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Swedish Lapland

Photo: Nutti Sami Siida (Used with permission)

By Anders Karrstedt (@anderskarr )

The word Lapland gives you an idea what it’s all about. It means ‘Land of the Sámi (Lappish) people.’

What most people today consider to be the last wilderness of Europe is also a distinguished cultural landscape inhabited by Sámi people for thousands of years.

Here you will find places where people have harvested natures’ gifts in the form of berries and herbs, old settlements and reindeer enclosures. The marks are not always obvious, but if you are attentive and know what to look for, you will find signs of human activities almost everywhere.

What most people think about is the magnificent landscape, with big variations both through seasons and geography. In the east you will find pine forests and deep river valleys. As we travel west there will be big marshlands sparsely grown with birch and spruce until we reach the birch forest with low birch trees that sometimes looks more like a tropical rainforest. In the west there are the magnificent mountains and the barren valleys and plateaus.

Everywhere you will find water, in lakes, streams, marshlands and rivers. Sometimes in wild waterfalls and sometimes in crystal clear mountain lakes where you actually can see the arctic char swimming.

The fauna and flora is surprisingly rich if we consider how far north we are. The big predators bear, wolf, wolverine and lynx is living here. Summertime the bird life is unbelievable. Most of the birds you can see in Sweden nest here.

Some of the most rugged terrain in all of Europe is located in this region, as the mountains have been gouged by glaciers and rivers. The eco-region also contains large meadows, birch and pine forests, extensive wetlands and marshlands. This array of diverse habitats supports an unusual variety of flora and fauna for this latitude. Rivers provide valuable spawning habitat for native salmon. Dense bird colonies are common along the Norwegian coast and on nearby islands. The region includes a large number of protected areas that are linked across international boundaries. Inaccessibility offers additional protection to rare plants and larger predators.

Common Species: Characteristic fauna include widespread species such as lynx (Lynx lynx), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), bear (Ursus arctos), and wolverine (Gulo gulo). Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria), Lapland bunting (Calcarius lapponicus), Common scoter (Melanitta nigra), and Rough-legged buzzard (Buteo lagopus) are examples of birds found in the region. Representative plants include Rhododendron lapponicum, Lotus corniculatus, Gentiana purpurea, Papaver radicatum, Artemisia norvegica and Northern beech fern (Dryopteris phegopteris). Many of the lakes support plentiful populations of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) and Brown trout (Salmo trutta).

The Swedish mountain area can be a barren or a luxuriant landscape, depending on where you are. There are barren mountains, pine and birch forests, heaths and marsh areas, lakes, streams and rivers. The lush meadow birch forests with their tall growing herbaceous plants and grasses can make one think of the tropics, whereas the barren mountains are more like the Arctic tundra in Greenland.

The bedrock, the type of soil and prevailing climate determine the development of vegetation, which in turn determines animal life. Everything living: animals, birds, insects down to the smallest organism, affect their surroundings as well. The clearest example, of course, is humans themselves. All the land in Lapland is affected directly or indirectly by human activities. The history that took place in the environment is not always very visible or evident to the beholder. The vestiges of human occupation are often hard to see or interpret.

When you look for a dry hill, on which to put your tent, you are doing what generations before you have done. Where you put your tent may be the place where hunters from the Stone Age or reindeer herders from the 18th century had their settlements. The half hidden hearthstones reveal those who have been here before.

We want to show you the culture that you encounter in the landscape, a landscape where humans for thousands of years have left such discreet traces after them that they are nearly invisible. We want to show you the history that exists here in Lapland, to perceive the vestiges of those who have gone before us. We also want to show you nature, which probably has no comparisons in Europe. It is a spectacular landscape with extensive areas without roads where plant and animal life are basically intact.

The Mountain as a Cultural Landscape
The expression “cultural landscape” has normally referred to the cultivated landscape transformed by people. A more modern way of interpreting a “cultural landscape” is to include areas that have been affected by human activity, even though the traces are not as conspicuous as they are in a cultivated area.

Humans in one way or another have affected most landscapes around us. Places that are totally untouched, or totally wilderness areas hardly exist, not even in the mountain area of Lapland, which many refer to as “Europe’s last wilderness area.” Even the most remote mountain regions have been affected or used by people. In the entire mountain area there are many traces and remains from prehistoric people, i.e., from the hunting culture of the Stone Age, the reindeer herding culture or early attempts at mining. The traces which the reindeer herding culture or the prehistoric hunters left behind are hard to discover, while the effect of industrialization, for example, has most often left larger scars on the land.

In other words, the landscape in Lapland is to a large degree a cultural landscape which mirrors many kinds of uses of nature, where people have either lived in close harmony with nature, as in the Sámi culture, or where people have wanted to exploit nature as much as possible, as with hydroelectric power production.

The Natural Environment of the Mountains
The mountain area in Lapland, which is part of the Scandinavian mountain chain, is a one hundred kilometres wide zone running from north to south. All of Sweden’s mountains above 1,800 meters are located in this area. Many of them are in the Sarek area and the Kebnekaise mountains, our two most extensive high mountain regions. Generally speaking, though, the mountains are more or less gently rounded and offer the mountain hiker an easily travelled terrain.

The innumerable mountain brooks that gush down the mountainsides and are collected in the well-watered larger streams down in the mountain valleys give a good idea of what the climate is like in the summertime, cool and humid, often with abundant precipitation. Despite the harsh and inhospitable climate of the mountain chain, there are areas that display an enormous richness of species, especially where the soil is rich in lime.

The natural environment on the bare mountain region above the timberline consists of vast, treeless alpine heaths, often covered with different kinds of scrub and tussocks of short grass and sedges as well as willow and lush herbaceous vegetation and osier thickets on more humid soil. The landscape often consists of rocks and boulders in varying amounts and barren cliffs. High up on the mountaintops only lichens and mosses grow along with occasional clumps of the hardiest plants.

The forests right below the timberline most often consist of heaths with short birch thickets of knotty, windblown trees. This belt of birch forest, which is simply called “mountain birch forest”, forms a narrow strip between the barren treeless mountaintops and the coniferous forests that covers most of the country. That the tree line is made up of birch and not coniferous trees is unusual in the rest of the world, and it is only in Nordic countries and the Kamchatka Peninsula in North-eastern Siberia that this phenomenon occurs.

In the coniferous forests nearest the mountains are the last large primeval forests areas in Sweden, where several of the forest animals and plants on the verge of extinction still live. These forest are Europe’s last continuous primeval forest areas aside from Russia.

Northern Latitude
Sápmi is not only the land of the northern lights, but also the land of the midnight sun.

http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/24/three-reasons-to-visit-swedish-lapland@LolaAkinmade @NatGeoTraveler

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