In this article, entitled Hjorteviltforvaltning i Norge (Deer management in Norway), Dr. Duncan Halley and Dr. Erling Solberg of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research describe the framework for deer management and wildlife management in Norway.

Dr. Duncan Halley was born and educated in Scotland. He moved to Norway in 1993, where he works on wildlife management, restoration ecology, and Scotland/Norway landscape management comparisons. Dr. Erling Solberg is a leading researcher on deer management in Norway and an active hunter. They are research ecologists at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Norway’s leading applied ecology institute (www.nina.no). Contact: duncan.halley@nina.no 

The Scottish Government’s proposed land reform bill contains a very modest proposal for improving the democratic accountability in relation to the management of this public resource by private interests. To achieve a wildlife management system fit for the 21st century, however, more fundamental reform is needed. The Norwegian experience offers some insight into what might be involved.

Guest Blog by Duncan Halley & Erling Solberg, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

Land Reform legislation in 2015 will include strengthened powers to allow the authorities to regulate deer populations in Scotland. Further action is promised from 2016 if the current voluntary system “has not produced a step change in the delivery of effective deer management”.

It seems likely that action would follow the precedent set in the recent Wild Fisheries Review, where the remit was to:

“develop and promote a modern, evidence-based management system for wild fisheries fit for purpose in the 21st century, and capable of responding to the changing environment”;

and

“manage, conserve and develop our wild fisheries to maximise the sustainable benefit of Scotland’s wild fish resources to the country as a whole and particularly to rural areas”.

Here we present a brief look at what a modern system, functioning not far from Scotland, can look like. South West Norway is on the same latitude as Northern Scotland and is similar in landforms and climate – hilly to mountainous and highly oceanic. The deer resource in the region is mainly red and roe deer, though there are also some moose and reindeer. (1) Here we discuss the system as it applies to red and roe deer.

Landowners in Norway, as in Scotland, do not own the wildlife on their land but do own the hunting rights to game animals such as red and roe deer, and the carcasses that legal hunting produces. These rights can be, and in many cases are, sold.

Modern deer management in Norway is the result of development and refinement over many decades. The core of the system is a partnership of government, landowners, and hunters, each with a defined role. This is backed by professional wildlife management skills, monitoring of harvests and populations to provide high quality data for future management, and binding harvest management plans which regulate and maintain population levels of the national game resource in accordance with democratically accountable national, regional and local goals. This has included in some regions managed reductions in populations to ensure natural forest regeneration (which local and regional authorities are required to plan for, and landowners to achieve, see below).

The system has been effective in managing the resource at sustainable levels, which take into account wider environmental, social and economic interests. It enjoys broad public support.

The government has been keen to encourage a market for wild game meat. Food Safety Authority regulations for sale of meat on the open market by hunting rights owners, hunting teams, and/or individual hunters are simple and the system efficient. This has considerably expanded the market, to the benefit of hunting rights owners, hunters, and consumers.

Image: Hunting in Norway (Erling Solberg)

Who does what?

The Norwegian Environment Agency oversees the regulation of the system. It determines and finances research and monitoring requirements and determines the normal hunting seasons.

The Regional authorities (fylkeskommuner) are responsible for building management competence at local level among Municipalities (kommuner) and landowners, for guidance on population management at a regional level in accordance with wider societal goals such as biodiversity, prevention of overgrazing, and road safety; and for overseeing coordination among hunting rights owners and local councils to attain regional management goals. (2)

Municipalities (kommuner) have the authority and responsibility for managing local harvest levels in accordance with overall regional goals and with directing harvest levels at a local level with regard to minimizing conflicts with e.g. traffic safety, biodiversity, woodland regeneration, agriculture, and public enjoyment of nature. They issue the final harvest permits, can extend the usual hunting season, and must report permit levels and actual harvests to the National Deer Register. They may also report results of local monitoring. Section 9 of the Forest Law of 2005 mandates that Municipalities (kommuner) investigate deer damage to woodland regeneration and incorporate this in harvest management planning.

The owners of hunting rights are responsible for population regulation through a binding harvest plan for the hunting beat (vald), a defined area of land for which a named individual is responsible for relations with the authorities; and for coordination with neighbouring beats. They must also comply with Section 6 of the Forest Law of 2005, which requires satisfactory levels of woodland regeneration following any harvest of wood.

The police and National Nature Inspectorate have a legal right to inspect hunters in the field (to check licences, etc.), which may be delegated to Municipality (kommune) hunting monitors. Municipalities (kommuner) can require that harvested deer are brought to designated points for inspection.

Setting Harvest levels

Data on deer populations is collected centrally and maintained by the National Deer Register (www.hjortevilt.no) on a public internet database. This data, and the population plan submitted by the hunting rights owner, is the basis for determining harvest permit levels for each beat. Deer may not be hunted without a harvest permit.

Permits are issued by the Municipalities (kommuner) to the hunting rights owner, based on the tools available at the National Deer Register website, local consultations, and the population management plan for the beat submitted by the owner.

A population management plan for up to 5 years ahead (may be for a shorter period) is obligatory and can be for one or more (contiguous) beats. It must specify annual harvests (stags and hinds by age group), often in the form of a minimum % of younger animals and a maximum of older ones. The authorities must approve these plans, and in particular must ensure harvest levels are in accordance with local, regional and national population management goals. Approval can be withheld for not being compatible with, or withdrawn for failure to achieve in practice, these goals.

In the absence of an approved plan the Municipality (kommune) sets a harvest quota in accordance with local and regional and national population management goals.

Image: Hunting in Norway. Taking a meal break (Erling Solberg)

Using harvest permits

The owner of the hunting rights may use him/herself, give away, or sell any part or all of the permitted offtake in a free market. Typically, the sale of hunting rights is financially structured by the owner in a way that gives a strong incentive to achieve the required offtake, as the owner remains legally responsible for achieving offtake levels.

Reporting requirements

Each hunting beat must report annually offtake levels broken down by age and sex, within 14 days of the end of the hunting season. These are publically available in the National Deer Register.

The hunter individually must also, when required by the authorities, report the number, age, and sex of harvested deer; report total numbers of deer seen; and provide specified animal parts (typically one side of the lower jaw) for verification of harvest levels, population monitoring, and research purposes.

Training requirements

All hunters resident in Norway must pass a written exam on hunting law and regulation, reporting requirements, species identification, and firearms safety to obtain a hunter’s licence. They must also pass a test of shooting accuracy every year at an approved firing range.

Non-resident hunters may hunt if they can produce equivalent qualifications from their home country.

Image: Grouse shooting and fishing for char and trout (Erling Solberg)

Financing the system

To hunt in Norway a hunter must purchase an annual Hunter’s Fee Card from the central government. This is separate from any fees paid to the owner of hunting rights. Hunters also pay tag fees for each red deer harvested to the Municipality (kommune). There is no tag fee for roe deer. The revenue generated is dedicated to running the management system and to support local game promotional projects.

Norway is of course socially different to Scotland, and has had a different institutional history. Introducing a modern system of deer management would have to take this into account. However, the principle of managing a public resource for the common good through a democratically accountable system, on the basis of solid information on actual populations and on the population levels which will maximize that common good, and where landowners have the right to the offtake determined and the responsibility for achieving it, is fully transferable. A system attaining these goals and enjoying broad public support is achievable, and can be achieved.

A working example can be seen an hour’s flight from Scotland.

NOTES

(1) Moose were native to Scotland. It is probable that reindeer became extinct naturally, as suitable habitat is restricted for climatic reasons.

(2) There is a two tier system of local government in Norway in some ways analogous to the former Scottish Regional/District system. The powers at each level are more extensive than was the case in Scotland. Municipalities have an average population of 11,800 compared to 163,000 per local authority in Scotland.

11 Comments

  1. William Ferguson

    Interesting read. I think one of the most important items was how socially and institutionally different we are. But as a nation that is probably something we need to address anyway. But over the decades there has been much mismanagement and indeed many success stories in land management. Leadership from the top is always a good start but localisation would be essential for effective implementation. The institutional aspect is important if not crucial. A centralised Forestry Commission in many ways has been just as detrimental as absentee landlords have. A good dose of rural pragmatism is needed I think…

    Reply

    • Despite the regrettable amalgamation of Forestry Commission Forest Districts over the years into ever larger units, ever more remote from their communities, even the present structure could form the basis of a reformed and accountable public forest estate.

      Each Forest District could be semi-autonomous and managed to reflect local priorities. Importantly, they could be made accountable by being directed by a locally elected Board. It is ironic that despite the inadequacies of local government structure in Scotland, I still have 4 elected councillors I can call on within my ward to represent the interests of my community. Despite ambitions for 25% forest cover, much of which will be public forest, no such equivalent representatives exist for the FC. Even at a national level, Forestry Commissioners are appointed not elected.

      Such a change would help shift the currently skewed balance between the ‘national’ interest and that of local communities. At present, forestry over large parts of the Highlands is managed for the benefit of external interests rather than local stakeholders. Huge sums are spent for example subsidising timber transport out of the area for centralised processing rather than investing in a more local rural development model of forestry.

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  2. An interesting article, a word of caution over the hunting certificates etc, a good idea in principle, but what makes me cautious is that in the UK, toff organisations such as the British Deer Society have suggested that they should have some sort of control over this sort of thing, when obviously what everyone else wants is for power to be wrested away from the estate owners.

    Reply

    • Agreed, any regulatory body should be independent of any vested interest but how do you achieve that when whatever is done the usual suspects always seem to end up holding the reins!

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    • “… what everyone else wants is for power to be wrested away from the estate owners.” What evidence do you have, Strathpuffer, for that assertion?

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      • Common knowledge ! certainly no one in my area especially likes them , I’m sure if a Scotland wide survey were conducted – this would be born out statistically.

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        • I don’t believe you have any evidence to support what you’ve said. but if a Scotland wide survey were conducted, ignorance would certainly prevail.

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  3. absolutely a brilliant and transferable model that would form the basis of an adaptable model to Scotland. particularly impressive is the way that it integrates with forest management and eco-protection. I hope this is introduced into Scotland after the 2016 election.

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  4. Interesting article and a system that I have seen working in practice as I often went walking and skiing in Trondelag and Dovre, while living in Trondheim for a few years. The main difference I saw between hunting in UK and in Norway is social, strongly related to land ownership.

    To generalise from my (possibly limited) experience, in mid-Norway the hunting ground is usually owned by a community, region or national government, and permits are issued to private huntsmen, as described in the article. This puts huntsmen in much the same position as other outdoor enthusiasts, and huntsmen can be correspondingly from as many sections and classes of society as, say, mountain bikers or kayakers. They do have to pass qualifications before getting permits, however, and demonstrate responsibility with weapons, so this adds a layer of commitment and bureaucracy.

    While they expect silence and space, the huntsmen do not have the airs and entitlement of land-owners, and they are as approachable as almost any other recreational user of a sparsely peopled land. Sometimes my walk would be interrupted by long interested conversations with huntsmen withiut the touch of master-servant or of trespass that you find in Scotland. It is perhaps closer to the way in which hunting is organised in the Eastern US, without the survivalist overtones.

    Permits were sometimes managed or gathered by local hunting clubs or hotels for local use or for organising hunting trips for tourists, much at the same level as organising snow-mobile trips. One huntsman at Roros told me that, in ignorance of the local beasts, an Italian party had shot two sheep before being forceably stopped by their guide!

    All-in-all, as in comparison to so many things Norwegian, the Scottish set up just looked disfunctional, inequal and needlessly tied to privilege and ownership.

    Reply

    • In many ways here, Alan, you’re absolutely bang on. There are huge cultural differences in the context of how hunting is run and to a large extent that is due to historic differences in land ownership between Norway and Scotland. I spent quite a few years on the periphery of sporting lets here and handled a lot of foreign clients. I’ll write up my views tomorrow when I’ll have some time.

      Reply

  5. Duncan Halley has done us a great service here and as someone who has been using the Norwegian analogue since 1984, it’s great to have the extra detail he brings to the table. The basic bioclimatic and geo-botanical similarities, especially to the counties of Vestlandet are very obvious, but these are things we cannot change. Luckily however we write history and culture as we go along and the social, economic and political changes required, not to copy Norway directly, but to develop our own system, taking this example into account, are entirely within our grasp and remit.

    The current land tenure system( crudely ; square miles per landowner compared to landowners per square mile in Norway), the social attitudes that support it and political-economic system that sustains it has to go. The quasi-feudal Victorian-Edwardian anachronism has to be replaced with an extensive modern democratic private tenure system, national parks/reserves owned outright by the nation and supported not by commissions and authorities but by SERVICES as per not only Fennoscandia, but North America etc and by truly empowered local political administrations.

    Reply

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