Can you imagine that 97 per cent of Sweden is uninhabited? This means there’s a lot of nature to preserve, and national parks and nature reserves cover a tenth of the country’s land area. Let’s take a closer look at the love story between Swedes and nature.
The care of nature is not a new concept to the Swedish people. Botanist Carl Linnæus’s contribution to ecology was as important to science in the 1700s as ABBA’s was to pop music in the late 1900s.
Linnæus created a new, improved and streamlined categorisation system for plants and animals. Yet more importantly he paved the way for Sweden’s wilderness to remain unpaved. His work showed the close connection between plants and animals and their environment, which pioneered modern-day ecology.
Linnæus’s work laid the foundation for Sweden as a nature-conscious nation.
Europe’s first national park
Centuries later, conservationists, influenced by Linnæus, warned of the potential dangers of industrialisation to Sweden’s richly rural and agrarian countryside. Their work led to the legislation that secured the protection of the land and the creation of Europe’s first national parks in Sweden in 1909.
Today Sweden has 30 national parks and more than 4,000 nature reserves, together covering more than a tenth of the country’s land area, or the whole of neighbouring Denmark.
Since 1976 the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) manages the national parks. The latest additions are the Fulufjället National Park in the province of Dalarna from 2002, the Kosterhavet National Park, Sweden’s first marine park, which was established at the border between Sweden and Norway in 2007 (see the film below), and Åsnen National Park in the province of Småland in the south of Sweden, added in 2018.
National park status is the strongest protection you can give to valuable nature to preserve it for future generations. However, creating nature reserves is the most common way to protect nature, making up 84 per cent of Sweden’s protected area. Each nature reserve has a specific purpose, with its own set of rules and regulations.
More than 80 per cent of Swedes live within 5 kilometres of a national park, nature reserve or other nature conservation site.
With less than 3 per cent of Sweden’s land developed or built up and 69 per cent of it consisting of forests, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has a lot of land to choose from for their future preservation projects.
Many factors contribute to Sweden’s access to its abundant nature. Most importantly, Sweden’s constitutionally guaranteed right of public access (Allemansrätten) assures that the land is open to everyone. This concept, deeply ingrained in every Swede, creates a sense of collective stewardship of the land. They understand that with rights come responsibilities.
Yet legal rights are only the beginning of Sweden’s success in nature preservation. The efforts of various grassroots organisations (pun intended) also help to hard-wire Swedes from an early age to appreciate, respect, enjoy and care for nature.
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen), for instance, was formed in 1909 with only a small group of conservationists. Today it has 190,000 members who work towards its goal of influencing government, policing polluters and saving Sweden’s wildlife and species.
Even earlier, in 1892, the Association for the Promotion of Outdoor Life (Friluftsfrämjandet) was formed to promote skiing. Later the association broadened its focus to hosting various activities enticing people into the wilderness, and now has around 82,000 members.
Following in Linnæus’s footsteps
Sweden’s centuries of nature conservation efforts have paid off. The Swedish Taxonomy Initiative, a project commissioned by the parliament, has discovered 2,400 new species between 2002 and 2011. At least 900 of those are completely new to science.
This taxonomic project picks up where Linnæus left off, cataloguing Sweden’s rich wildlife. The Swedish Taxonomy Initiative involves professional scientists, but also encourages the participation of amateur botanists.
The Swedish Species Information Centre in charge of the project is confident it will discover even more new species in Sweden’s diverse wilderness in the coming years. Linnæus’s work was the start of something great. There might still be hope for nature.