Nine out of ten Norwegians take part in some form of outdoor recreation, but the emphasis has shifted over the years from practical activities such as hunting and fishing to purely leisure pursuits such as walking, cycling and swimming.
Outdoor recreation for all
The most striking feature of outdoor recreation in Norway is its variety, people enjoy everything from a quiet stroll near home, to fishing, mountaineering and downhill skiing in winter. Such outdoor experiences may become memories of a lifetime.
Nine out of ten Norwegians go for a walk or take part in other forms of outdoor recreation about twice a week. Studies show that people first and foremost seek peace and quiet, and fresh air.
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Outdoor recreation improves people's physical and mental health. Recent research shows that even a moderate level of activity has a positive effect. In Norway, access rights ensure free access to and passage across all uncultivated land througout the year. In addition, the authorities secure areas they buy for outdoor recreation.
It is a national target to safeguard and manage areas of value for outdoor recreation in a way that maintains the natural environment for future generations.
Fewer opportunities for varied outdoor recreation
Despite the legal right of access to uncultivated land, there is pressure to restrict access in many areas. Many outdoor recreation areas are being lost, especially in and near towns and built-up areas, and access to the coastline is becoming more restricted. Pollution, litter and noise on land and water also reduce people’s enjoyment of areas that are used for outdoor recreation.
Voluntary organisations play an important role
In Norway, voluntary organisations play an important part in providing opportunities for outdoor recreation for example by maintaining footpaths and ski trails and in encouraging people to join in different activities. Outdoor activities are also part of the curriculum for day care centres and schools.
Local authorities safeguard outdoor recreation areas through their planning activities. The authorities can maintain access to the coastline and beaches by designating areas they own as outdoor recreation areas or drawing up agreements with landowners.
Norway has very generous statutory access rights. Outside built-up areas, you generally have free access to any land that is not cultivated. Access rights are a valued part of Norway’s cultural heritage and identity – a common good, and free of charge. They open up a variety of opportunities for walking, skiing, camping and other activities and for harvesting nature's resources.
How do access rights function in practice?
Everyone is entitled to free access to and passage across all uncultivated land throughout the year. You are also allowed to cross fields and farmland on foot when the ground is frozen or snow-covered - from October 15th to April 29th. Offroad use of motor vehicles is generally forbidden, and motor boats are only permitted on certain lakes and rivers.
The 150-metre rule
You are allowed to put up a tent for the night – or sleep under the stars, if you like – but you must keep at least 150 metres away from the nearest occupied house or cabin. If you want to stay for more than two nights in the same place, you must ask the landowner's permission, except in the mountains or very remote areas. The Ministry of Climate and Environment may grant exemptionsfrom the150metre-rulein coastalareas through precept.
Can I cross cultivated land?
Fields and farmland are open to walkers and skiers when the ground is frozen or snow-covered. You are also allowed to use roads and paths to cross cultivated areas at any time of year if you are on foot, on skis, on a bicycle or on horseback and are heading for uncultivated land. This does not apply to organised commercial activites (for instance riding school excursions).
Behave considerately and responsibly
Access rights also entail responsibilities. Wherever you go, act responsibly, respect the countryside and behave considerately so that you do not disturb other people. Never trample in crops or disturb livestock or wildlife unnecessarily. take care not to cause any damage or inconvenience to other people. Both the Outdoor Recreation Act and the Nature Diversity Act stress that everyone has a personal responsibility to avoid damage to the natural environment.
Tidy up after yourself and take everything with you, including your litter. As the saying goes, "take only pictures, leave only footprints".
Be careful with camp fires. Open fires are not permitted in or near forested areas in the period 15 April to 15 September, and we ask you to respect this.
You may pick most berries, mushrooms and flowers, but some rare species are protected.
There are special rules for cloudberries in the three northernmost counties, but picking a few berries to eat there and then once is always allowed.
Tread cautiously in recently planted forestry areas. These are defined as uncultivated land, but avoid damage to the trees.
Access rights under pressure
Access rights are under constant pressure from commercial developments and privatisation, especially along popular stretches of the coastline. Some landowners put up illegal fences and other barriers to discourage visitors. Piecemeal developments have gradually reduced public access to the shoreline, particularly around the Oslofjord and further south.
Growing pressure along the coastline
For many years, building has been generally prohibited in the 100-metre belt along the shoreline, but local authorities have made liberal use of exemptions from this rule, and have allowed permanent housing and holiday cabins to be built in once-popular outdoor recreation areas.
There is also a tendency for the shoreline itself to be privatised.This may be legal in some cases, but in many others it is not. Some landowners try to keep visitors away from areas near their property even though they they have no right to do so.
Conflicts of interest
Conflicts of interest can arise between user groups or between outdoor recreation and other interests. For example, an area that is protected to safeguard threatened species may also be popular for activities such as surfing or kite skiing, and these may disturb the same species.
Close to towns, conflicts can arise between landowners and people who enjoy canoeing, hunting or fishing. In recent years, there have been several attempts to introduce payment for access to groomed ski trails, even though access to the countryside in Norway should in principle be free.
Safeguarding access rights
The Government is investing considerable resources in safeguarding access rights, especially to the coast and beaches. This includes setting aside areas for outdoor recreation (there are more than 2 300 designated areas so far).
An action plan has been drawn up for designated outdoor recreation areas established with financial assistance from the state. This provides an overview of existing areas, strategies for increasing the number of outdoor recreation areas and identifies what arrangements are needed for management in existing areas.
The Outdoor Recreation Act was amended in 2012 to make it easier for local authorities to waymark trails and routes, build bridges and footbridges, and take steps to improve public access.
Local authorities have powers to stop construction activities that are illegal under the Outdoor Recreation Act. If necessary, buildings, structures and barriers that have been put up illegally can be removed at the expense of the person responsible for them.
Hunting is a popular outdoor recreation activity in Norway. Game species must be managed carefully to maintain the productivity of the environment and species diversity.
Hunting rights belong to the landowner
Hunting rights belong to the landowner, and are not included in access rights. Hunting is therefore only allowed if you have permission from the landowner, which may mean the state, a local authority or an individual. The only exception is that you do not need permission from a landowner to hunt seabirds on the sea from the shoreline or from a boat (but you must have been resident in Norway for at least the past year). In addition, all hunters must be registered in the Norwegian Register of Hunters and pay the annual hunting licence fee before the start of the hunting season.
Under Norwegian law, all wildlife species, including their eggs, nests and lairs, are protected unless the legislation explicitly states otherwise. The Norwegian Enviroment Agencylays down hunting seasons for game species.
Game species are divided into two groups in the legislation. Small game includes species like ptarmigan, willow grouse, capercaillie, black grouse, ducks, geese, pigeons, hare, mink and red fox, while the most important species of large game are moose, roe deer, wild reindeer and red deer.
Hunting is strictly regulated
Hunters must be skilled in handling firearms, traps and other equipment, and must be familiar with relevant rules and regulations. They must know which species they may hunt and be able to recognise them.
New hunters must pass a proficiency test
Anyone who is resident in Norway and planning to hunt for the first time must take a hunting proficiency test. They must follow an obligatory 30-hour course and take a theory test. The courses are arranged by adult education associations, and the municipalities hold the electronic tests and issue certificates to candidates who have followed the course and passed the test. There is a fee for the course and test.
Permanent residents of other countries do not need to take the test if they can provide proof of a similar qualification for hunting in their own country. Documentation must be sent to the Norwegian Register of Hunters.
The minimum age for hunting alone is 16 years for small game and 18 years for large game.
Hunting seasons and quotas
Regulations under the Wildlife Act list game species and open seasons, and set out other rules for hunting.
For large game, hunting is organised in areas ("vald") that must be above a stipulated minimum size, and the local authorities issue quotas for the relevant species in these areas. For both large and small game, the landowner may limit the length of the hunting season and the number of animals a hunter may shoot per day. In areas where lynx hunting is permitted, the regional carnivore management boards set the quotas.
The most striking feature of outdoor recreation in Norway is its variety – people enjoy everything from a quiet stroll near home to cycling, bathing, mountaineering and white-water canoeing. The most popular activities are less strenuous pursuits that require little in the way of equipment and other resources.
A varied picture
The main patterns of outdoor recreation in Norway – including its diversity – have been relatively stable for the past 20 years. However, a closer look reveals a number of conflicting trends.
On a positive note, people of 55 and over are much more active now than they were in the 1970s. The trend for young people (aged 16–24) has been causing concern because of a sharp drop in participation in traditional outdoor activities.
The 2013 survey of living conditions by Statistics Norway showed that the decrease in the proportion of young people taking part in outdoor activities continues. In 2001, 97percentof young people between16-24 yearstook part in outdoorlifeactivities,while the figurewas 91percentin 2011.
For the oldest age groups, participation in most activities appears to have stagnated or dropped. But encouragingly, a large proportion of the youngest children (6–15 years old) are active – in fact, they show a higher level of participation in outdoor recreation than adults.
Outdoor recreation for a better life
People who use the outdoors are more likely to appreciate the importance of safeguarding the natural environment. Outdoor recreation also improves people's physical and mental health. Recent research shows that even a moderate level of activity (for example a regular half-hour walk to work) has a positive effect. Researchalso shows thatliving close tonatureand green spaceshasa positivehealtheffect.
Access to the countryside under pressure
Access rights are of fundamental importance for outdoor recreation in Norway, but are under pressure today for a number of reasons. For instance, there have been cases where charges are introduced for access to areas that have traditionally been open to everyone, other areas are privatised when barriers and buildings are erected, and adventure tourism activities may hinder access for other people.
Another crucial factor is the provision of opportunities for children and young people to lead an active outdoor life. They spend a great deal of their time on organised activities nowadays, and this could result in a long-term decline in outdoor recreation, which in turn might have negative effects on people’s health and weaken interest in environmental issues.
People of all ages need access to areas that are suitable for outdoor recreation – near their homes, along the coast, in the forests and in the mountains. And these areas are more likely to be used if the environmental quality is high – if visitors can experience peace and quiet, for example, and if the water is clean and there is no litter on the beach.
Safeguarding outdoor recreation areas
To keep up Norway’s outdoor recreation traditions, we need to:
maintain access rights to the countryside
safeguard outdoor recreation areas
maintain people's interest in outdoor activities.
In Norway, everyone is entitled to access to and passage across uncultivated land. This means that you can walk in the mountains and forests, go skiing in winter, and cycle, toboggan and ride on paths and tracks. Access rights are described in the Outdoor Recreation Act.
An important part of Norway’s outdoor recreation policy is to make sure that people have opportunities to use the outdoors and easy access to outdoor recreation areas. Many areas are set aside for outdoor recreation with financial assistance from the state. The Directorate for Nature Management is the government agency responsible for this work.
Voluntary organisations play an important part in providing access and facilities for outdoor activities and in encouraging and promoting outdoor recreation. Norway has a large number of organisations catering for a wide variety of interests. The authorities provide some funding and grants for their activities.
The education system
The curricula for primary and lower secondary schools and for day-care centres include opportunities for outdoor recreation activities as part of the school day. A number of initiatives have been taken to integrate outdoor activities into the education system. One of the larger-scale initiatives is "The sustainable backpack" project.