Sunrise/sunset: 03:29/ 22:04. Daylength: 18hr 35mins
I drove home from Storslett on Friday last week, but not before taking a photograph of fish hanging outside to dry. Birgit and I were inspecting a goat herd and another flock of sheep, and on the way I finally spotted some racks that were in use. Norwegian stockfish is dried cod, usually of the prime seasonal Arctic variety that is called skrei. It hangs outside between February and May and has been a traditional foodstuff and an export since Viking times. It is the main ingredient in the Italian dish Bacalao. John and I saw much bigger drying racks last summer as we drove through Lofoten, but as that was in August, there were no fish back then. So having spotted these on the way, I asked Birgit to stop on the way back and I ran along the road, hopped over the barrier and staggered down a grassy bank to get a picture.
I took a couple of photos of the mountains as well. It is such a beautiful area and the mountain tops were decked with fluffy white clouds.
By the time I got home, the false spring weather had disappeared. Anna and I went for a walk on Senja on Saturday. There were a couple of reindeer standing in a field and we stopped to take a rather distant photo. Though the grass isn’t growing vigorously yet, I have seen other reindeer taking advantage of the temporarily uncovered pastures this week while driving around.
One of our favourite walks starts beside a school and Anna spotted some skis standing in a rack on the side of the building, so I took some pictures of them and the bike rack that is currently not in use. Outdoor living and exercise is very much encouraged and embraced here, whatever the weather.
On Tuesday I worked the early shift at the abattoir. It’s much easier driving over at 5am now it’s light. It was a particularly beautiful sunrise on Tuesday and I paused on the empty road to take a picture.
On Wednesday, with Birgit’s (long distance) help, I finished the course work and the report for the inspections I mentioned in Across the Lyngen Fjord. On Thursday morning there was a summing up meeting. On Thursday afternoon, having finished my homework for the week, I was free to turn my attention to my e-mails. Most of my e-mails contain information about meetings or outbreaks of controlled diseases, but now and then I am sent fascinating updates on the complicated interplay between large predators and domesticated and semi-domesticated animals in Norway.
In the past fifty years, there has been a movement from culling to preservation of species such as bears, wolverine, lynx, wolves and golden eagles. Wonderful as that is, it does have an impact and the Norwegian government have to work with farmers and herders to try to ensure balance.
Most of the domesticated animals such as sheep and cattle, are kept on pastures near to a farm. If they are moved, they go in lorries. Though some sheep (and especially lambs) are taken by predators, in general it is possible to keep the protected predator wildlife areas and farming regions separate. But the situation is much more complicated when it comes to reindeer.
Reindeer herding in Norway is carried out by Sami people using a mixture of traditional and modern methods. The reindeer are semi-domesticated: they are not fenced in, but are moved around to different pastures, depending on the season, food availability and the weather. Unfortunately, some of the important grazing areas, that have been used for thousands of years, overlap with some of the priority areas where there are targets set for these predatory animals.
The political situation is particularly difficult as there continues to be a lot of tension between the Sami and the Norwegian government. Until relatively recently, strong attempts were made to enforce integration into the more modern Norwegian lifestyle, but the creation of a Sami parliament in 1989 and the recognition of the language and way of life has not removed all conflict. Traditional herding methods are not only affected by predators, but by roadbuilding, property development and even wind farms. The grazing areas are mostly in land that is considered to be “state owned” but if that is land that your people have been using for more than a thousand years, I feel it is unreasonable to expect a full acceptance of that claim of ownership.
Anyway, back to the report. Apparently, lynx, wolverine and golden eagles are the biggest predatory threat to reindeer in Norway. Information from NINA, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research shows that the wolverine diet is 95% reindeer and lynx 65%. Some of the herders report many of their calves are taken, sometimes up to 75% of the years progeny. And because of the nomadic lifestyle, it is not only direct predation that can be problematic.
In January this year, a herd of up to two hundred reindeer took fright when they were being moved and it was strongly suspected that this was triggered by predators. Instead of travelling safely to their winter pasture, they headed up into the mountains. The terrain was frozen and largely impassable, and of course there was no grazing. A small group of them returned, but without their calves. Eventually a helicopter was arranged so the herders could get an overview and the herd was recovered, but there’s no doubt that these predators, alongside climate change, have a huge impact on traditional ways of life.
Regular readers might also be interested to hear an update on the female bear with a taste for lamb and mutton that I mentioned in the very first blog post I wrote when I started work here (Piece of Cake). It was too late last year to move the mother bear to a different area where there were no sheep. Now they are waiting to see whether the bear is pregnant and/or whether she will emerge from hibernation with yearling cubs.
Though moving her might prove to be a long term (or even impossible) project, other solutions are also sought. One of the farmers who reported the greatest losses has been granted funds to restructure and he will change from farming sheep to beef cattle. The farmers who lose animals are compensated for their losses, but of course the picture isn’t simply one of monetary cost.
One of the focuses of the report was on the animal welfare issues caused by the hunting of domesticated animals by these predators. In general, domesticated animals are kept safe from that type of harm. The idea that living in nature is some kind of idyllic haven for animals is overly simplistic.
I will finish up with a couple of photographs taken yesterday. The days are now very long and light, but after a week or two of rapid melting, the snow has returned. In the middle of the day, when the sun is high, it is so bright as to be almost unbearable. I really must buy some sunglasses! These pictures were taken at seven fifteen in the morning and at eleven forty five in the evening. Twenty four hour sunlight (and hopefully summer) is just around the corner.