Traditional reindeer sites in the north of Norway, Sweden and Finland, are coming under multiple pressures

Reindeer herding has a long history in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. It has shaped the Fennoscandian mountain landscape, and is also seen as means to mitigate climate change effects on vegetation.

Yet a new study shows that the majority of this grazing land is exposed to cumulative pressures, threatened by the expansion of human activities towards the north.

The grazing land in northern Fennoscandia is increasingly disturbed by cumulative land-use pressures. Intensive forestry, outdoor tourism, road and railway traffic, but also mining and wind farms are developing north.

The new study has mapped and estimated the overall extent of these cumulative pressures, together with other stressors, namely predator presence and climate change.

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Summer grazing area

Previous studies have mostly focused at regional scales, but here the authors have used an integrated large-scale GIS analysis over three countries: Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Their results suggest that about 60% of the region is subjected to multiple pressures, and that 85% is exposed to at least one pressure.

This dramatically reduces the size and the quality of the summer grazing area; only 4% of the area still remains undisturbed.

Marianne Stoessel is lead author of the study, and a PhD student at Stockholm University. She said: “In northern Fennoscandia, we are lucky to still have one the oldest herding systems in Europe, where reindeer can roam freely over 40% 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.”

‘Grazing is key’

The fact that many pressures are at play in this region is not new. The reindeer herders, the policymakers, but also the scientific community studying reindeer ecology are well aware of these problems.

Stoessel explained: “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 the predators, and the effects of climate change on grazing.”

Professor Regina Lindborg, of Stockholm University, is co-author of the study and the co-ordinator of the research project. She said: “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.”

Due to the high extent of cumulative pressures over the region and because of the climate change, this study suggests a high risk of vegetation and landscape change in the future, leading to a concentration of grazing in less disturbed areas and encroachment of trees and shrubs in disturbed ones.

The study is a part of The interacting effects of land-use and global warming on the grazing lands of northern Fennoscandia research project and is published in Scientific Reports.

Image: Male reindeer walking on a national road in Jämtland, Sweden.

Credit: Marianne Stoessel/ Stockholm University.