Living with top carnivores

Scotland and Norway share many cultural elements including ‘loan words’ incorporated in our language and place names. Our natural heritage also faces similar challenges and opportunities. Lynne Clark reflects on her study tour in Central Norway.

One of the most topical challenges is how we live with top carnivores. Norway still has four species of large carnivorous mammals – wolverine, wolf, lynx and bear. In Scotland, our top land carnivores are mainly birds, such as eagles and harriers, but the conflicts between people and wildlife have much in common.

In May 2016, I took part in a study visit to Hedmark in Central Norway to learn about how they handle wildlife management. The trip was funded by Arch Network, through the EU Erasmus + programme.

One of the first things a visitor to the area notices is the vast expanses of woodland which stretch as far as the eye can see. The whole of Norway has enough woodland to cover Scotland one and a half times, so there is a notable difference from the heathery backdrop we are used to. Despite being one of the most agriculturally productive parts of Norway, Hedmark municipality still has about 20% tree cover.

Rondane National Park. © Lynne Clark

Rondane National Park. © Lynne Clark

Hedmark is one of the few municipalities in Norway where all four large carnivore species co-exist. With 10% of Norway’s overall agricultural area within the county, this inevitably leads to human/predator conflict. Several measures have been introduced to try to mitigate losses including fencing, bringing livestock in during certain seasons or overnight, guarding livestock with dogs and killing ‘problem’ carnivores. A study investigating human attitudes towards large carnivores in Norway showed that in general people displayed more negative attitudes towards wolves and bears than towards lynx and wolverines. This is largely due to the perception that the first two species can cause harm to people unlike the last two. Compensation schemes have also been put in place and farmers have to provide evidence that their losses were caused by a large carnivore. Rangers often visit farms to witness and approve these claims and the farmer will then receive payment for all lost animals minus ‘normal losses’.

These losses cause economic issues as well as social issues and conflicts between different sectors, particularly in rural communities. Many rural people feel they are taking the brunt of having viable populations of large carnivores, and studies have shown that communities experiencing greater damage are likely to have more extreme negative attitudes towards their existence.

Hunting

Hunting in Norway appears to be a widely accepted recreational activity, firmly ingrained in Norwegian culture. Hunting is used not only as a wildlife management technique but also as a way of getting outdoors and spending time with friends and family. Log cabins are scattered throughout forests and are frequented by groups of hunters and cross-country skiers for a few days at a time. It seems that hunting is a key contributor in keeping the Norwegian people connected to the natural environment.

Hunters are also involved in gathering important information about the species which they are stalking. They provide samples, maintain and look after camera traps, report tracks and collect scat, all for scientific analysis. This information is used by environmental managers and scientists to determine numbers, structure and trends of key species, many of which are elusive and not regularly seen by non-hunters.

Capercaillie habitat near Jutulhogget, one of northern Europe’s largest canyons. © Lynne Clark

Capercaillie habitat near Jutulhogget, one of northern Europe’s largest canyons. © Lynne Clark

Some argue that this form of citizen science – public involvement in environmental monitoring, data collection and analysis – is an undervalued and unappreciated partnership. With advancements in technology, data gathering apps are becoming more popular, easily accessible and more people are using them as a useful tool for gathering data on a specific species or site. The quality of data being gathered is also improving and sharing this is becoming easier. Enthusiastic, passionate and often very knowledgeable volunteers are a crucial resource in achieving conservation goals. Many members of the hunting community in Norway act as data gatherers. In Scotland, many charities and non-governmental organisations have built up an extensive pool of volunteers. Citizen science provides an opportunity to involve and develop people’s interest and passion for their surrounding environment. This resource is one which should be encouraged and developed as it is vital in order to help achieve conservation targets, now and in the future.

Shared experience/co-operative working

The value of working collaboratively with other organisations and indeed other countries cannot be underestimated. With resources becoming ever more stretched across many sectors, co-operative learning and sharing of knowledge allows lessons to be learned and applied in different settings. Citizen science, human/predator conflict resolution and community involvement are all becoming increasingly used and better understood within Scottish conservation. This trip allowed for comparisons in the different ways of using these ‘tools’ and provided examples of ways this can benefit nature and people.

Click here to see a location map of Hedmark.

Find out more about the Arch Network scheme and future study visits.

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