a group of researchers are working hard to put collars on a flock of goats.

With fewer animals grazing, reforestation has led to large changes in Norwegian nature. Reintroducing grazing animals is one way to combat this development, but goats can disturb both drinking waters and nature lovers in areas near the city. At the same time, using traditional fences comes with a set of challenges of its own.


Don’t fence me in

The technology in the collars may be complex, but the way they work is simple: When a goat comes close to a perimeter set by the researchers, it makes a noise. If the goat continues to walk into the forbidden area, the noise gets more intense until it finally gives the animal a small electric shock.

“This technology can take the place of any kind of fence. The animals are fast learners and as soon as they hear the noise from the collar they return to the permitted area,” says Knut Krzywinksi, associate professor at the Department of Biology at the University of Bergen.


Drones, GPS and real-time surveillance

The initiative for the project, called Bybeite (“city grazing”), came from Bergen municipality. The goal is to develop a long-term, environmentally friendly and knowledge-based use of reforested areas, using advanced mapping, environmental surveillance and guided grazing.

In the initial phase, the researchers will make us of drones photographing the landscape, as well as real-time monitoring of the animals using GPS.

“We make use of historical image archives, laser measuring and high definition, multi-spectral images photographed by drones. We combine all these to produce maps that the municipality will use to make decisions on where to introduce the animals. The idea is that we will map out the landscape in such detail that we can identify single plants” Krzywinski says.

If the application for the research project is granted, it will start spring 2016.