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Human activities are eating into reindeer grazing land in Europe

Multiple stresses affect 60% of Fennoscandia region; High risk of vegetation and landscape change in the future, finds study

About 40 per cent of Fennoscandia is assigned as reindeer grazing land. Photo: Wikimedia Commons About 40 per cent of Fennoscandia is assigned as reindeer grazing land. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Grazing land for reindeer in Europe’s northern Fennoscandia is under threat from several growing land-use pressures, a study has found. Expansion of human activities towards the north has put 60 per cent of the region at risk to multiple stresses and 85 per cent is exposed to at least one pressure. 

Northern Fennoscandia consists of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. The study, Mapping cumulative pressures on the grazing lands of northern Fennoscandia, was published in journal Scientific Reports September 30, 2022. 


Read more: Yak and reindeer herders meet on top of the world


The researchers from Stockholm University and Umeå University used an integrated large-scale GIS analysis over the three countries. About 40 per cent of Fennoscandia is assigned as reindeer grazing land. 

There’s 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, according to the study.

In Sweden and Norway, reindeer husbandry and grazing are seen as a means of preserving the mountain landscape in its current state and are formulated as a national environmental goal.

Map of the potential grazing values in summer pastures of northern Fennoscandia. Source: Nature

These grazing areas face land-use pressures from tourism, road and railway networks, forestry, industrial and wind energy facilities, together with predator presence and climate change, according to the analysis. 

However, just four per cent of the grazing area studied was found undisturbed without any permanent presence of predators nor co-occurring land uses. These were small and scattered areas of land throughout the Scandinavian mountain range up to the northern tip of Norway and to a small patch in northeast Finland. 

“With the rising human presence taking place on multiple fronts, the resilience of northern pastoralism is under threat,” said Marianne Stoessel, first author of the study and PhD student at Stockholm University.

The researchers have, for the first time, managed to get an overview of land use pressures over the entire area, said Stoessel. “This was not easy, as the different land-uses act at different scales and can be very dynamic, so can be the predators, and the effects of climate change on grazing,” she said. 


Read more: Global Eco Watch: Reindeer may have been domesticated 2,000 years ago


Multiple land uses were primarily present in grazing land with low grazing value, for around 74 per cent of the area. But it was also present in almost half of the grazing ground with potentially high (49 per cent) and medium grazing values (45 per cent). 

Human land-uses were concentrated into a stretch reaching from central-eastern Sweden up to central Finland and present all along the coast of Norway. 

Grazing is a key process for maintaining plant biodiversity, even in the mountains, said study co-author Regina Lindborg of Stockholm University. “It was important for us to study the extent of these cumulative pressures with having the summer pastures in mind, where grazing takes place,” said Lindborg. 

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