Reindeer in Scandinavia are under threat as only 4 per cent of their grazing land is completely untouched by human encroachment, a new study has found.
Intensive forestry, outdoor tourism, road and railway traffic, mining, and wind farms are all contributing to this loss of land.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at Norway, Sweden and Finland and concluded that around 85 per cent of the region was affected by one type of human activity, while 60 per cent was exposed to multiple forms of human intervention.
Marianne Stoessel, a PhD student at Stockholm University, and lead author of the study, said: “In northern Fennoscandia, we are lucky to still have one the oldest herding systems in Europe, where reindeer can roam freely over 40 per cent of Norway, Sweden and Finland.
“Or at least, they used to. With the rising human presence taking place on multiple fronts, the resilience of northern pastoralism is under threat.”
Dr Regina Lindborg, a professor from the department of physical geography and quaternary geology at Stockholm University, co-author of the study and coordinator of the project, said: “Grazing is a key process for maintaining plant biodiversity, even in the mountains.
“So it was important for us to study the extent of these cumulative pressures with having the summer pastures in mind, where grazing takes place.”
While human interaction is a threat to reindeer grazing in the north, they do face other pressures such as predators and climate change.
This isn’t new for reindeer. Herders, policy makers and the scientific community are all aware of these issues.
Ms Stoessel said: “What is new is the fact that we finally managed to get an overview of these pressures over the whole area.
“This was not easy, as the different land-uses act at different scales and can be very dynamic, so can be the predators, and the effects of climate change on grazing.”
The fear is that these pressures will create a huge change in landscape and vegetation in this area, minimising biodiversity, and pushing reindeers out of their homes and into much smaller grazing areas.