During the corona pandemic, many have “rediscovered” nature as a sanctuary. When you can not meet each other, you can always meet nature. It makes no demands, and it is open 24 hours a day and free of charge.
This is a chronicle. The chronicle expresses the writer’s attitude. You can submit articles and debate posts to VG here.
SIGMUND HÅGVAR, Professor Emeritus of Nature and Environmental Protection, NMBU
We are building down nature like never before. Intact mountain forest is turned over by machines and transformed into large cottage towns with road systems and ditches. Nature-destroying wind power changes the entire landscape. Several municipalities lose much of their natural heritage, but the loss is not recorded. After all, it is only when nature has been transformed and “developed” that it acquires value?
However, the so-called “prairie phase”, where one could uninhibitedly deal with infinite areas, is also over in Norway. Real nature has become a scarce resource – especially larger, contiguous areas. We are in one conflict phase where various development interests stand against a bunch of green values: biological diversity, conservation interests, ecosystem services, recreation and outdoor life.
Nature is a vulnerable resource. A lost wilderness cannot be recreated. A felled primeval forest is no longer a natural document, and both red list species and experience values have been lost. A bog that is drained and dried is destroyed as a pollen archive, as a carbon store, as a flood absorber or water source, and as a habitat for plants and animals. The area of intact nature is a finite resource that cannot be increased, only kept constant or decreased.
In the 1970s, for example, the protection of the legendary Vassfaret escaped with a residual population of bears. Now road systems, felling areas and cabin fields fill up the forest valley that inspired Mikkjel Fønhus to write his classic wilderness descriptions. In fact, we show greater respect for the old nature pictures in the National Gallery than for the landscapes that were modeled. In southern Norway, only 5 per cent of the areas are now more than five km from heavier encroachments on nature, such as roads, railways, power lines or regulated watercourses.
Fragmentation and consumption of nature is the main reason why species and habitat types end up on the red lists. In a long-term perspective, only state protected areas are secured against technical interventions. We manage the Norwegian wild reindeer, for which we have an international responsibility. It is getting its habitats increasingly restricted and divided.
At the major international environmental summit in Rio in 1992, Norway was one of the most eager countries to sign both the Biodiversity Convention and the Climate Convention. Both conventions have since increased in importance, and Norway has produced binding reports to the Storting. But the practical follow-up is weak, especially on the biodiversity side. Both the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis must be solved – at the same time.
Since all areas are located in municipalities, and all red list species live in municipalities, the way in which the municipalities manage their areas through the Planning and Building Act is decisive. The Solberg government gave the municipalities great freedom, and the state administrators (formerly the county governors) were asked not to interfere in the municipalities’ land use. In addition, the important planning department was removed from the Ministry of Climate and the Environment and added to the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization. All this caused the previously so important command structure in nature conservation to collapse. On top of this, almost all municipalities have laid off their nature conservation consultants, who had expertise in thinking long-term and ecologically. Then the municipalities often fail to follow up on national and international obligations, but are tempted by short-term interests.
Nature conservation organizations now require that each municipality must have an overview of its habitat types, and keep an area account. Lost nature must be booked here, damaged bogs must be included in the carbon budget, and damaged nature must be compensated by the protection of the corresponding area elsewhere. There is talk of “area neutrality”. Municipalities should also cooperate better across municipal boundaries to ensure contiguous natural areas. Where possible, one should try to repair the degraded nature. In fact, the UN has earmarked the period 2021–2030 as the global decade for the restoration of nature.
We have not only a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis, but also to a large extent a crisis through the loss of important recreational areas. It concerns us on a deep mental level. Many people mourn that nature they loved has been lost. Psychologists call it a “loss of place.” In a gallup that concerned “endangered nature experiences”, the wilderness experience came up high, along with silence and the experience of intact watercourses. “Nature is our largest pharmacy,” said Per Fugelli, professor of social medicine. Ensuring natural qualities for the population can be called “green welfare”. Some municipalities have actually started to market themselves as a good place to live and live in because they have natural delights to offer. It’s win-win!
During the corona pandemic, many have “rediscovered” nature as a sanctuary. When you can not meet each other, you can always meet nature. It makes no demands, and it is open 24 hours a day and free of charge. Especially near-nature has been valued in a new way. Never before have so many trees had a hammock attached to them.
The fate of nature, and future generations’ opportunities to enjoy it, depends on the way we think. A disrespectful attitude towards nature is still widespread. Since it is the municipalities that administer the Planning and Building Act both in the beach zone, in forests and in the mountains, the municipalities need permanent employees and competent nature managers who can think long-term and ecologically, and who relate to national and international obligations.
Land management is a key with great power. That key has two ends. One end again locks future access to nature. The other end unlocks a new way of thinking that ensures the natural qualities of the future.