The northern region
in the grips of a changing climate

The exhibition Through the eyes of the gyrfalcon describes nature in the Barents region from the viewpoint of a young gyrfalcon journeying around the north in search of a home.

The gyrfalcon chick was born in Urho Kekkonen National Park close by the Russian border. She is the eldest of her siblings and the last chick. What will happen to the young gyrfalcon? Will she find a suitable mate and an inviting living environment as the climate keeps changing?

Join the gyrfalcon and see how climate change will affect biodiversity and traditional sources of livelihood in the Barents region.


The future of mountain birch
forests is shrouded in mist

A mountain birch grove is like a miniature forest that has forgotten to grow higher and denser. In summer, mountain birches are a radiant green colour, and ferns, globeflowers, melancholy thistles and wood crane’s bills thrive in the undergrowth of the lushest groves. A mountain birch forest is a real hotspot of biodiversity. The mountain birch often marks the tree line beyond which open fells begin. The combined effect of a rising tree line of pines, increasing damage caused by moth larvae and overgrazing by reindeer will cause mountain birch forests to decline.

Tree line

While the mountain birch (Betula pubescens subsp. czerepanovii) is a subspecies of the downy birch, it was previously known as a separate species, Betula tortuosa. In Northern Europe, the mountain birch range extends all the way from Southern Norway to Ruija on the Arctic Ocean coast. The mountain birch is the only indigenous tree species growing in Iceland and Greenland.

In Finland, mountain birch forests are found extensively in Fell and Forest Lapland and on the fells of Northern Finland. In Sweden and Norway, mountain birch forests also grow in southern and central fell and mountain areas. Mountain birch groves generally mark the tree line on the margins of bare fell tops. The macroclimate and soil have a major impact on the crown height of a mountain birch forest and its undergrowth.

A tough survivor

A mountain birch forest has many characteristics that allow it to thrive even in the harshest conditions where other trees cannot survive. They include a tendency to have multiple stems, ability to coppice, high tolerance of subzero temperatures and drought, and an ability to use the chlorophyll in its bark for photosynthesis.

Not all mountain birch forests are the same, and the differences may be great. Some may be extremely dry and nutrient poor, with the blueberry, crowberry and reindeer lichens as dominant species of the undergrowth. Others, on the other hand, are moist and lush with great variations in the undergrowth. These birch groves resemble herb-rich forests with ferns, meadowsweet, melancholy thistle and globeflower as typical plants.

An endangered habitat

Mountain birch forests have been classified as threatened habitats ranging from endangered to critically endangered, and they are declining further. They are threatened by climate change, the rising tree line, damage caused by moth larvae as well as overgrazing by reindeer. Most mountain birch forests in Finland (over 90%) are located in the summer pastures or year-round grazing grounds of reindeer, where they are slow to regenerate. Due to moth damage and intensive grazing in summer, mountain birch forests have already declined by almost one fifth, and this trend is highly likely to continue over the next 50 years. Even a conservative estimate puts the reduction in mountain birch forests at approx. 30% as the temperature rises and the pine takes over from the birch.

A ghostly sight

In a phantom forest, all mountain birches are dead. Their white trunks shine brightly against the dark field layer. Small tufts of grass are the only green thing in sight. The dead mountain birch forest extends as far as the eye can see. Geometer moth larvae have devoured all leaves in successive summers, and the birches have gradually perished. Neither will the forest regenerate as reindeer and voles will eat all birch shoots and saplings. The landscape remains treeless and will gradually turn into secondary open fell habitat as the birch trunks decay.

Mountain birch forests are under stress or have disappeared in many places where the summer grazing of reindeer has prevented the regeneration of trees and bushes after repeated moth damage. For example, winter moth larvae devoured all mountain birch leaves in an area of over 400 km² in total in Kaldoaivi, Municipality of Utsjoki, in 2006–2009. In the areas worst hit by the damage, all mountain birch forests died, and grazing reindeer have prevented their regeneration. Consequently, the forest gradually turns into secondary open fell habitat.

For birds, this does not mean a transition from forest species to open fell birds. As birds nesting in mountain birch forests disappear, including the bluethroat, willow warbler, brambling or common redpoll, they are not replaced by birds of the open fells, such as the Eurasian golden plover, Eurasian dotterel, ring ouzel and snow bunting. Consequently, secondary open fell habitats are less biodiverse than the actual bare fell tops.

Mountain fell forests have also perished across large areas in Northern Sweden and Norway as a result of moth damage, for example in Abisko in Sweden, to which the moths spread from the milder coastal areas of Norway. Rather than being limited to mountain birch forests alone, in Abisko the shrub layer vegetation, including the crowberry, lingonberry and sphagnum mosses, has also suffered damage or died in places. On the lushest sites the field layer may change completely, and grasses, the meadowsweet and especially the willowherb take over, suffocating other plants.

The last mountain birch forests

The population cycles of autumnal and winter moths in the north are around ten years. In peak years, the number of moths may be so enormous that the larvae rob all birches of their leaves. Once the moth larvae pupate, the mountain birches attempt to replace the lost leaves by intensive coppicing, but the reindeer eat the shoots in their summer grazing areas. If the birches lose their leaves several years in a row, they will die.

The extreme winter temperatures limit the survival of many insects in northern areas. Autumnal moth eggs are only destroyed when the temperature reaches -36° C and those of the winter moth at -34° C. The most extreme subzero temperatures in winter have grown milder, however, and this development has been faster than the increase in average temperatures since the 1990s. This is how the milder winters enable mass occurrences of winter and autumnal moths in successive summers.

In areas hit by the damage, field layer vegetation also changes, as more light gets in and the fertilizing effect caused by the larvae increases. Grasses take over the field layer for many years before the surplus nutrients have been used up. Consequently, this is about environmental change on a larger scale.

Research has shown that there are fewer or no mountain birch saplings in areas with strong grazing pressure. As a result of overgrazing, the mountain birch forest gradually turns into a new type of open fell habitat. The decline of the mountain birch also has a negative effect on reindeer husbandry as the birch is an important plant on which the reindeer feed.

Disappear­ing palsa mires

Palsa mires are some of the most unique mire habitats of the fell area and northern Lapland that are only found in the permafrost zone. Palsa mires develop in open aapa mires as a permanent ice lens forms underneath the peat in cold conditions. The ice lens gradually grows higher and wider in cold, windy conditions with little snow cover. Due to the short and cool summers of the north and insulating properties of the peat, only the surface of the ice lens melts during the warmer months. The palsa mounds may reach up to five metres in height. Towards the end of their life cycle they melt, and finally the collapsing palsa mounds form round mire ponds. Palsa mire sites are rich in biodiversity. The warming of the climate can already be seen, as the palsa mounds are melting faster and few new ones are forming. Palsa mires are an endangered habitat type, and they are at risk of disappearing almost completely in this century because of climate change.

Created by permafrost

Palsa mires are found in the northern hemisphere on the borderline between the tundra and boreal zone in Europe, Siberia and North America. In the Nordic countries, palsas are mainly found in the permafrost zone in the county of Norrbotten in Northern Sweden; in Käsivarsi area of Enontekiö and the mountain uplands of Paistunturit and Kaldoaivi in Northern Finland; and in Finnmark region in Northern Norway. ‘Palsa’ is a Sámi word that has spread to many languages.

In the palsa mire zone, the average yearly temperature is mainly below -1 °C and the rainfall less than 450 mm. The spread of the snow cover in winter has a significant impact on the development of palsa mounds. When the wind blows the snow away from peat mounds of the open mire, the frost penetrates deep into the ground, where it is preserved under the insulating peat layer throughout the cool and short summers. The surface of a palsa mound melts to a depth of around half a metre in summer, but the ice lens at its core remains frozen.

There are two types of palsas: high, dome-shaped ones and low plateau mounds. They usually occur in groups in the wet parts of the mire with a thick peat layer. A low palsa takes a few decades to develop, but the age of a domed palsa mound, which is around 4 to 7 metres thick, is approx. 100 years. The oldest palsa mounds in the Nordic countries are up to 2,000 to 3,000 years old.

Melting ancients

Over time, palsa mounds begin to melt. Cracks form on their surface and gradually gape wider due to the combined action of wind and rainwater. In a few decades, the mound erodes and the palsa melts and turns into a mire pond. This is why a palsa mire consists of open aapa mire, palsa mounds and ponds. Palsa mires usually border on mountain birch heaths or treeless fells.

The vegetation in palsa mires consists of typical mire species, or sphagnum moss, sedges, marsh Labrador tea, bog cotton and dwarf birch. A rich crop of cloudberries can often be found in palsa mires. They are home to diverse bird life: western yellow wagtails, red-throated pipits, meadow pipits, and common redpolls; such waders as ruffs, spotted redshanks, Temminck’s stints, bar-tailed godwits and red-necked phalaropes; and merlins and peregrine falcons that hunt the other species. Water bird species living in the mire include long-tailed ducks, common scoters, greater scaups, red-throated loons and geese. You may also spot a hen harrier, short-eared owl, rough-legged buzzard or long-tailed jaeger hunting for such small mammals as northern red-backed voles, tundra voles and Norway lemmings.

The palsa mires are threatened by the warming climate, which accelerates the melting of palsa mounds and prevents new ones from developing. Warm and wet autumns, in particular, speed up the melting of palsas. Environmental monitoring has already found that palsa mires are disappearing.

So far, plateau mounds located higher up and on watercourses have been preserved better than the dome-shaped palsas of aapa mires at lower altitudes. All three are endangered habitats, however. The melting of palsa mounds has recently been observed not only in Finland but also in Norway and Sweden. Most palsa mires will disappear over the next 50 years if climate change mitigation fails. Globally, the permafrost zone in Siberia and Northern America will be reduced to one third by 2080.

Story: Riku Lumiaro

In June 2023, we went on an excursion to a palsa mire in Pieran Mari reserve. We wanted to see the palsa mire mapped by Rauno Ruuhijärvi, an Associate Professor at the University of Helsinki, in the 1950s and 1960s. The height of the palsa mounds in Northern Inari can be clearly seen in a photograph taken by Ruuhijärvi on 9 August 1958. At that time, the palsas in Pieran Mari reserve were approx. 4 to 5 metres in height.

In the 2000s they started melting. The palsa mound we visited was still approximately the height of a man in 2021. Now it had melted completely. Only a pond and dead shrubs could be found were the mound used to be. The palsa mound that was centuries if not millennia old had disappeared irrevocably. The ruffs had lost the mound they used for courtship displays, and the mire type was now aapa mire.

Sources and further information

Open fell top is a challen­ging site

Mountain heaths are the most common vegetation type on open fell tops. Heaths can be divided into several groups based on their nutrient levels and vegetation. Typical types are shrub, Betula nana, wind-exposed and Dryas octopetala mountain heaths. Open fell tops are challenging sites for plants, especially because of the cold winter and short growing season. Fell plants have had to specialise in growing along the ground to cope with the harsh and windy conditions. Fells mostly consist of rocky ground or boulder fields in which few vascular plants can survive. On the highest fells, plant growth is also limited by soil frost and freezing in winter. As a result of damage caused by autumnal moth larvae, mountain heaths have expanded over the last fifty years.

Specialised survivors

Mountain heaths are the open fell habitat group with the largest surface area, and they cover almost 40% of Finnish fells. They are also the predominant habitat type in the open fell areas of Sweden and Norway. Mountain heaths are treeless and dominated by shrubs. This is why their classification is based on the predominant shrub, such as the crowberry, blueberry or heather. Factors influencing the vegetation in mountain heaths include snow depth, climate type (continental or maritime) and significant variations determined by altitude.

Plants on open fell tops face the combined challenge of cold, wind, drought and a short growing season. They have had to specialise in order to survive in the harsh conditions. The minimum temperature of the growing season is often a critical factor for the success of plants. The buds of fell plants seek shelter by growing close to the ground, and species spread by creeping along the surface. Some fell plants, including the moss campion and purple saxifrage, form large dense carpets. Many fell plants have small, needle-like leaves that can withstand freezing temperatures and drying winds. No uniform vegetation layer can become established in the cold and windy conditions of the fell top. The vegetation mostly consists of mosses, lichens and Arctic vascular plants, with the glacier buttercup as an example.


Based on the nutrients available for plants, mountain heaths are divided into oligotrophic and Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) heaths. The former include wind-exposed, Betula nana (dwarf birch) and Cassiope tetragona (Arctic mountain heather) heaths. Oligotrophic mountain heaths are the predominant type in the fell areas of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Moist Dryas octopetala heaths represent a relatively rare habitat group in Finland, and their significant nature values include rare species and unique geological features. On the mountains of Norway and Sweden, on the other hand, these mountain avens heaths are a common habitat.

Threatened by a warming climate

Mountain heaths are threatened by the tree line which, due to a warming climate, is climbing higher towards the open fells as well as strong grazing pressure from reindeer. Especially in summer, overgrazing reduces the volume of lichens in dry habitat types, and erosion exposes mineral soils. The composition of species may also change: for example, grasses may gain ground and the coverage of shrubs decline. Reindeer lichens may be replaced by such species as snow lichens and crustose lichens. Climate change also favours shrub, moss and scrub growth.

Mountain heaths have expanded over the last 50 years as birch forests have been damaged by autumnal moth larvae and, unable to regenerate, they have been replaced by a new type of secondary mountain heath. In particular, secondary mountain heath has developed in Utsjoki and the northern parts of Inari as a result of moth damage in the 1960s. Secondary mountain heath is also forming in Swedish Lapland and Northern Norway as mountain birch forests are lost.

Trees invade open fells

Grazing by reindeer has controlled the rising of the tree line up into open fell areas. Reindeer eat the shoots and saplings of broad-leaved trees as well as shrubs in the field layer. They particularly like rowan and mountain birch saplings, whereas elk like to feed on young aspens and pines. This means that while the growing conditions are improved by a warming climate, it will not inevitably lead to open fell areas becoming overgrown with trees. Reindeer do not eat pine saplings, however, which is why open fell tops may over the decades turn into sparse pine forests.

Role of the reindeer

The fact that open areas, including dry and moist meadows, heather meadows in the archipelago and open fell areas, tend to become overgrown is the second most important reason for the endangered status of species in Finland. A general increase in nutrient levels, increased atmospheric nitrogen deposition, lengthening of the growing season and partly also higher precipitation have favoured especially deciduous trees and nitrophilous vascular plants, including the cow parsley, thistles, meadowsweet, willowherb and greater celandine. They suffocate smaller vascular plants, mosses and lichens adapted to harsher conditions.

In the open fell areas of the north, however, the grazing of reindeer counteracts scrub formation and shrub growth in the field layer driven by a warming climate. Studies indicate that in Scandinavia, reindeer grazing has checked the climb of the tree line up to the open fell tops. It has also been found that grazing pressure from reindeer increases biodiversity in nutrient-rich fell types but reduces it on low-nutrient and lichen-dominated sites. Consequently, the reindeer have both a positive and negative impact on fell top vegetation.

Conifers gain ground

Reindeer do not eat conifers, however, even if they may trample or otherwise damage them while grazing. The pine is gradually spreading higher up on the fells due to the warming climate, and especially as extreme weather conditions, including very low sub-zero temperatures, grow less severe. A grazing reindeer may also help conifer seeds to germinate and regenerate by removing lichen and breaking the ground surface. In places, the amount of pine trees on open fells has grown by up to 50%. Growth in the numbers and trunk volumes of spruces has also been observed in northern boreal forests.

In the mountain birch zone, the pine will take over from birches on some sites. Following years with good cone crops, a generation of young pines springs up around single, old and sturdy thick-barked pine trees. Due to climate change, good cone crops occur more frequently. Pine thickets gradually emerge around groups of pines and suffocate mountain birches. This reduces the area of mountain birch forests, both as pine forests spread into birch groves and as a result of moth larvae damage and excessive summer grazing of reindeer.

Sources and further information

Melting snowbeds

Snowbeds and snow patches are habitats of the fell area. A snowbed often forms in a depression on a fell slope with thick snow cover. Snowbeds offer a short growing season and provide habitats for many threatened mosses and plants, including the alpine brook saxifrage, alpine willowherb, snow buttercup and glacier buttercup. Typical features of this habitat include snow cover that only melts during the growing season or persists throughout the summer. Climate change will shorten the period of snow cover, impairing the status of snowbeds and snow patches and strongly reducing their surface area. Most snowbeds in Finland will disappear during this century. On the highest fells and mountains of Norway and Sweden, snowbeds will have a better chance of surviving.

Permanent snowfields of the fells

In Northern Finland, snowbeds occur in all zones of the open fell but most frequently in the middle alpine zone. The surface area of the highest summit zones in Finland is very limited and the snowbeds in them are small, unlike on the great fells and in mountainous areas in Norway and Sweden. Snow patches, or permanent snowfields that do not melt in most summers, are found in depressions on the highest fells. It is likely that permanent snowfields only exist on the great fells of Käsivarsi area in Finland.

Characteristically, snowbeds are found in depressions with heavy snow on fell sites kept moist by meltwaters and brooks. Depending on their type, snowbeds melt at the earliest in late June and at the latest in August. Some snowbed types remain moist throughout the growing season, while others dry out during the summer. Snowbeds are usually rocky sites, and the humus layer in the soil is thin or non-existent as a rule.

Period of snow cover grows shorter

The snow melts later in snowbeds than in the surrounding area in summer. Their vegetation is different from nearby sites due to the shorter growing season and higher level of moisture. Snowbed plants are low, and the vegetation is dominated by sedges, grasses, mosses or low willows.

”On dry, wind-exposed sites, plants must minimise transpiration. This is why narrow and leathery leaves and growing in tussocks or rosettes are common strategies”, explains Henry Väre, Senior Curator at the University of Helsinki’s Museum of Natural History. “Describing snowbed species in general terms is more difficult, but the short growing season has forced them to adopt unusual methods of reproduction. Some species may skip shorter summers and only reproduce the following year, or favour bulbils that produce clones of the parent plant”, Henry illustrates.

A large share will disappear

Typical species of oligotrophic snowbeds include the dwarf willow, moss bell heather, dwarf cudweed, Ranunculus subborealis buttercup, hare’s foot sedge, kiaeria mosses and alpine silverwort. Plants of nutrient-rich snowbeds, on the other hand, include the yellow twoflower violets, drooping saxifrage, net-leaved willow and polar willow as well as many demanding moss species.

Kilpisjärvi Weather Station has observed that the growing season has extended by around two weeks over the last 50 years. The period of snow cover has also grown shorter on the great fells. The extent and duration of summertime snow cover will consequently be reduced further, which will gradually lead to the drying of soil on snowbed sites and finally a decline in their number. Snowbeds are critically endangered habitats. Most snowbeds in Finland will disappear during this century.

Sources and further information

Tinkling fell brooks

There are many brooks and small rivers in the fell areas with a relatively large range of hydrological and biological diversity. The brooks on the fells often contain clear and clean water. Brooks and small rivers are low in nutrients and typically experience large annual fluctuations of flow rate and temperature, making them challenging habitats. While brooks consequently have little vegetation, there may be a thick cover of moss in rapids, which retains fine organic matter and offers shelter for benthic animals. The brooks and small rivers in fell areas are important sites for salmonid reproduction. Their status is mainly excellent, and fell brooks are not facing major threats in future.

Sheltering among mosses

Most brooks, streamlets and other small watercourses in Finland have been modified by humans in one way or another. Very few brooks remain in their natural condition. The status of brooks and small rivers of the coniferous forest zone have been assessed as vulnerable across the country, critically endangered in Southern Finland and near threatened in Northern Finland due to human activity over the long term, including drainage, dams and other structures as well as emissions from agriculture, forestry and peat harvesting.

The number of brooks and small rivers in the fell area has not declined, however, nor has their status deteriorated over the last 50 years. These habitats are extensively found in the fell areas of Finland, Sweden and Norway, and no significant land use or construction projects affecting them are planned.

Powerful spring floods mean that the gravel beds, rocky areas and rapids of fell brooks and small rivers are often unstable sites, and their vegetation can be very limited. Many rapids have a thick cover of moss, however, which retains fine organic matter and offers shelter for benthic animals. Typical moss species growing on rocks in rapids include the Hygrohypnum, Blindia acuta, Schistidium and Jungermannia eucordifolia. Cratoneuron mosses, such as Palustriella falcata, are also found on the rocks of rapids in small rivers flowing through calciferous areas.

Headwaters teem with life

The brooks and small rivers of the fell area are mostly located in very open fell areas. The production of surface-dwelling algae and the share of algae-eating benthic organisms are higher in the fell area than in similar brooks in the coniferous forest zone. Organisms that filter the water for their food, including many caddisfly, blackfly and non-biting midge species, are relatively high in numbers and predators, especially predatory stonefly species, are more common in brooks of the fell area than in the coniferous forest zone. Benthic animals in the watercourses of the fells include the stonefly species Brachyptera risi, Nemoura sahlbergi and Nemoura viki.

The brooks and small rivers of the fells are also important sites for salmonid reproduction. Typical fish species are the Arctic char, trout, grayling, European bullhead, burbot and pike. While the littoral zones usually are relatively narrow, impressive globeflower meadows may develop along rivers, and the yellow mountain saxifrage and mountain avens may be found on calcareous banks of brooks and small rivers.

Flourishing boreal coniferous forests

A lush river valley with spruce trees hemmed in by open fells looks out of place like a deer that has strayed into the nutrient-poor pine heaths of the north. Pristine forests are high in biodiversity, and the herb-rich forests along brooks commonly shelter demanding vascular plants, ferns, mosses and lichens. Snags and logs in various stages of decay provide habitats or food for many endangered species. Almost one half of all endangered woodland species live in forests with a plentiful supply of decaying wood.

The largest forests in the world

The boreal zone, or the northern coniferous forest zone, is a continuous belt of conifer forests stretching across the northern hemisphere from Scandinavia and Siberia all the way to North America. The boreal zone covers around 15% of the continents and comprises the largest forested areas in the world. Conifers are the dominant trees in the boreal forests, and the main tree species in Finland are the pine and the spruce. The most common deciduous trees are the birch, alder and aspen as well as different willow species. Other deciduous trees also grow in the southern boreal zone, including the littleleaf linden, maple and oak.

Acidic soils

The soil in the coniferous forest zone is acidic and low in nutrients. The acid is produced from the needles shed by conifers as they decay. This prevents vascular plants from establishing themselves. Calcareous sites are found in places in Fennoscandia, including in Kuusamo and Käsivarsi in Finland as well as the Scandinavian Mountains. The most typical soil type in Finland is moraine dating back to the Ice Age.

Forests and mires

The annual precipitation in the northern boreal zone usually is 600 to 700 mm, the climate is cool or cold, and growing season length varies from 100 to 140 days. The height of trees is from 5 to 12 metres, depending on how far north they grow and how harsh the climate is. The forest grows slowly, and the dominant species are the pine and the birch. While the spruce is less common north of Rovaniemi, spruce forests are found in places, especially in the areas of Kittilä, Sodankylä, Savukoski and Salla. After forests, the main vegetation type in the boreal zone is the mire. Due to the flattish topography and evenly wet climate, mires are plentiful in this area.

On low-nutrient sites dominated by pines, large lichen heaths are found, where typical plants of the shrub layer are the Arctic bearberry, bog bilberry and lingonberry. The northernmost boreal forests in Scandinavia are found on the north coast of Norway. These low-growing mixed forests mainly consist of pines, aspens and mountain birches. Northern boreal forests in Finland can be found in almost all parts of Lapland, in Koillismaa, and the northernmost parts of Kainuu, as well as in Northern Sweden and Norway.

As the climate grows warmer and precipitation increases, the pine will spread into the mountain birch zone in patches. The spruce is also spreading further north. Consequently, the northern boreal coniferous zone is gradually expanding in the north Barents region.

Sources and further information

Forest fires – part of the natural cycle

In natural conditions, the northern coniferous forests have burned every 20 to 60 years on average. Conifer forests are usually not completely destroyed by a fire, as the burned area is limited by vegetation, moisture in the environment and topography. As an example, in this image of an island in Lake Inari, stretches of water have limited the burned site to the northern end of the island. Scorched and otherwise dead wood as well as the forest succession phases of different ages following a forest fire increase biodiversity and richness of species in a natural forest. Today forest fires are put out as soon as possible, which is why many species of animals and plants that depend on forest fires have become less common or even declined to the point of being endangered.

Restoration aims for natural conditions

The development of Fennoscandian boreal forests is to a great extent determined as the combined effect of vegetation characteristics, growth conditions, including a continental or maritime climate, as well as fires and other disruptions. Forests may at times burn either entirely or in part across a large area. Old, sturdy pines with their thick bark may survive a number of forest fires. This creates a continuum of trees of different ages in the forest as, after a fire, trees regenerate naturally following the order of forest succession. The first ones to appear are deciduous trees, including the grey alder, birch and aspen, followed by the pine and later on the spruce.

Over the decades, the competition for light and nutrients between tree species and also individuals gets tougher. This is referred to as the rapid growth and development stage. In many forest types, the spruce is the strongest competitor among tree species and gradually takes over from other trees, excluding sturdy pines.

In the climax stage of forest succession, the spruce has mainly excluded other tree species. The ageing trees of the climax forest start dying and decaying, and individual trees are blown over by storms. This creates gaps in the canopy that make light and nutrients available, and forest succession starts again on a smaller scale.

Forest restoration aims at developing commercial forests with a structure similar to such natural forests. This is achieved by adding the missing features, including decaying and burned wood. The aims also include diversifying the age structure and species by increasing the share of deciduous trees. Restoration also improves the living conditions of many rare and endangered forest species.

If natural forest fires cannot be let loose, new post-fire succession phases are created systematically by imitating natural fires. This type of prescribed and controlled burning of forest is mainly carried out in conservation areas, however only covering a smallish proportion of them.

Generating decaying wood is the most common restoration technique. More decaying wood is created especially on sites where its volume is low or non-existent. The goal set in the Finnish biodiversity strategy is increasing the volume of decaying wood in our commercial forests to 10 cubic metres per hectare from the current volume of 4 to 6 cubic metres. In natural forests, the volume of decaying wood varies between 40 and 120 cubic metres per hectare.

Sources and further information

Declining globe­flower meadows

Mesic meadows are the most common, biodiverse and species rich of the meadow habitat groups. They are usually almost treeless sites that have emerged in untilled soils and that are grazed or actively managed by mowing. Plant species in the meadows of Lapp village sites differ from those in southern areas. Species found in northern meadows include the globeflower, tall Jacob’s ladder, meadow buttercup, wood crane’s bill, mountain everlasting and moonwort. Mowed meadows with their abundance of flowers have been important habitats for many insects. All traditional rural biotopes in Finland are under threat, and mesic meadows are critically endangered due to their declining numbers and overgrowth.

Unique site of Pielpajärvi wilderness church

Pielpajärvi Church and the site surrounding it are located on the shore of Iso Pielpajärvi Lake some six kilometres to the northeast of Inari village. The surroundings of the church with its Lapp hut and cabin foundations is a unique site steeped in Inari Sámi history.

The site has diverse plant species and comprises a valuable traditional rural biotope. The habitats of the site belong to the Natura 2000 habitat type ‘lowland species-rich dry to mesic grasslands’. The vegetation of the site mainly consists of grass- and herb-rich mesic meadows. Dry low herb meadows, which are one of the most endangered traditional rural biotope types in Finland, add to the value of the site.

The tufted hairgrass and tall herbs take turns as the dominant species of the mosaic-like vegetation on Pielpajärvi site. The globeflower, garden speedwell, common sedge, reedgrasses, European goldenrod, wavy hairgrass and yarrow are common species. The rare plants of the meadow include the northern moonwort, common moonwort and hoary whitlowgrass. The representativeness of both mesic and dry meadow plants is indeed excellent.

The Albine bistort, globeflower, garden speedwell, tall Jacob’s ladder, narrow-leaved rattle, little yellow-rattle and Sudetan wood rush are important for butterflies and other insects. They are species that benefited from traditional farming methods of mowing and grazing, and their presence indicates that the site was used for such purposes in the past. In order to survive, these species require an open habitat with plenty of light and regular mowing or grazing.

Regardless of management efforts, the site was about to become overgrown, and parts of it had already become tussocky. Managing the site has been found extremely challenging. The meadow cannot be mowed mechanically, and mowing with a scythe is difficult and time-consuming owing to the rocky terrain. The only way to keep the site open was to bring in sheep to graze it.

From meadow to field

Mesic meadow vegetation has established itself naturally in mineral soils of freshwater meadows, sun-lit forest margins, forest fire sites and similar. On these sites, a number of species of post-glacial steppes have survived. Many mesic meadows originated as forest sites, presumably mostly herb-rich heath forests and herb-rich forests, that were cleared. This is why the environmental conditions in mesic meadows and herb-rich forests are similar. Most meadows created by slash-and-burn farming practices were mesic.

In addition to diverse vegetation, the species of mesic meadows also include plenty of insects, especially butterflies and Hymenopterans. This is why mowed meadows with their abundance of flowers are important habitats for many insects. Grazing has a different impact on various groups of organisms. Intensive grazing may reduce the insect species of mesic meadows, whereas it usually has a positive impact on plants. Fungi that have adapted to open sites, some of which are endangered, can also be found in mesic meadows.

The number of dry and mesic meadows, wooded pastures and other traditional rural biotopes started declining rapidly when traditional farming came to an end in the late 19th century. Most meadows were turned into tillage in the 20th century. Over the last 50 years, the surface area of most habitats in traditional rural biotopes has declined by over 90%.

Lost species

Traditional farming practices also modified the marginal zones of forests and fields as well as groves of trees in open areas. As a result of the structural change in agriculture, these environments have also lost some of their biodiversity, and the open rural landscape has gradually disappeared in many places.

Around one out of four endangered species in Finland live in mesic and dry meadows and other open traditional rural biotopes. The most endangered groups of species are birds, mosses and vascular plants, including the ortolan bunting, Pohlia erecta moss and autumn gentian. In total, 312 species are known to have been lost in Finland, of which 123 or 39.4% are species of traditional rural biotopes.

The status of mesic meadows left without use or management deteriorates gradually. Multi-species low herb vegetation consisting of demanding meadow species, which is maintained by traditional grazing or mowing, regresses gradually once the site is no longer managed. Young trees and scrub also start spreading into the meadow, which finally becomes overgrown. The shading of trees and bushes changes the vegetation further, and as the forest progresses, meadow species decline and ultimately disappear.

Based on their decreasing number, mesic meadows have been assessed as critically endangered habitats across Finland. They are primarily threatened by overgrowing and becoming forested as well as excess nutrients, alien species in places, and field clearance and construction to a lessening extent.

Arctic fox on a snowy fell

Today, the chances of spotting an Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) are much better than in times gone by. Thanks to sustained protection efforts, Arctic fox litters are again gambolling in the mountain uplands of northern Scandinavia. In 2022, an Arctic fox produced a litter in Finland for the first time since 1996. In total, 37 Arctic foxes have been released in Norway’s Finnmark region, near the mountain uplands of Finland’s Käsivarsi area, in 2021–2022. The survival of the released Arctic foxes is supported by additional feeding. A total of 250 automated feeding stations on the fells of Sweden, Norway and Finland offer dog food for the Arctic foxes. Intensified culling of foxes, which compete with the Arctic fox, has also continued in open fell areas for almost two decades.

A pair of beady eyes in the snow

As the Ice Age receded around ten thousand years ago, the Arctic fox was one of the first mammals to arrive in the north. For thousands of years it was a common species of the northern fells. It has been estimated that as recently as the 19th century, between 8,000 and 15,000 Arctic foxes were living in Fennoscandia.

The Arctic fox is considerably smaller than the fox as an adult only weighs from 2.5 to 5 kilograms. Regardless of its small size, the Arctic fox is extremely well adapted to the Arctic conditions and can even survive temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius. In addition to the thick white or blue-grey fur, its adaptations to the freezing climate include short ears and legs.

The Arctic fox mainly feeds on Norway lemmings and vole species of the north, such as the grey red-backed vole, northern red-backed vole and tundra vole. In winter they also make use of deer carcases left behind by wolverines and wolves, whereas in years with low vole populations, they are forced to hunt for bird chicks and eggs, eat berries and even find food in the wrack line on the seashore.

In normal years, Arctic fox numbers follow the trends in Norway lemming and vole populations. In peak years of small rodents roughly every four years, Arctic fox litters are large and may even amount to four or five cubs. At a low ebb of these populations, the Arctic fox may skip the year as there is not enough food to feed a litter.

Red peril

In the years gone by, Arctic foxes migrated as far south as the Gulf of Finland after good breeding years. In those days Arctic foxes could be spotted around Turku, Pohjanpitäjänlahti and Inkoo and all the way to the outer archipelago of the Gulf of Finland. The last great migration of Arctic foxes took place in winter 1908–1909. After this, few wild Arctic foxes have been observed in the south.

The Arctic fox declined strongly in the early 20th century as a result of fur hunting. This inquisitive animal with its beady eyes and often no fear of humans was an easy target, and it was wiped out in a large part of its previous breeding range. Sweden protected the Arctic fox in 1928, Norway in 1930, and Finland finally followed suit in 1940. The protection did not stop the decline of the species, however, as human settlement, tourism and other land use spread in the pristine wildernesses of the Arctic fox range.

The fox, however, which is a threat to Arctic fox populations, benefits from humans in many ways. Strong increase in the efficiency of commercial forestry boosted vole numbers as felled sites became overgrown with grasses. The fox is also able to look for food in waste bins, reindeer feeding stations, places where fish are gutted and other similar food sources created by humans. In the meantime, the warming climate has enabled foxes to spread from the forests up to the open fells and Arctic fox territory. The northern areas are currently warming up approx. four times faster than the global average.

As the fox is larger and stronger, it may kill an Arctic fox and take over its lair. In the fell area of Enontekiö, foxes started nesting annually in the Arctic fox breeding range in the 1990s. At the turn of the millennium, the Arctic fox population in Scandinavia was on the brink of extinction, and only a few dozen individuals remained.

A protected species

Without new protection techniques, the Arctic fox would probably have been lost. A captive breeding programme was launched in Norway, and individuals raised in captivity were gradually reintroduced to the wild. Before Arctic foxes are released, all foxes in the area must be culled. For example, more than 4,000 foxes have been hunted in the Finnish fell areas over the years to enable the Arctic foxes reintroduced in Norway to also make their way to Finland. Arctic foxes are also offered dog food as additional nutrition using automated feeders designed for them. The entrance to the feeder is so small that the fox cannot creep inside.

Hunting has brought results

Years of Nordic cooperation have brought good results in Arctic fox conservation. In an inventory carried out in 2022, as many as 162 Arctic fox lairs were found, and a total of 762 cubs were counted. One of the litters was born in Enontekiö fell area in Käsivarsi, which means that the Arctic fox reproduced successfully in Finland for the first time since 1996. Record-breaking breeding results were also achieved in Sweden and Norway.

Regardless of the warming climate, the future of the Arctic fox consequently looks more promising after a long period of decline. A precondition for protecting the Arctic fox, however, is an annual cull of foxes in open fell areas and additional feeding. Without the active intervention of humans, the Arctic fox has no future on the fells of Scandinavia.

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Plants take over uncovered soil as glaciers melt

As glaciers melt, plants take over the uncovered soil. The moss campion (Silene acaulis) is one of the toughest ground cover plants on open fells. It is adapted to life on windswept open fell slopes. By growing along the ground and forming cushions, the plant absorbs the sun’s heat and protects itself from drying winds and subzero temperatures. While the moss campion is common in mountain heaths and rocky areas as well as on gravel slopes in Scandinavia, in Finland it is mainly found on the large fells of Käsivarsi area.

Melting glaciers of the mountains

There are several continuous glacier areas, such as Seiland and Svartisen, in Norway. Svartisen consist of two separate ice caps whose total surface area is 369 km2. Vestre and Østre Svartisen make up the second largest glacier area in Continental Norway. They are also melting, as is every other glacier in the world. The glaciers in Norway have dwindled by 12% over the last 50 years. According to forecasts, roughly one half of mountain glaciers will melt in this century.

Glaciers are popular destinations for excursions and also guided hikes in summer. You should never head out on a glacier alone, as a lonely hiker runs the risk of falling into a crevice under the ice. Hikers have become injured and even lost their lives in glacier accidents.

As glaciers melt, plants, mosses and lichens take over the uncovered soil. The soil revealed from underneath a glacier is often exposed to extreme weather phenomena, including drought, wind and cold. The glacier buttercup and moss campion are some of the first vascular plants to gain ground on the exposed soil.

Natural carpet

The moss campion grows on rocky slopes, gravelly snowbed sites and gravelly and sandy lake shores and river banks in fell and mountainous regions. By growing along the ground, the plant absorbs the sun’s heat but can protect itself from drying winds. The perennial moss campion can form a carpet up to 50 centimetres wide. While this plant is only common on the open tops of the great fells of Käsivarsi area in Finland, in Norway and Sweden it is widespread on the great fells and in mountainous areas. The moss campion is a calciphyte.

Nourished by glaciers

Meadows with an abundance of globeflowers thrive on the lower slopes of ice-capped mountains to which ice streams have carried weathered soils rich in humus and nutrients, including silt, whereas mountain avens heaths are found slightly higher up. As the ice retreats, the diversity of vegetation increases following the different phases of plant succession. The vegetation regresses strongly, however, if the glacier melts completely, and many demanding species of nutrient-poor sites disappear. They are replaced by the most common plants of sun-lit environments, such as the wild thyme, mountain everlasting and hawkweed.

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Snowy owl

The snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) is extremely well adapted to the harsh Arctic environment. The thick white plumage protects the owl against the severe cold, and its long, strong wings enable it to fly through harsh winds. The snowy owl depends completely on peak lemming populations for its reproduction, and it only nests successfully in good lemming years. After good nesting years, migrations of young snowy owls are typical of the species, making it possible to spot these birds as far down as Southern Finland and Sweden. Snowy owl populations have declined in different parts of the Arctic region in North America, Siberia and Europe, which is why the species has been classified globally as endangered.

Clever camouflage

The snowy owl’s distribution is circumpolar: it is found in all Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere from Scandinavia to Siberia and North America all the way to Greenland. The snowy owl lives on the treeless open fells of the tundra. With its white plumage that may be dotted with black, the owl has perfect camouflage in the snowy winter landscape. You often only notice the owl against the backdrop of the open fell terrain when it moves slightly as it blends in with the rounded stones and snow drifts of the fell landscape.

The snowy owl is extremely well adapted to the harsh Arctic environment. In addition to its thick and air-filled plumage, the bird is protected against sub-zero temperatures and chilling winds by a moustache around its beak and thick feathers on its feet. The rock ptarmigan and willow ptarmigan also have similar adaptations, as their feet are also protected by a thick layer of feathers.

Peak lemming years are crucial

The snowy owl is completely dependent on peak lemming years for its life and reproduction. In Scandinavia, it only breeds successfully in good lemming years. While they used to occur roughly every four years, as a result of climate change they have become less regular. The female lays 6 to 14 white eggs on a fell slope in April or May and incubates them for around one month. Unlike many other birds, the snowy owl female starts incubating as soon as she has laid the first egg. This means that the young hatch at different times, and the size difference between the chicks in a nest may be considerable.

If food becomes scarce during the summer and there are not enough lemmings to go around, the largest and strongest chicks get more food and keep on growing. If lemmings come to an end and not enough chicks of other birds are available, the larger owl chicks eat the smallest ones in the brood. The Arctic region is a harsh living environment for everyone.

After good nesting years, migrations of young snowy owls are typical of the species and may extend to thousands of kilometres and as far as the Gulf of Finland and Baltic Sea archipelagos. In this case, the snowy owl is like a visitor from another world – the white lump of an owl sits in a dark field stalking field voles. As the population is declining, however, snowy owls are seen less often than ever in the south.

At risk of being lost

While the snowy owl nested regularly in Finland as lately as the early 20th century, it gradually disappeared and declined by the 1930s due to large-scale egg gathering and persecution. In 1907, for example, around 800 snowy owl eggs were collected for sale, and 151 snowy owls were shot in Lapland in 1911. Despite the species being protected in 1962, owl numbers have kept declining. Reasons for this have been sought in a warming climate, changes in lemming and vole populations, and increased human activity in the Arctic region. Snowy owl eggs have also been collected and the owls have been persecuted in Sweden and Norway.

The International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) estimated in 2017 that the snowy owl is globally endangered. Its populations have declined in various parts of the Arctic region and especially in North America, where the number of snowy owls dropped by 64% between 1970 and 2014. In Scandinavia, the snowy owl is critically endangered and runs the risk of being lost due to climate change.

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Fluttering in the Arctic

The dusky-winged fritillary (Boloria improba) is the rarest fritillary species in Finland. Only one site where this species lives is known in Käsivarsi wilderness area in Enontekiö. In Scandinavia, the dusky-winged fritillary lives in high-altitude fell meadows and river valleys of the Scandinavian Mountains. While the known distribution of the species in Finland is not at risk from land use, overgrazing by reindeer is one of the most significant threats to it. The species is protected and critically endangered.

In search of cold air

According to an assessment conducted in 2019, 11.9% of the slightly over 22,000 species estimated to live in Finland were endangered. The highest number of endangered species live in forests and traditional heritage biotopes. If we look at the share of endangered species of all species in a habitat, as many as 38% of the fell species are in this category: 309 endangered species live in open fell areas, which is four times the average number in other habitats. For reference, only 9.8% of forest species are endangered. In forest habitats, the increase in the share of endangered species has slowed down significantly, whereas the opposite is true for fell species.

In particular, the butterfly species of the north have suffered from the warming of the climate. The ranges of many butterflies of the boreal coniferous forest and mires have shifted several hundred kilometres further north. The species of open fells are under a particular threat as there is nowhere further north they can go to. Around 100 species are estimated to suffer from the warming of the climate, and for more than a half of this number, degradation of habitats is another reason for their decline. Compared to the previous assessment conducted in 2010, the number of butterfly species suffering from the warming of the climate has increased more than tenfold.

Our disappearing species

The number of butterfly species primarily found on the fells is relatively low, or 72 in total, but only 12 of them are not on the Red list (endangered and near threatened species). This means that 80% of the fell butterflies are either endangered or near threatened. The deterioration in the status of species has been highly significant over the last ten years, as 22 species were moved to a more vulnerable class due to climate change. Our most Arctic butterfly species are at risk of being lost in Finland over the next few years or decades. For example, the dusky-winged fritellary (Boloria improba), Xestia lyngei moth and heath fritellary (Melitaea athalea ssp. norvegica) have each only been observed on a single known site in recent years, despite of inventories carried out.

From Hymenopterans to bumblebees

The fact that Hymenopterans of the fell environment are becoming endangered is a particular cause for concern. Of around two dozen species living on the fells, over 80% have been classified as endangered. The Hymenopteran are the most significant group of pollinators in Finland, which is why the fact that they are becoming endangered has a major ecological impact on the vegetation and ecological networks of the fells. On the other hand, the warming of the climate encourages southern species to spread further north, and southern bumblebees have already been spotted on the fells.

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Toughing it out in the snow

The rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) is the only bird that lives on open fells round the year. It is found on the harsh, treeless fell tops of Swedish and Finnish Lapland and in the Norwegian mountains. In the mountain uplands it does not need to compete with other species for territory. The rock ptarmigan is grey-white in summer and snow white in winter, excepting the black eye stripe at the base of the bill. Changing the colour of its plumage is an adaptation that helps the bird to avoid predators. In addition to the willow grouse, the rock ptarmigan is the main food source of the gyrfalcon, especially at the beginning of the nesting season in late winter. The rock ptarmigan has declined strongly in Finland due to changing habitats, hunting and delayed onset of winter. Today it often changes colour at a slightly wrong time, making it an easy target for predators in its snow suit for several weeks both in spring and autumn. The rock ptarmigan is at risk of being lost in the future due to climate change.

An arctic sedentary bird

The rock ptarmigan is one of the most Arctic species in Scandinavia. It lives on the open fells year round and only visits mountain birch forests when forced to do so by harsh conditions. A general rule that applies in most cases is that the rock ptarmigan lives on the open fells above the altitude of 500 metres, whereas the willow grouse prefers to stay lower down. The rock ptarmigan is a sedentary bird that spends its whole life in the same area, rather than seeking different habitats as the seasons change.

In terms of its range, it is a circumpolar species found in the Arctic regions of both Eurasia and North America. The coasts of Greenland, Iceland and the Spitsbergen are also part of its range. As a relict species in southern areas, this bird can additionally be found in the British Isles as well as in the Pyrenees and the Alps.

Sheltering in a snowdrift

The rock ptarmigan’s ability to tolerate extreme cold is based on the thick layer of fatty tissue surrounding its body and insulating plumage, also on the feet and base of the bill. In windy sub-zero conditions, it can dig itself a snow cave where the temperature stays at a few degrees below zero, no matter how cold it is outside.

The rock ptarmigan mates for life. It is very similar to the willow ptarmigan which, however, is slightly larger. Rock ptarmigan individuals weigh slightly over 500 grams. In Finland, the rock ptarmigan nests on the great fells of Käsivarsi area in Enontekiö as well as on the highest fells of Utsjoki, Inari and Sodankylä. The southern boundary of its range is marked by the southern reaches of Saariselkä, in addition to which the bird is found on Pallas-Ounastunturit fells and occasionally in Värriötunturi fell area. It has declined in the southern parts of its range.

The rock ptarmigan feeds on the buds, shoots and leaves of different fell plants, in winter especially the buds of the dwarf birch. The chicks initially eat insects but soon switch to plant-based food. The female lays 5 to 10 eggs in a nest it digs in the ground around mid-May. After emerging from the eggs, the hatchlings first feed on invertebrates and insects, then move on to eating plants. The relatively high mortality of rock ptarmigan chicks is due to a shortage of food and low temperatures during cold spells in spring. The developing feathers of the chicks do not protect them against the cold as well as the adults’ plumage.

Shrinking habitats

In winter, rock ptarmigans come together in flocks of several dozen individuals. This makes it is easier for the birds to find the scarce feeding opportunities of the mountain uplands and to spot any lurking predators.

The males’ courtship behaviour in early spring puts their lives at risk. The male flies directly upwards to the height of approx. 20 metres and then descends slowly, calling all the while. The rock ptarmigan’s plumage is white in the mating season, making it an easy target for the gyrfalcon. The purpose of the male’s courtship flight is to persuade the female to join him.

As a northern species, the rock ptarmigan is extremely vulnerable to changes brought about by a warmer climate. Further warming will shrink the rock ptarmigan habitats even more, and the species will no longer be able to adapt. The rock ptarmigan and the willow ptarmigan have lost as much as three quarters of their populations in little more than ten years. The nesting rock ptarmigan population in Finland is put at 4,000 to 7,000 pairs. The rock ptarmigan is not alone facing this dilemma. The same fate threatens other species of the open fells, including the Eurasian dotterel, European golden plover, snow bunting and Lapland bunting.

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As a reindeer on the fells

The reindeer is a key species of the fell environment together with its wild cousin, the Scandinavian mountain reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), which lives in Central and Southern Norway. Their grazing pressure has a significant impact on fell vegetation and consequently the entire fell environment from insects to large carnivores. In the 12th and 13th centuries, wild mountain reindeer hunting was gradually replaced by nomadic reindeer herding. Reindeer husbandry is today pursued in the northern coniferous forest and fell areas of Finland, Sweden and Norway. There are some 750,000 reindeer in the Nordic countries. In recent decades, reindeer husbandry has changed considerably with the introduction of modern technologies. This change is ongoing, and the industry is forced to adapt to more intensive land use and a warming climate.


The deer (Rangifer tarandus) is a cervid animal, 14 subspecies of which live in the Arctic tundra and northern coniferous forest zone. It is the only species of the family Rangifer. The subspecies living wild in North America is known as the caribou, and those in Siberia and Europe as the deer. A tame deer is known as a reindeer.

Actual reindeer herding based on a nomadic life evolved in the fell areas of Central Sweden and Norway in the Middle Ages. It spread to Enontekiö area in Finland from the southwest in the 17th century, and to Utsjoki in the following century. Hunting and reindeer herding as a widespread way of living led to the disappearance of wild deer in the north in the 19th century.

Making a comeback

The forest reindeer returned to Finland from the large wilderness areas of Russia in the 1950s. Today the forest reindeer is mainly found in Kuhmo as well as in Perho in North Ostrobothnia, and they have been reintroduced in the National Parks of Seitseminen and Lauhavuori in Tampere region. As its name indicates, the forest reindeer lives in northern coniferous forests and mires.

Despite hunting, the natural population of the Scandinavian mountain reindeer survived in southern Norway. As the population declined, it was protected in 1902–1906. Once hunting restarted after this period the population collapsed again, and only a permanent hunting ban saved the wild mountain reindeer. Today the size of the wild population is around 25,000 individuals.

Intensified reindeer husbandry

The last few decades have seen the reindeer industry changing and becoming increasingly professional. As in other fields, productivity has increased, and technology and mechanisation are playing a greater role. Reindeer are no longer rounded up and herded on skis as in days gone by, and snowmobiles, motorbikes, quads, helicopters and drones are used instead.

Growing reindeer numbers, changes in general land use, including tourism, construction and energy production, and intensification of reindeer husbandry have resulted in permanent erosion of nature and impaired status of pastures.

While the reindeer used to feed the herder, the herder now feeds the reindeer. According to Mauri Nieminen, a researcher specialising in reindeer, this old saying commonly used by reindeer herders is an apt description of today’s reindeer industry in Finland.

“Introducing the winter feeding of reindeer has been a major change. Herders were forced to start it in the late 1970s. Today it is common and, unfortunately, here to stay”, Mauri Nieminen notes.

Feeding pushes up costs, which reduces the profitability of the industry. Additional feeding would not be needed if the winter pastures were in adequate condition considering the animal numbers. The preconditions for the pastures’ recovery would, however, include cutting back on the reindeer numbers from time to time and more efficient pasture rotation.

“The winter pastures, in particular, have been eroded by excessively large numbers of animals. Except in the northern part of the herding area, Finnish reindeer graze in the forest. The pastures are used continuously and become impoverished.”

“Finding food is more difficult in winter, and reindeer need help to survive through the leanest time. Additional feeding has become a key part of the industry”, Nieminen reflects.

Climate change and future challenges of reindeer husbandry

Climate change hampers reindeer husbandry in many ways. In Northern Lapland the industry is threatened by the more frequent occurrence of icy winters, and in southern parts of the herding area by proliferation of parasites and insects in summer. If the weather fluctuates greatly between subzero and above-zero temperatures in early winter, the surface of the snow layer freezes hard. This makes it difficult for reindeer to get at the lichen under a hard ice cover. In icy winters, reindeer herders are forced to feed the animals even more, and thousands of reindeer may die, as in winter 2020.

The warming climate encourages shrubs, vascular plants and mosses at the cost of lichens. This reduces the availability of winter grazing. The decline of mountain birch forests also has a negative effect on reindeer pastures.

The grazing by reindeer causes wear and tear especially on lichen fields and habitats low in nutrients. Overgrazing has destroyed entire lichen heaths in places. Trampling by the reindeer additionally impairs the condition of lichen fields in summer.

On the other hand, grazing reindeer as a key species mitigate the overgrowing of fell areas and the rising of the tree line into the open fells driven by climate change. In high-nutrient habitats, the grazing of the reindeer promotes biodiversity. The crucial factor consequently is adjusting the grazing pressure to the environment and being able to guarantee the preservation of all habitat types in the fell area.

So far, schemes for compensating reindeer herders for losses of income incurred from reducing their reindeer numbers have not been introduced in Finland. In the METSO programme, for example, forest owners are compensated for income losses caused by conservation measures. Mountain heaths and birch forests could also be restored, improving the status of reindeer pastures and the fell environment.

Hikers on the fells

Nordic people are keen hikers and outdoor enthusiasts around the year, both in their local areas and more distant national parks. Finnish and Swedish Lapland and the coast of Northern Norway are also popular with foreign tourists. The Nordic countries treat the visitor to endless nature experiences, each more splendid than the other, from short day trips to hiking trails of several hundreds of kilometres. Experienced hikers can even cope with the most challenging winter conditions, as long as they have the right gear and master navigation skills. The weather on the fells can change rapidly. A chilling storm from the north or pea soup fog that blocks all visibility may catch an unprepared hiker by surprise. You should also bear in mind the possibility of being injured. Rather than embarking on challenging hikes across the fells on your own, you should always go out as part of an experienced group.

Call of the northern wildness

The wildernesses of the north call us to experience their many wonders. Nature excursions can take many forms, the key is that you go out into the wilds. Spending time and being active in nature are proven ways of promoting good health and preventing many illnesses. Regular outdoor exercise in natural environments has been found to reduce the use of antidepressants and drugs for treating cardiovascular diseases and asthma and to help an overburdened body and mind to recover.

Hiking trails of different lengths and levels of challenge abound in the Nordic countries, including summer and winter trails for hiking, skiing trips, outings on the water and biking. Some of them are easy day trips along marked trails, while others may take up to several weeks and require top-notch navigation skills and a proper food supply.

Freedom to roam

In the Nordic countries, everyone’s rights give people free access to nature, overnight camping, making fires at designated sites, and picking berries and fungi. A separate permit is often needed for fishing. However, hook-and-line fishing is allowed without a permit in many lakes and rivers in Finland which have few salmon, and the same applies to sea fishing in Norway. Obtaining fishing permits in the Nordic countries is easy, and they are in most cases available online.

Cooking dinner at dusk after a day of hiking is an experience beyond compare. A campfire provides not only heat but also delicious food to fill your gurgling stomach. You should definitely not forget your fishing gear and cooking equipment when going out on longer hikes. Fish caught in a fell lake cook quickly, and all you need is a bit of salt to season them. In the autumn, boletes and chanterelles taste great when fried on a campfire. A few pieces of bread and a warm drink are the ideal accompaniment.

For nature photographers, the north coast of Norway and Lapland offer outstanding opportunities. The sheer cliffs plunging into the sea are made for landscape photography, and snowy expanses of fells and forests with their snow load could be from a fairytale. Autumn colours in the forests and mires take your breath away.

Spellbinding lights

The best-known travel destinations in the Nordic countries are the National Parks of Pallas-Ounastunturi and Sarek, the fells of Kilpisjärvi, the Lofoten island group with its fishing villages and the North Cape. In these areas, you can experience the unique phenomena of the Arctic regions, from the midnight sun in summer to the magic of the northern lights in winter.

Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in Lapland is the most popular one in Finland. Its attractions include expansive fell landscapes and coniferous forests, a versatile network of trails and ski tracks, cleanliness, safety and good services. Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is a great place for novice hikers. Pallastunturit Fells have been chosen as one of Finland’s national landscapes.

The National Parks of Padjelanta, Stora Sjöfallet and Sarek in Northern Sweden add up to the largest and oldest national park area in Europe. The surface area of Sarek National Part is almost 2,000 km², and it boasts around one hundred glaciers. The park is known for its remoteness and high mountains with steep slopes. While Sarek is a highly popular hiking destination, it is not recommended for beginners as the terrain is extremely challenging.

On the edge of the world

Tourists are attracted to Northern Norway by its deep fjords, rugged mountains and open sea. The majestic Lyngen Alps are located on a peninsula to the northeast from Tromsø. Its scenic natural slopes are popular with off-piste skiers in winter. In summer, Lyngen offers a spectacular hiking area with sea views where you can experience an exotic excursion to a glacier or visit the deep blue glacier lake of Blåvatnet.

The North Cape, the northernmost corner of Continental Europe, is located on the coast of the Barents Sea. It is known for its high, sheer cliff with a staggering view across the shoreless Arctic Ocean. It is a particularly popular destination for admiring the midnight sun, and with luck, you might spot mink and humpback whales feeding out in the sea. The coast of Northern Norway is a world of its own on the edge of the planet.

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River Tana estuary: grappling with change

The estuary of the River Tana, which winds its way through Finland and Norway and discharges in the Arctic Ocean, is where you find Høyholmen, the long, curved and narrow dune-like tip of a headland. Owing to its unique salt marshes and shallow estuary nature, the dunes have been protected as Tanamunningen Nature Reserve. Many unusual plants of sea and land grow on the sand dunes. At low tide, hundreds of migrating waders, such as the dunlin and sandpiper, and aquatic birds can be seen resting and feeding in the marshes along the dunes. Høyholmen dunes are constantly changing. Erosion caused by the wind and water shift the sand banks in the estuary and create new ones by making lyme grass covered dunes collapse into the sea.

Protected dunes

Over the millennia, a low-lying delta with extensive sand banks has developed in the estuary of the River Tana. The large volumes of fine sand transported by the River Tana into the Tanafjord over time have created Høyholmen, a curved sand dune several kilometres in length.

Due to its remote location, the Tana River estuary has remained in a natural condition and no houses and docks have been built there, apart from a handful of warehouses. To preserve the nature values of the estuary, the dunes were protected as Tanamunningen Nature Reserve in 1991.

Changing Høyholmen

The size of Høyholmen varies greatly depending on the tides. At high tide, only the dune part with the road leading to the tip of Høyholmen is above the water. The low tide reveals a large expanse of underwater sand banks as well as the salt marshes and salt meadows along the edges of the dunes. Many types of littoral plants grow here, including the European searocket, scurvy-grass and sea plantain. No wonder the area is popular with waders, ducks and geese, especially during the spring and autumn migrations. Meadow pipits, Eurasian oystercatchers and greylag geese nest on the dunes in summer, and you can also spot hunting sea eagles, peregrine falcons and short-eared owls here. The parasitic jaeger also favours the dunes because of its large seagull population.

The dunes in the River Tana estuary change with the seasons and years. Wind, spring floods and tides shape the sand banks of the estuary, making them shift or disappear. Some years a particularly fierce spring flood or storm may devour a dune covered with perennial plants and make it part of the sea. A stone embankment has been built to protect the dunes of Høyholmen, its northern shore and the dirt road.

Birdwatcher’s paradise

The spring floods of the Tana carry nutrients and soil with a high humus content to the sand banks and shore meadows of Høyholmen. This annual influx of nutrients benefits dune plants and zooplankton in the shore waters. Common mergansers and thousands of seagulls can be seen catching Atlantic herring and capelin, which are feeding in the shallows. The rich fish stocks support a population of around 50 harbour seals in the estuary. At low tide, the seals bask on the sand banks in a large group. Sometimes an individual harbour seal may swim up the Tana all the way to Finland.

Both marine plants and species of sunlit inland environments grow on Høyholmen’s dunes. The beach pea and lyme grass are found on the seaward side of the dunes, whereas the Thymus serpyllum tanaensis, a subspecies of wild thyme, and the saltmarsh starwort, a perennial plant found in Arctic regions, thrive on more sheltered sites on the land side. The saltmarsh starwort is presumed to have disappeared in Finland, which is why Høyholmen dunes are a good place for spotting this graceful plant.

Sources and further information

A special thyme species

A subspecies of the wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum tanaënsis) is one of the special plants growing in the Tana area. This dwarf shrub with bright-coloured flowers, a northern subspecies of the wild thyme, grows on the banks of the Tana. It is also known as the Tana thyme: because of its aromatic fragrance, it is used as a cooking herb. This species is believed to have spread to the Tana River valley during a warm period after the Ice Age. Other less common plants found in this area include the fringed pink, Allium schoenoprasum subsp. sibiricum, fragrant woodfern and German tamarisk.

Fragrant pink flowers

Wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum) is a perennial low dwarf shrub that grows in nutrient-poor sunlit meadows and low-nutrient esker forests as well as on sandy beaches and river banks. Its scientific name, serpens, refers to the way this creeping plant grows close to the ground. It blossoms in July and August, producing fragrant pinks flowers.

The wild thyme is believed to have spread to Finland during the post-glacial Ancylus period over 8,000 years ago. The warm climatic conditions of that period were an opportune moment for many plants to colonise the soil uncovered by the melting ice. The current range of many plants growing on eskers and in sandy soils consequently is a relic of their wider distribution during the warm periods after the last Ice Age before the spruce had arrived in this area.

Magic powers

The wild thyme is described as a key species of sunlit environments, as it is an important provider of food for many insects, including baton blue and large blue larvae. These butterflies only lay their eggs in wild thyme flowers, and the larvae only feed on wild thyme. The larvae of the idas blue and silver-studded blue also feed on this plant. The wild thyme consequently provides important habitat for many threatened insects.

The wild thyme is a good honey-producing plant that is also used to season many dishes instead of thyme. Humans have used wild thyme in many ways, for example as a cough medicine and a herb for attracting a bride or chasing demons away. The wild thyme probably draws its power from its pleasant and aromatic scent.

Two subspecies of wild thyme are found in Finland. The southern subspecies (ssp. serpyllum) grows in different parts of southern and central Finland from the west coast to North Karelia, whereas the northern one (ssp. tanaënsis) is found in Inari Lapland along the River Tana and on sandy river banks in Kuusamo. The northern variety has slightly broader, tongue-like leaves and larger flowers than the southern subspecies.

Species-rich River Tana

Other plants typical of this region also grow along the River Tana: the Thalictrum minus ssp. kemense, German tamarisk, Allium schoenoprasum ssp. sibiricum, grassleaf sorrel and fragrant woodfern. The rare fringed pink is found in Utsjoki. It produces beautiful flowers in July and August on sandy and gravelly shores of rivers and old village sites. The fragrant, pale purple flowers are laciniate.

Another plant with pretty flowers in the meadows and shores of Utsjoki is Allium schoenoprasum ssp. sibiricum. It is sometimes found on fishing sites and close to settlement, for example on the western shore of Kenesjärvi Lake around the cabins by the church. As it cannot compete against invasive plants, a precondition for its survival is mowing the village meadows regularly and keeping shore areas open – the greatest threat to this species of open areas is the site being overgrown by grasses.

Rare plants

The Arctic distribution of the extremely rare fragrant woodfern is extensive and stretches almost continuously from the Urals across Siberia to Japan, North America and Greenland. In Europe, this plant is only found in the Urals as well as Utsjoki, where it mostly grows in rocky areas in Kevo National Park. To catch its scent, you must get very close to the plant.

The distribution of the German tamarisk is patchy. It is found in Central Asia, in the Pyrenees and the Alps and their nearby areas in Europe, as well as in Central Sweden and Central and Northern Norway. In Finland, the German tamarisk only grows on two sites in Utsjoki near Pulmankijärvi Lake.

The German tamarisk is a pioneer plant that requires plenty of light and typically grows on gravelly and sandy shores of rivers. The species spreads efficiently to gravelly shores with no vegetation. Sometimes it can be found on sandy roadsides and in gravel pits.

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Flourishing nature on the banks of the Torne

The shores of the River Torne are lush sites for plants, even if the climate here is almost Arctic. The Baltic Sea warms up the southern Torne Valley, to which the river waters have carried nutrient-rich soil over the millennia following the Ice Age. Many nitrophilous plants, including the willowherb and meadowsweet as well as several willow species, grow on the banks and extensive alluvial meadows of the River Torne. The Torne is one of the few rivers in Finland on whose banks the rare almond willow can be found. The willow thrives on river banks kept open by floods and ice and on bare sediment layers.

A border river

The Torne is one of the main rivers in Northern Sweden and Finland and flows along the border between the two countries. The source of this 510-kilometre river is Torneträsk Lake in the Swedish municipality of Kiruna. The upper reaches of the Torne, which consist of several lakes and river sections, start from Torneträsk Lake. Many tributaries, including Lainiojoki, Muonionjoki and Tengeliönjoki as well as Könkämäeno, which starts from Lake Kilpisjärvi, also discharge into the Torne. The waters of the Torne flow into the northernmost corner of the Bothnian Bay between the cities of Tornio and Haparanda.

The surface area of the Torne’s catchment is 40,240 square kilometres, of which 63% is on the Swedish 36% on the Finnish side of the border, while one per cent is in Norway. The climate of this area is mainly Arctic but, due to the great length of the river stretching from north to south, the conditions along it vary greatly. In the bottom corner of the Bothnian Bay, the Baltic Sea keeps the climate warmer with the average yearly temperature of 0 to 1 °C, which in Kilpisjärvi remains below zero at -2.6 °C. The most significant season of the Torne area is winter, which lasts around six months, while the period of snow and ice cover can stretch to as much as seven months.

Vasikkavuoma is the largest natural meadow in Northern Europe

Vasikkavuoma next to the River Torne in Sweden was originally a lake dammed by beavers. As far as we know, humans became active in this 250-hectare area in the 17th century and turned it into an immense meadow: “Life was good, the salmon swam up the river and we could feed the cattle.”

The lush meadow provided plenty of feed for cattle and horses in form of horsetails and hay, which were dried and stored in the 279 barns built in the valley. Vasikkavuoma can indeed be considered a paradise of barns.

As a consequence of the structural change in farming, mowing in the meadow came to an end in the 1950s. After this, the barns started gradually decaying and the meadow became overgrown. Willows gained ground, and meadow vegetation declined. Without efforts to restore the meadow and barns that began in 1997, valuable northern cultural heritage and meadow habitat would have been lost. Vasikkavuoma became a nature reserve in 1999.

Today it boasts 79 restored barns, duckboards, a bird-watching tower and campfire sites. More than 10,000 tourists visit Vasikkavuoma every year. The meadow is managed by mowing and keeping it clear of willows. Cranes, Eurasian whimbrels and meadow pipits nest there. During spring and autumn migrations, whooper swans, geese, ducks and waders congregate there to feed and rest.

Home to rare species

During the millennia after the last Ice Age, large alluvial meadows have developed on the Torne River. The sand, silt and other soils carried by the river waters have gradually sedimented on the shores and in the estuaries of river channels.

Diverse dry meadow vegetation grows on the high dry ridges of the alluvial meadows. Here you can find such species classified as near threatened and endangered as small ferns and moonworts, especially the common moonwort. In dry meadows on Bothnian Bay islands the northern moonwort, which has been classified as endangered, can additionally be found.

Due to the calcareous bedrock, the vegetation on the Torne is diverse and lush. Many species rare in Finland, including the calypso orchid and the lady’s slipper, grow in this area.

Sources and further information

Fishing heritage of Kukkolan­koski

The fishing heritage of Kukkolankoski rapids goes back hundreds of years and has remained viable until modern times. Powan and salmon have been caught in the Torne at least since the 15th century. Kukkolankoski is the largest free-flowing rapids in Europe, and protection efforts have helped the migratory fish populations of the Torne to recover in recent decades. The centuries-old fishing technique of scoop netting is mainly used at Kukkolankoski. The most important fish caught using this method is the powan. The scoop net is a net with a long handle that is pulled along the current following the shapes of the bottom. The technique is based on knowing which way the fish swim. A fisher with sensitive fingers can read the movements of the fish by the handle and lift the netted fish to the shore. Sometimes even salmon may stray into the net.

On both sides of the border

Kukkolankoski is the most famous rapids in the River Torne and the largest free-flowing rapids in Europe. The rapids are 3,500 metres in length and the difference in elevation is 13.5 metres in total. Kukkolankoski is located in Kukkola village, approx. 14 kilometres to the north from Tornio city centre. The village on the banks of Kukkolankoski is divided in two, one half on the Finnish and the other on the Swedish side of the border. The inhabitants on both side of the river share a dialect known as ‘meänkieli’.

Those on the Swedish side promote tourism and foster a traditional milling culture, whereas the Finnish village community focuses on maintaining the historical fishing culture of scoop netting.

Scoop net fishing

Scoop net fishing is a technique that goes back for centuries and is mainly used to catch powan but also salmon. The scoop net is a bag-like net with a long handle. The net is pulled along the current, following the shapes of the bottom. Fishing is based on knowing where the fish swim and rest. As seeing through the water is not possible, the powan or salmon must be guided into the net by feeling the movements of the net. The net is pulled gently in the stream along the stones and the bottom, and a fisher with sensitive fingers can read the movements of the fish by the handle. Traditionally, it is said that the net is an extension of the hand.

Depending on the water height, scoop fishing takes place standing on shoreline rocks or from a dock built for this purpose. The docks make it possible to reach further into the middle of the river.

Changes in powan movements are determined by the water height and flows. The scoop net fisher must know how the fish behave in different situations and to change places as they move along. Scoop netting sites established over the centuries are used in Kukkolankoski, the traditional names of which are passed on from generation to generation.

A salmon river

The free-flowing Torne is the greatest river in the Baltic region with natural salmon, sea trout and migrating powan populations. It is one of the largest preserved spawning rivers of the Atlantic salmon in the Baltic Sea.

Like the other salmon populations in the Gulf of Bothnia, the salmon stock in the Torne declined in the 20th century. Overfishing in the Baltic Sea reduced the number of spawning salmon to a point where the number of hatchlings decreased year by year. The salmon stock was at its lowest point in the 1980s.

While more stringent fishing regulation was gradually brought in, mortality among the young caused by the M74 syndrome slowed down stock recovery. The salmon population was supported by stocking for years, until the numbers of naturally hatched young increased to over one million smolts in the 2000s.

Since 2009, echo sounding has been used to monitor the number of salmon swimming up the river. From year to year, this number has ranged between 17,200 and 100,200 individuals. Studies have found that if the spawning migration starts early in the summer, this usually means that a larger number of individuals do the migration. While the warming climate may impair the living conditions of the salmon, the future of the Torne salmon looks promising. Increasing use of the offshore areas, including the construction of large wind farms throughout the Gulf of Bothnia on both the Finnish and the Swedish side of the sea, may threaten the populations of migratory fish swimming up the Torne in the future.

Story: Scoop net fishermen

”The powan rise up the river in the middle of the summer. You usually get the best catches in July and August. Every evening, villagers and visitors come and watch the traditional sharing out of the catch.

The catch collected in a cool fish warehouse is brought out for sharing. The scoop net fishermen get theirs first. The five men whose turn it was to fish can each select one, and they obviously pick a salmon if they have caught one.

No fish for food have been taken during the shift, so each fisherman can select one fish for dinner. Then the fishermen’s pay is separated into five piles of equal sizes, each one of which amounts to over ten kilograms of powan. The piles are given out by drawing lots. A bystander, often a child, puts the fishermen’s tokens into the boxes. Each one then takes the share indicated by their token.” An extract from Eero Naskali’s description of scoop netting of powan.

From an alien species to a perma­nent popu­lation?

The pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) is an alien species which originated in the northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean and was introduced in the Barents region by the Russians between the 1950s and 1990s. While this species includes populations that rise up the river to spawn in either odd or even years, the populations in the Barents region are mainly those spawning in odd years. The species started increasing exponentially in 2017–2021. Whereas the pink salmon is suspected of being a threat to the wellbeing of the indigenous migratory fish in the rivers discharging into the Barents Sea, so far there is little research evidence of this. The pink salmon is expected to benefit from the warming of the climate in its new range.

Visitors from North America

The pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) is an alien species originating in the northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean in North America and Asia. It is the most numerous of the salmon species in the Pacific Ocean and adapted to spawning and growing in a large variety of different river environments. The pink salmon derives its other name, humpback salmon, from the large hump that the male develops before spawning. It reaches a weight of approx. 1.5 to 2 kilograms.

The pink salmon is a migratory fish that reproduces in a river, while it migrates to the sea for the actual growth phase. The life cycle of the pink salmon is only two years. The species includes populations that rise up the river to spawn in either odd or even years. The spawning time is between July and August, and the small juveniles already migrate to the sea in their first summer while 4 to 5 cm in length.

Unlike the Atlantic salmon, the pink salmon dies after spawning. Before death, the pink salmon starts severely losing condition, which changes the colour and appearance of the fish dramatically. Its silvery colour turns dark, its skin splits and the males grow a large hump. The dying fish are expected to drive eutrophication in rivers in the future as the fish masses decay in shallow waters.

An expanding stock

The Russians have stocked the Baltic Sea, the White Sea and the coast of Murmansk with pink salmon since the 1950s. As in the case of the red king crab, this was done in the hopes of creating a new, commercially viable species.

The new pink salmon stock managed to make the Barents Sea its home in the 1980s. Stocking has indeed succeeded in creating populations that breed in odd years in the wild, especially in rivers discharging into the White Sea. Of these stocks, the pink salmon has in recent years rapidly spread to the west to the Tana and Näätämöjoki Rivers as well as further south to Southern Norway and even Scotland.

The exponential growth of its range in the North Atlantic and strong increase in pink salmon numbers started in 2017. This growth gathered speed in 2021. It was estimated that before 2017, only a few hundred pink salmon had migrated up the Tana a year, whereas this number was put at approx. 5,000 in 2017 and as many as 50,000 in 2021. The proliferation of the pink salmon in the Tana River has been downright explosive.

Will the intruder triumph?

The Atlantic salmon has a considerably slower and more complicated life cycle than the pink salmon. The Atlantic salmon spends on average four years in the Tana and is 17 centimetres in length when it heads out to the sea. The smolts complete an extensive migration to feed in the North Atlantic, all the way to the eastern coast of Greenland. After spending 2 to 5 years in the sea, they return to the river of their birth to spawn. This means that offspring of one year may participate in the spawning migration of up to ten different years.

The stocks of the Tana salmon have declined strongly, and the echo sounding of 2021 revealed that the number of salmon swimming up the Tana has gone down by more than a half in a few years. The reasons for this decline are not known, but the conditions of the smolts in the North Atlantic have changed. Climate change has increased sea water temperature and acidity. Less food is available for the smolts, and their growth in the sea has slowed down and survival rates deteriorated. To protect the Tana salmon, it has been out of bounds for all fishers for a number of years. The objective is to revive the salmon population in the Tana River as was done in the Torne.

Dam failed to stop pink salmon

The numbers of pink salmon already exceed those of the Atlantic salmon in the Tana. Panu Orell, a researcher at Natural Resources Institute Finland, believes that the aggressive pink salmon may disrupt wild salmon breeding. However, little research evidence exists so far of competition between the two species. For the time being, the pink salmon has not impaired the living conditions of the Atlantic salmon in the rivers discharging into the White Sea in Russia. According to the researcher, the situation is improved by the fact that the pink salmon already spawns in August, while the Atlantic salmon only spawns late in the autumn. This difference in timing means that the alien species does not destroy the native salmon’s spawn.

Fish researchers believe that humans can no longer prevent the triumph of the pink salmon in the North Atlantic. However, the Norwegians have set their aim at destroying the pink salmon in the Tana. In summer 2023, they built a pink salmon dam at Tana village. The idea was to remove all pink salmon swimming up the Tana but release the Atlantic salmon back into the river to continue their spawning migration.

In smaller salmon rivers the pink salmon dam has worked well and made it possible to remove any pink salmon trying to make their way up the river. Seine fishing has also been effective in catching pink salmon. In Tana, however, the pink salmon dam did not work as hoped. Most pink salmon, or over 100,000, got through the dam, and the less than 80,000 individuals caught in the dam were less than what had been hoped.

However, the dam partly slowed down the migration of the pink salmon into the Tana and its tributaries. It is presumed that the dam is in the wrong place, and for some reason it scares the Atlantic salmon, which did not try to swim through the opening in the dam and up the river. The Atlantic salmon gathered in a deep section below the dam and only started rising up the river when hatches were opened in the dam.

The fact that the water level was particularly low in the Tana in summer 2023 may also have affected the migration of the Atlantic salmon. The salmon find it more difficult to swim upstream when there is less water in the river. The future success of efforts to control the pink salmon in the Tana and their impact on the Atlantic salmon stocks remain to be seen.

Contentious fish for food

The Russians originally stocked the rivers in the Kola Peninsula with the pink salmon to create a new commercial fish. When caught in the sea or in the early stages of the migration, it is a tasty fish species. At this stage the flesh of the pink salmon is bright red, low in fat and similar to Arctic char in taste. The pink salmon is highly suitable for salting, smoking or frying.

Pink salmon fishing in the sea or a river is pleasant. This fish is keen to grab a bright-coloured lure and puts up a good fight with a fisher equipped with light gear. So far, no attempt has been made to benefit from pink salmon fishing, as efforts are focused on eradicating it as an invasive alien species. Neither have free-time fishers been given a role in catching the undesirable species as part of the campaign to eradicate the pink salmon. Pink salmon could also be used commercially, for example by seine fishing, in the early stages of the migration when its flesh remains in premium condition.

While it is still too early to predict reliably the direction in which the pink salmon situation will develop in the Barents Sea, fish researchers estimate that the pink salmon is here to stay. Rather than reducing in numbers, it appears to spread south to the North Sea and even the Baltic Sea. This is why the most sensible course of action would be to work on an adaptation strategy in cooperation with various parties. This strategy should aim to minimise the harms caused by the pink salmon and to maximise the exploitation of its benefits.

A greedy predator that makes fishermen happy

The cod (Gadus morhua) is found in cold sea areas on both sides of the North Atlantic as well as in the North Sea, the Barents Sea and the Baltic Sea. This greedy predator that lives near the bottom feeds on mussels, benthic animals, crayfish and fish, including the Atlantic herring and the capelin. In the North Atlantic, the cod generally lives at a depth of 100 to 300 metres offshore and close by the coast. In March and April, the cod migrates to the Lofoten to spawn. The freely floating cod eggs develop for around two weeks, after which the hatching young migrate to the north Barents Sea to feed during their first summer. The cod is one of the most important fish species caught in the Nordic countries, and many of its populations, including those in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, are only recovering from a collapse caused by overfishing. The recovery of cod populations has been enabled by fishing regulation and periodic restrictions.

A cannibal

The cod is a common bottom feeder in cold sea areas in the North Atlantic, the North Sea, and southern parts of the Baltic Sea. It is found everywhere from the eastern coast of North America to Greenland and the Spitsbergen as well as the Barents Sea and Novaya Zemlya.

The cod is a large and greedy predatory fish. It may live for up to 25 years, and it normally reaches a length of over one metre and weight of around 5 to 15 kilograms. The largest cod may weigh up to 30 to 50 kilograms. The cod feeds on anything that lives close to the bottom, including mussels, bristle worms, and such arthropods as amphipods, saduria entomon and crabs as well as fish, mainly herring and capelin, which it may hunt in the metalimnion and even close to the surface. The cod is a cannibal, which means that small cod need to watch out for the larger individuals.

The cod stocks in the North Atlantic are divided into regional breeding populations. The most important ones in Europe are the Barents Sea population in Norway and the Icelandic population. Between March and May, cod gather in their spawning grounds, such as the Lofoten. In the breeding season they move around in large shoals, and they usually spawn close to the bottom. The cod releases its eggs in several separate batches. A large female can produce millions of small eggs that float close to the bottom. The young hatch in around two weeks and migrate to northern sea areas to feed.

A reviving population

Recent studies have found that the north Arctic Ocean is warming up approx. four times faster than the global average. As the Arctic Ocean is warming and the cod population recovering, the cod is making its way to increasingly large areas in the north and east towards Russia’s Arctic Coast.

Due to overfishing by Norwegian, Russian and EU fleets, the fish stocks in the Barents Sea collapsed in the 1990s. Strict fishing restrictions have allowed cod populations to recover, however. Cod fishing in the Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea is today sustainable. North Sea cod has been recovering in recent years but is still suffering from overfishing. The cod stocks of the Baltic Sea, on the other hand, have collapsed completely, and in places it has been necessary to stop fishing them completely. The Baltic Sea cod stock is also affected by breeding problems due to oxygen depletion near the seabed and decreased salinity of the brackish water in the Baltic.

One of the most important threats to the cod populations in the Barents Sea in the future is the westward onslaught of the red king crab. This is why efforts to prevent the spread of the red king crab to such areas as the Lofoten, which are vital for cod reproduction, have been made by intensive catching of crabs. If the red king grab reaches the Lofoten, it will feed on the cod spawn and be likely to cause a large-scale collapse of the cod stock.

Story: Lucky fishermen

Winter fishing for cod is fun and exciting. The best way to catch cod is to fish through the ice close by the coast at a depth of around 50 to 100 metres. A silvery or otherwise bright, elongated piece of metal with hooks is sufficient as a lure. Octopus-shaped hooks can also be attached to it, and several cods may grab them at the same time.

While the echo sounder may show plenty of fish close to the bottom, you never know if the cod are biting or not. This can be pretty frustrating for the fisher if none of the fish will take the lure, and changing the bait does not help, either.

When I was in Andenes in the Northern Lofoten in spring 2022, the cod was just not biting during the best spawning time. None of us caught more than a single cod every now and then, even if boats went out every day to try and lure them. Then one beautiful and calm spring day everything changed. All you had to do was lower your hook close to the bottom and a large cod grabbed it straight away. Everyone got as many fish as they cared to lift out of the sea. In that situation you just have to keep a cool head and stop fishing when you have more fish than you can process and eat within a reasonable time.

Riku Lumiaro

Invaders of the coast

Alien species are a growing global threat to biodiversity. Hogweeds are declared an invasive alien species in the EU and Norway. At the best sites, this plant forms large and dense colonies, real hogweed forests, which suffocate all other vegetation. The Persian hogweed has spread far and wide along the Northern Norwegian coast and in places become a downright pest for both humans and the northern environment. Controlling the hogweed is difficult, as to eradicate it, the plant has to be pulled up repeatedly over several years or the soil needs to be covered, for example with a sheet of plastic. A single individual additionally produces thousands of seeds capable of germinating that are preserved in the soil seed bank for years.

From ornamental plant to alien species

Hogweeds originate in the Caucasus and Southwest Asia. Their names give indications of their appearance and origin: the giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) comes from the Western Caucasus, the Persian hogweed (Heracleum persicum) from the region of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, and the Sosnowsky’s hogweed (Heracleum sosnowskyi) from the Caucasus.

The Persian hogweed was introduced as a garden plant in Norway in the 1830s. From gardens it gradually spread into the wild along the Northern Norwegian coast in the 20th century. It often grows close by human settlements in villages and cities. The giant hogweed was introduced as a decorative plant in England in 1817, from where it spread across the Nordic countries.

The history of Sosnowsky’s hogweed in Europe differs from the others. It appears that it was first brought to a botanical garden in the Kola Peninsula in the 1930s. It was used as animal feed in Eastern Europe and especially the former Soviet region, including the Baltic countries and the Karelian Isthmus.

A threat to biodiversity

Hogweeds are well able to hold their own in competition against other plants, which is why they have spread to many types of habitats, including fields, field margins, forests and shores. At the best sites, this plant forms large and dense colonies, so-called hogweed forests, which suffocate all other vegetation. Hogweeds also affect other organisms. The chemical compounds secreted by Sosnowsky’s hogweed, for instance, affect the roundworm communities in the soil and reduce their numbers.

Hogweed forests make the landscape more homogeneous and reduce biodiversity. A large colony of hogweeds may also completely prevent the recreational use of a site, such as fishing, walking along river banks or pursuing outdoor activities near the plants. Touching a hogweed may cause serious health harms. When plant sap comes into contact with skin and reacts with sunlight, symptoms similar to a burn that are slow to heal or even permanent may occur on the skin.

Eradicating hogweeds is labour-intensive and requires long-term measures. The control measures should be started in the spring while the plants are still small. Individual plants can be destroyed by cutting the main root with a spade at the depth of approx. 20 cm, or by digging the root out completely. Small plants can also be pulled up in their first year. On larger sites, repeated mowing prevents the plant from performing photosynthesis and gathering nutrients, gradually reducing its vitality. Hogweeds can be prevented from multiplying by breaking of the flower head, which stops the seeds from developing and building up a seed bank in the soil. Sufficient protective equipment should be used when eradicating hogweeds.

Lupins spread rapidly

Lupins have started spreading in the vicinity of villages and cities as well as on roadsides, especially on the Northern Norway coasts but also in Swedish and Finnish Lapland. As yet, the situation is not as bad as further south where the triumph of the large-leaved lupin can no longer be stopped.

The large-leaved lupin, which has been classified as an invasive alien species (Lupinus polyphyllus) was introduced from North America to Europe as a garden and fodder plant in 1826. In the Nordic countries, its spread in the wild was observed as early as the late 19th century. The spread of the large-leaved lupin gained momentum in the 1980s and 1990s, in which period it was actively planted on such sites as roadsides and city parks.

The large-leaved lupin mainly spreads from seeds that are scattered in its surroundings along with the mowing of roadside vegetation, through transport of soil and in garden waste. You often see this plant spreading from a garden to nearby habitats.

Eradicating the large-leaved lupin is difficult as new plants keep coming up from the soil seed bank for years. Getting rid of this plant consequently requires sustained measures for an extended period. Breaking off or mowing the flower heads before the seeds mature is a good way of preventing the seeds from spreading. If lupins are mowed several times a summer, this gradually reduces their vitality and finally eradicates them.

The Nootka lupin (Lupinus nootkatensis) grows on gravelly sand banks of the coast and rivers as well as on dry slopes in North America. The Nootka lupin is an invasive alien species that was introduced in Europe as early as the late 18th century, at which time it was cultivated in England as an ornamental plant. It made its way to Sweden and Norway in the mid-19th century. The Nootka lupin also spreads from seeds which are preserved in the soil seed bank for long periods.

Further south in Norway, the Nootka lupin continues to spread on beaches and along roads and railways. Further north in Troms and Finnmark regions the Nootka lupin spreads from gardens to nearby habitats, whereas in Swedish and Finnish Lapland the Nootka lupin still remains relatively rare.

So far, the spread of the lupin has not got out of hand in the northern Barents region, but climate change and increasing anthropogenic activity, including civil engineering, transport and gardening, speed up the advancement of this plant in the wild.

Sources and further information

Ice free coast

On the coasts of Northern Norway, Arctic nature meets the Barents Sea, or the southern reaches of the Arctic Ocean. While the northernmost region along the coast, Finnmark, is located to the north of the Arctic circle, the Gulf Stream and the trade winds blowing across the Atlantic keep it free from ice. The warming influence of the sea can be seen in many ways. Human settlements and villages are mainly found on a narrow strip of land between the mountains, fells and the sea. The coastal environment is also highly biodiverse due to the milder winters.

From pears to potatoes

The climate on the Norwegian coasts is relatively mild considering the country’s northern location. The total length of the Norwegian coast is 2,650 kilometres from the North Sea in Southern Sweden all the way to the Varangerfjord on the Russian border. Along the coasts of Northern Norway, the North Atlantic segues into the Barents Sea, or the southern reaches of the Arctic Ocean.

Along the long and fragmented coast scarred by fjords, the southern boreal coniferous zone turns into treeless tundra. In the deciduous forest zones along the coasts of Southern Norway, it is possible to grow enough apples and pears for sale, whereas in Finnmark region in the north the only crops are feed for the cattle and potatoes for household use. Such mammal species of the deciduous forest zone as the red deer and wild boar roam Southern Norway, whereas the reindeer, which is a tame deer, is the only animal that can survive in the northern tundra. The range of habitats on the Norwegian coast is large.

The sea brings a livelihood

The warming influence of the Gulf Stream extends all the way to the north and the Finnmark region. Many southern plant species grow close by the sea, including the ostrich fern, tansy and red campion as well as thriving pine forests that are a rare sight in the Arctic region. Tromsø boasts the northernmost botanical gardens of the world with a collection of flowering plants from cold regions around the globe. The pride of the gardens are Himalayan blue poppies known for their beautiful sky-blue flowers. They are best grown in cold conditions.

The sea has always been the main source of livelihoods for humans living on the coast. Fishing, whaling, small-scale agriculture and sheep farming were the main coastal industries in the past. Today oil and gas drilling, hydroelectricity and wind power production, construction, shipping, tourism and fish farming have replaced traditional livelihoods, apart from fishing.

Winds of change

The daily lives of people have changed considerably over the last 50 years. Small coastal villages have evolved into busy port cities connected by regular ferry and boat services. While life in remote fishing villages used to be isolated, they can now be reached by car along gigantic bridges and tunnels. Increased tourism has also changed both the lives and livelihoods of local people. The villages in the Lofoten may have many times more tourists than locals in the summer. Improvement in telecommunications has made remote work possible even in the most far-flung villages.

Changing habitats

The coastal environment of Northern Norway is undergoing constant change due to increasing human activity. Fewer pristine wildernesses remain, and nature, especially animals, has had to adapt to habitat change caused by humans. As people spend more time outdoors, habitats are affected by wear and tear as well as littering.

Many sea birds, including the black-legged kittiwake, puffin or northern gannet, may nest in the vicinity of cities or even in city centres. In summer 2023, bird flu killed tens of thousands of seagulls and other sea birds in Finnmark region, leaving entire bird communities deserted. Black-legged kittiwakes, in particular, almost completely disappeared from many nesting sites, such as Vadsøya island. The recovery of these bird populations is expected to take decades.

Traces of humans

Some species are affected by a strong increase in energy production, in particular. Sea eagles are bashed to death by wind turbine blades, and such marine mammals as whales and seals avoid oil drilling platforms and offshore wind farms due to increasing underwater noise. For example, sensitive hearing is vital for whales as they use echolocation for underwater navigation and communication.

The accelerating climate change makes it more difficult for northern habitats to adapt to anthropogenic environmental change and, for example, alters the typical annual cycle of microscopic planktonic organisms in the marine ecosystem. The impact of this is reflected on the fish fauna, bird life and whales and seals at the top of the food chain. One way or another, humans are present everywhere in the natural environment of the Barents region.

Sources and further information

Climate change in the north

In the Barents region, climate change is already visible both in nature and in people’s daily lives. The winters are milder, and very low sub-zero temperatures are less frequent. The first snow falls a few weeks later in the autumn, whereas the spring snowmelt does not come earlier to the same extent because the winter may bring plenty of snow. Unlike winters, the summers have not grown warmer, even if the temperature sum, or the accumulated temperature, of the summer days has increased. For example, summer 2022 was particularly warm in the Barents region, and a number of consecutive days in July brought temperatures exceeding + 25 degrees Celsius.

In nature, the warming of the climate is seen as lusher growth in general and changing habitats, such open areas as fell tops and meadows becoming overgrown with shrubs, scrub and trees, melting of permafrost and changes in flora and fauna. The golden jackal, a non-native species from Central Europe, has already been spotted in Finnmark in Northern Norway.

Foxes have spread to the open fells, pushing out Arctic foxes. Rock ptarmigans and willow ptarmigans have declined, and common wood pigeons from the south have become more widespread. Most changes affecting species concern insects unknown to the general public and rare plants. Almost one out of two open fell species is already endangered, and this development is accelerating as the climate warms up and extreme weather phenomena become more frequent.

The environment is now changing at such a rapid rate that over one human generation, open fells become overgrown with young forest, a lake with clear waters turns a turbid brown, and cyprinids, perches and pikes swim into the fish trap instead of salmon. In the future, majestic palsa mounds will only be a memory documented in stories and old photographs. The onset of winter will be more difficult to predict, and long, mild spells may occur in midwinter, bringing rain instead of snow. Early winter will seem even darker as the fragile light reflected from the snow is replaced by black earth.

The lack of snow will cut the cross-country and downhill skiing season short. As outdoor exercise is less attractive in winter, this will also have mental health impacts. Faced with a dark, snowless landscape, more people may suffer from the seasonally affective disorder and lose their joy of life.

The Barents region continues to grow warmer

New research has found that the Arctic region, which comprises the northernmost part of the Barents region, is warming up faster than the rest of the planet. Northern sea areas are the worst affected. The greatest driver of the increased warming of the Arctic region is late autumn and early winter, a period during which the warm surface of the sea, which is partly ice free as a result of climate change, releases heat into the atmosphere.

The research also found that current climate models are struggling to simulate the fact that the Arctic region is warming up four times faster. This means that the changes may be greater than we have been able to predict so far.

As a result of climate change, temperatures will go up, precipitation increase and the period of snow cover become shorter. According to predictions, the climate appears to change more in winter than summer. Wintertime changes will have a dramatic impact on nature in the Barents region, including the survival of winter and autumnal moths as the winters grow milder. This will accelerate the disappearance of mountain birch forests and enable the tree line to climb up to the open fells as extreme winter conditions occur less frequently. The temperature increase in the north will exceed the global average. The average temperature in the Barents region has so far gone up by approx. two degrees Celsius.

Should the greatest part of the world comply reasonably well with the emissions reductions agreed in the Paris Agreement (SSP2-4.5 scenario), the temperatures in the Cap of the North would increase by 4 to 5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial era, or over two degrees compared to today’s situation.

With no emissions restrictions (SSP5-8.5 scenario) the temperature would go up by as much as seven degrees compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. People have awakened to the threat of climate change, however, which is why this scenario cannot be considered likely.

If extremely strict climate policy were complied with everywhere in the world (SSP1-2.6 scenario), which would mean reducing carbon dioxide emissions from energy production, mobility, construction, food production and consumption dramatically in industrialised and developing countries, the warming would stop at 3 to 4 degrees compared to pre-industrial values. This scenario, too, is unlikely as emissions tend to increase, and the global consumption of such fossil fuels as oil keeps growing strongly. Over the last ten years, the annual growth in oil consumption has meant that every year, daily consumption has increased from the previous year by a volume of oil that would fill around one million swimming pools.


Changes in average annual temperature in Scandinavia to the north of the Polar Circle, or northern Barents region from the 1950s till the 2080s. The black non-continuous graph (Observed) describes the average measured temperature in the region evened out over 11 years.

The coloured graphs indicate future temperatures simulated by climate change models in the northern Barents region:

  • The red dotted line (Large emissions) describe warming if the increasing greenhouse gas emissions are not restricted at all (SSP5-8.5 scenario).
  • The blue continuous line (Medium emissions) is currently believed to be the most likely trend. It shows roughly what would happen if the commitments to emissions reductions already made by various countries were complied with fully but more stringent restrictions were not introduced. This would, for instance, mean that the EU and the United States would be carbon neutral in 2050, China in 2060 and India in 2070 (SSP2-4.5 scenario).
  • The green dotted line (Small emissions) describes the situation presuming the introduction of extremely stringent emissions restrictions with a wide coverage from energy production, mobility, construction, food production and consumption, to which there is no extensive global commitment as yet (SSP1-2.6 scenario).
  • The scale on the left shows deviations (in degrees) from average temperatures in 1961–1990. The scale on the right shows approximately how much the temperatures would have increased compared to pre-industrial times.

Information on the underlying calculations of the graphs

(a) Changes based on observations (black graph)

The graph is based on E-OBS analyses produced in European cooperation (Haylock et al., 2008, version 23). The analyses are shown in a grid and they were calculated on the basis of temperatures observed in different parts of Europe. Based on the temperatures produced by the analysis, the average temperatures of each year were calculated; based on these average temperatures, deviations from average temperatures in 1961–1990 were calculated; and on the basis of these values, regional averages were produced for the Cap of the North (area to the north of the Polar Circle in Finland, Norway and Sweden). Finally, a moving average over 11 years was calculated based on these regional averages for temperature deviations.

(b) Changes based on modelling results (coloured graphs)

These graphs are based on the averages of the results produced by 28 climate change models calculated by us (Ruosteenoja and Jylhä, 2021). On the basis of the modelling results, deviations compared to 1961–1990 and the regional averages for Northern Scandinavia were calculated as in point a.

(c) Temperature deviation scales of the figure

The figure shows two scales indicating temperature deviations. The scale on the left is the ‘actual situation’, and it describes both the observed and modelled deviation from the average temperature in 1961–1990.

The scale on the right, on the other hand, describes the estimated change in temperatures compared to pre-industrial times. As there is actually no accurate information on temperatures in that period, this really is just a rough estimate. In fact, this scale does not differ very much from the one on the left, as the period 1961–1990 was relatively cold; at this point, the greenhouse gas emissions had not yet warmed the climate to a great extent, and besides, the harsh winters of the late 1960s and mid-1980s fall into this period.


Haylock MR, Hofstra N, Klein Tank AMG, Klok EJ, Jones PD, New
M. 2008. A European daily high-resolution gridded dataset of surface
temperature and precipitation for 1950-2006. J. Geophys. Res.
113(D20): D20119, doi:10.1029/2008JD010201.

Ruosteenoja K, Jylhä K. 2021. Projected climate change in Finland
during the 21st century calculated from CMIP6 model
simulations. Geophysica 56: 39-69.


Increasing temperatures

  • Temperatures will go up, especially in winter.
  • Very low temperatures would seem to occur less frequently.
  • Heat waves will become more common and last longer.
  • Maximum temperatures are likely to increase.
  • The growing season will become longer and warmer.

Increased precipitation

  • Precipitation will increase especially in winter, and over time, the proportion of rain will also grow gradually.
  • More intense rainstorms in summer are likely to be more prominent than the increase in average precipitation.
  • The longest periods with no precipitation in winter and spring will grow somewhat shorter.

Reduced snow cover and soil frost

  • The period of snow cover will be shorter.
  • The snow cover will be thinner.
  • The period of soil frost will be shorter.

Increased cloudiness and reduced sunshine

  • Winters will be even cloudier, and sunshine will be seen less often.
  • Cloudiness in spring will remain more or less unchanged or be reduced slightly.

Through the eyes of the gyrfalcon

The young gyrfalcon learned the basics of hunting in her parents territory. Her first catch was a young willow grouse that she managed to grab on the edge of the mire. A sibling, who happened to be flying nearby, would have liked a share of the catch. A few angry pecks and wing strikes got the message through: everyone catches their own food.


As the leaves of mountain birches turned yellow, the gyrfalcon headed south one morning. She flew across Finland in a few days. The fieldfare caught in a field had a strange taste. The gyrfalcon continued on, all the way to Danish coastal dunes, and spent the winter there hunting for waders and ducks. Practice made her an ever more skilful hunter as she chased after fast-flying northern lapwings and Eurasian oystercatchers capable of tight turns in the air.

As the leaves of mountain birches turned yellow, the gyrfalcon headed south one morning. She flew across Finland in a few days. The fieldfare caught in a field had a strange taste. The gyrfalcon continued on, all the way to Danish coastal dunes, and spent the winter there hunting for waders and ducks. Practice made her an ever more skilful hunter as she chased after fast-flying northern lapwings and Eurasian oystercatchers capable of tight turns in the air.


The gyrfalcon drifted around Northern Norway all summer, until she found a spectacular rock ledge in the mountain uplands of Finnmark with no angry older gyrfalcons knocking around. The open terrain of the uplands was a great place for rock ptarmigan hunting. The gyrfalcon decided to settle down.

Weeks went by, until one day she noticed above the open fells a light-coloured point that was flying fast straight towards her. The gyrfalcon took to her wings with the intention of chasing the intruder away. But the strange, slightly smaller gyrfalcon persisted. He kept dodging the attacks and refused to go away. Finally the tired falcons sat on the ledge side by side.

Life goes on

The gyrfalcons played around all winter, mated and built a nest on the rock ledge. In April, she laid three eggs. Incubating was a new, interesting experience for her, especially when things got busy in May. She hatched two chicks, and the male carried rock ptarmigans, willow ptarmigans and a few golden plovers to the nest. The hungry chicks demanded more and more food, and the female also had to leave the nest and go hunting in the mountain uplands.

As summer turned to autumn, both chicks had finally grown enough to take to their faltering wings. The gyrfalcon’s job was nearly finished. One more effort, and as the bearberries turned a lovely red colour, the couple could settle down for a quiet winter.