Land use in Norway and Scotland

Two places in SW Norway near Stavanger. In the early 20th century the region was almost completely deforested and had been since the Bronze Age. It is now well wooded, mainly due to natural regeneration. Climate and geology are closely similar to the NW Scottish Highlands. The ‘X’ in the 2015 Oslibakken photograph indicates the point of shot of the 1911 photograph.

Land use in Norway and Scotland

South West Norway and Highland Scotland are very similar in climate, geology and landforms; but very different in modern land use patterns and resulting landscapes. In this project we compare landscape history and land use practices in Highland Scotland and SW Norway as an aid to landscape management.

On this page you will find highlights and updates from the project, and links to related material

Update May 2023

The Scottish Parliament recently reviewed deer management in Scotland, and legislation is upcoming in 2024. NINA contributed to this process. In this recently updated presentation, the management of red and other deer species in Norway is reviewed, and comparisons of red deer condition and offtake levels with those in Scotland are presented.

Update June 2022

In December 2016 a major storm,  known as ‘Desmond’ in the UK and ‘Synne’ in Norway, caused an extreme rainfall event in parts of both countries. Economic damage in affected regions of the UK was nine times, per head, of the level in affected regions of Norway although rainfall levels were much higher in Norway. This brief presentation compares these figures, and suggests that systematic comparative study would be easy to carry out, and useful to determine the reasons for the strikingly lower economic impacts in Norway.

Update August 2021

With Chartered Forester Alan Motion, Reforesting Scotland, and Scotland – The Big Picture, NINA is using social media to help find seed sources for restoration of high altitude woodland in Scotland. You can read the original Twitter post here.

Update February 2021

Restoration work in Scotland, inspired in part by comparison with SW Norway, is beginning to show encouraging results. Montane woodland is beginning to reestablish up to the elevations that comparison with SW Norway would predict, after grazing pressures were reduced in parts of Scotland. Shaila Rao of the National Trust for Scotland, and Andy Painting of Rewilding Scotland,  document this promising trend in recent photo essays from the Mar Lodge area in the Central Cairngorms.

Update November 2019

In August/September a group of conservation and land management professionals from Scotland visited SW Norway on an Erasmus study tour. See here for their report on their experiences and conclusions

Update June 2019

Mountain birch, a distinct form of downy birch Betula pubescens, is a main component of higher level woodlands throughout Eurasia, adapted to the conditions found at higher altitudes/latitudes; including in oceanic climates like those of Great Britain and Ireland. However, woodlands at those altitudes are functionally extinct as habitats there. This has resulted in the distinction between the forms not being well understood, and the failure of a number of attempts to establish downy birch of lower ground origin at higher levels. A short introduction to mountain birch and its role in higher altitude woodland is provided here. 

Update May 2019:

On 10th May Duncan Halley gave a talk in Scotland to the Crofting Woodlands Conference on “Land Use, Value Creation, and Woodlands in SW Norway”, which explored how greater biological productivity leads to greater economic productivity in more wooded landscapes. The conference launched the (downloadable) “Highlands and Islands Woodlands Handbook”, ‘a comprehensive guide to establishing, managing and utilising woodland in the varied and often challenging conditions … of Scotland’. It includes a chapter by Duncan Halley describing the mainly natural reforestation of SW Norway in the last century, which continues today, from a state similar to that of present-day Highland Scotland. 

Update April 2019:

The Scottish Parliament’s working group on deer management will soon report its findings. In connection with this a presentation on the history and harvesting of red deer and other deer species in Norway, comparative to Scotland, can be downloaded here

Update September 2018:

There are distinct ‘conservation cultures’ in the different countries of the NE Atlantic region which strongly shape management of biodiversity, and influence what is thought possible, in areas like restoration or invasive species control. This presentation examines how these function, and what can be gained from comparing nature and nature management cultures in countries with similar climates and geologies, such as the NE Atlantic region.

Update June 2018

The effect of reintroduced white-tailed sea eagles Haliaeetus albicilla on lambs in Scotland is controversial. In this short clip from an Irish documentary on the Irish reintroduction, a Norwegian sheep farmer describes his experiences with a very dense population of sea eagles inhabiting the same area as his flock of sheep, which graze outdoors all year an lamb on the hill. Neither in Norway, nor in Ireland, is this an issue.

Update June 2018:

In late May 2018 a group of nature managers and crofters visited SW Norway to compare land cover and land use with Highland Scotland, with Duncan Halley of NINA as their host. The study tour was supported by the Erasmus + programme. A record of their tour and of their thoughts is presented in this short video. 


Update May 2018: 

BBC Scotland’s ‘Scotland Outdoors’ programme has produced an excellent podcast on “Land ownership and management in Norway".

Update October 2017:

A short illustrated article on the comparative landscape history of SW Norway and the Scottish Highlands, and the insights it provides for landscape management and biodiversity conservation, has recently been published in the proceedings of the Scottish Woodland History Conference Vol. 20. Downloaded "Woodland history in south west Norway - Comparative insights from a parallell universe" here.

See also the more detailed treatment in this presentation.

Update June 2017:

Kate Holl, botanist with Scottish Natural Heritage, visited SW Norway on a Churchill Fellowship to compare plant biodiversity with Scotland’s. You can read her blog posts from the visit here.

Update December 2016

The Brexit referendum result makes it likely that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. In December 2016, Duncan Halley gave a lecture to a Nordic Horizons event in Edinburgh attended by Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs (the ‘foreign minister’ of the Scottish Parliament). The subject was how Norway manages its rural supports/agriculture and fisheries, outside the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and the results of that management. The presentation "Managing land and sea outside the EU - land use and fisheries in Norway" can be downloaded here.

Update December 2015:

The future of land management in Scotland is a subject of political debate in Scotland. Dr. Duncan Halley, who was born and raised in Scotland but has worked for NINA since 1993, was in 2015 invited to give a talk at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on landscape history and landuse in South West Norway, and how this might inform discussion in Scotland. The region is closely similar in landforms and climate to the Scottish Highlands, but for historical reasons very different in landuse patterns and modern land cover.

The event was hosted by Rob Gibson MSP, and Nordic Horizons, an “informal group of Scottish professionals who want to raise the standard of knowledge and debate about life and policy in the Nordic nations”. The presentation "Landscape history and land use in SW Norway" can be downloaded here.

In the video below, Dr Duncan Halley of the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research outlines the history of deforestation and reforestation of SW Norway. Source:


Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

NINA is an independent foundation for nature research and research on the interaction between human society, natural resources and biodiversity.
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