Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Green is good for the planet, but it’s no go for reindeer

Norway’s geography is ideal for hydro power. But clean energy schemes have cut reindeer grazing habitats by up to 40%

Sunday 6 December 2015 08.00 GMTLast modified on Sunday 6 December 201508.02 GMT

It’s cold. Minus 10, 12 perhaps, and getting dark; the butter-fingers of a rising moon evident on the eastern horizon. Ill-equipped (the forecasts were for minus five), my ears start to hurt, and I pull in my hood. By the time you read this it will be colder still. And there are still no reindeer to be seen.

Olav hands me his binoculars and tells me to focus on a hillside about three miles away across the snowy vastness of Norway’s Forollhogna National Park, a tract of ancient, ice-scoured mountains and mire, three hours’ drive inland from Trondheim.

I don’t know what I am looking for really. Nine brown animals, one with a red nose? “No, they are light coloured at this time of year. A pale creamy grey. Just behind those bushes. Perhaps …”

I see some lumps, which may be reindeer. Hundreds of them. Or then again, they may be rocks. These are among the most timid animals on the planet and have good reason to keep their distance from a species that will have their hide for a rug as soon as look at them.

We walk on. Despite getting closer, the lumps fail to resolve themselves. I make a decision that we have indeed seen reindeer and hand the binoculars to Olav. He agrees; they seem to be moving. Rocks don’t do that. Time to walk back to the car. And get warm.

Norway is western Europe’s wildest country. Unlike us, the Norwegians have failed to exterminate their entire menagerie of interesting and valuable species. Although large predators are now very rare, – there are only a handful of wolves and bears left in the wild, the arctic fox, once on the brink of extinction, is back, and there are golden eagles and moose aplenty. And reindeer. Thirty-five thousand wholly wild animals, plus thousands more (far to the north of where I am) domesticated and semi-domesticated, mostly by the Sami people, Europe’s most mysterious tribe.

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