‘This is my office’ said the representative of Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA), the Swedish company which manufactures wood and paper products. She was standing in a clearing in the forest near Vindeln, Sweden, and it looked a pretty nice office to me.
This was the afternoon of the field trip following the International Association for Study of the Commons’ European conference in Umeå last September.
We sat on logs in the clearing to learn about how these vast forests are managed, for timber, biodiversity and recreation, as well as for the indigenous Sami people to graze their herds of reindeer on the lichens of the forest floor.
The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Skogsstyrelsen (the Swedish Forest Agency) and SCA (the largest private owner of forest land in Europe) work together to ensure the forests thrive.
SCA has produced a well-illustrated, informative booklet, Final Felling and Conservation, which sets out how conservation is achieved in the forest. It is done at three levels: areas, patches and objects.
We were told how trees are planted with ‘chequered gaps’, carefully designed to allow the right amount of light in to maximise growth. There was discussion about recreation and I suggested that, from my English perspective, wide rides for walkers, riders and cyclists were desirable, with removal of trees to open up views.
The relationship with the Sami is complicated. Each year the foresters show the Sami a plan of planting and management and must consider their views: for instance, the Sami may wish the forest to be less dense for their reindeer. The negotiations start in November or December and agreement must be reached quickly, before the Sami go to the mountains, otherwise it has to wait for another year. If the Sami say no to a plan twice, the matter is referred to a group of three judges: one from the forest management, one from the Sami and one lawyer. The judges produce a written agreement. The process can take two or three years.
Mushrooms and berries
Sweden has the tradition of allemansrätten, which gives everyone the right to roam freely and to gather mushrooms and berries, provided they do not interfere with private rights. Historian Anna Stéms spoke of increasing conflict between public access and the right to pick mushrooms and berries, with this operation becoming commercial and leading to an influx of city people who do not respect allemansrätten. I was reminded of this on my subsequent visit to Stoke Common in Buckinghamshire where we encountered commercial fungus-gatherers. I was told that they indiscriminately seize every type of fungus regardless of whether it was what was wanted.
In England and Wales we look longingly at Swedish access which is so much better than ours. Scotland has already achieved something similar to Sweden with its Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. England and Wales still has a long way to go.