This is your rough guide to nature and wildlife in Sweden.
With the EU’s second lowest population density and 97 per cent of its land area uninhabited, Sweden comes with a lot of open space. Across the country are 30 national parks and more than 5,000 nature reserves, which makes for plenty of hiking options.
From trailless backpacking in the wilderness of Sarek National Park way up north to beach strolls and stunning sea views down south in Skåne, there’s something for everyone.
Predators – Sweden’s ‘big five’
Swedish woods are generally very safe. But they do come with a few large predators, some more dangerous than others.
Most likely you’ll never meet any of them, though, simply because none of them want you to. Sweden’s large predators tend to avoid humans like the plague.
There are around 1,450 lynx, skilled night hunters feeding mainly on reindeer or deer, and 650+ wolverines, who are primarily scavengers. As far as anyone knows, the lynx and wolverine have never hurt a human being in Sweden.
Some 450 wolves are spread across the country. Even though the wolf feeds on certain animals larger than itself, the last recorded wolf attack on humans in the wild in Sweden happened in 1821. According to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the wolf strives to keep some 300 metres away from humans.
There’s the brown bear, which has been known to attack – and even kill – humans in modern times. The brown bear is shy by nature and attacks are rare, but we suggest you read up on the subject to avoid an unwelcome encounter.
Should you be confronted by a brown bear, try distracting it by throwing something in front of it. If this doesn’t help, lay down on the ground and stay still. In short, make yourself small and unthreatening.
A more high-flying predator is the golden eagle, more prevalent in the northern parts of the country. There are around 1,500 golden eagles in Sweden, depending on how you count.
The lynx, wolverine, wolf, brown bear and golden eagle are all protected species. They may only be hunted when it’s been specifically authorised by either the County Administrative Board or the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.
The superstar of the woods
The most famous animal in Sweden is without a doubt the moose. Via organised safaris and its face featured on bumper stickers, oven gloves and t-shirts, the moose is Sweden’s unquestionable zoological superstar.
The moose is the largest species of the deer family, and is, unlike most other deer species, a solitary animal. It packs quite a punch with its weight and height, but for something so imposing, the moose is remarkably peaceful towards other animals.
The moose is a herbivore, and some will say it inflicts the most hurt on its own breed. During mating season in September and October, the bulls butt heads and wrestle with their antlers in pursuit of moose cows to mate with.
Between 250,000 and 350,000 moose are scattered in woods across Sweden.
Swedish nature is filled with edible treats, free for you to pick.
Lingonberries, which grow on small bushes, thrive in pine woods in particular, but other woods too. They also grow on outcrops and moors.
The berries are fairly sour and nothing you want to eat on the spot. But bring them home and put them in the right company (read: endless sugar) and you suddenly have a cornerstone of Swedish cuisine, lingonberry jam.
The sweeter cloudberries – the ‘red gold of the forests – are most easily found on wetlands and swamps in northern Sweden.
Come summer, wild strawberries grow in abundance in the southern half of Sweden, most prevalently in open landscapes but also in the woods. The hotter the summer, the better – wild strawberries thrive in the sun. And yes, they also make up the title of a revered Ingmar Bergman film.
Some 17 per cent of Sweden’s land is covered by blueberries, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Just about any forest, from way up north all the way down south, comes with them.
Annually, around 250,000 tonnes of blueberries grow in the Swedish woods, but only 5 per cent are harvested by humans. Now the brown bear’s consumption of blueberries, that’s another story.
…and mushrooms – with caution
The yellow-orange chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) are the truffles of the north. They are easy to identify, and something you shouldn’t miss out on. You’ll find them both in coniferous and deciduous forests, most commonly during July–October.
In southern and central parts of Sweden, you’ll also find winter chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis) during September–November – equally good, and equally non-poisonous.
There are plenty of other tasty mushrooms in Sweden’s woods, such as the cep, the ringed boletus, or butter mushroom (Suillus luteus), and the Horn Of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides), mentioning just a few.
But mushroom foraging requires some caution. Unless you’re a real pro, you’re advised to stay away from all kinds of white mushrooms. These can very easily be confused with the white fly agaric, which is deadly poisonous.
You are free to fish in Sweden's five largest lakes – Vänern, Vättern, Mälaren, Hjälmaren and Storsjön – with a fishing rod or other hand tools.
For most other waters – be it lakes, rivers or streams – you must buy a licence that allows you to fish in those particular waters.
In some northern parts of the country, there are fishing waters reserved for the Sami, one of the world’s indigenous people and one of Sweden’s official national minorities.
The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management is responsible for questions regarding fishing in Sweden and information on fishing rules.
Mosquitoes and ticks
Summers in Sweden will undoubtedly involve mosquitoes – harmless, but no fun nevertheless. So a long hike in the Swedish wild will require long sleeves, preferably light-coloured clothes and mosquito repellent.
Now, ticks are to be taken more seriously. These tiny bloodsuckers can sneak up on you pretty much anywhere where the grass is high, be it in the wild or in an unkempt garden in suburbia.
Active during spring, summer and autumn, some ticks are carriers of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). You can get vaccinated against TBE, but not against Lyme disease.
For places where the grass is high, wellington boots will come in handy. Light-coloured clothes make it easier to spot the ticks. Apply a tick repellent on the lower legs of your trousers.
Once you’re back home, check your entire body thoroughly!