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HEATWAVE

Sweden’s green soul: why forests are vital to the Swedish culture and economy

Forest fires are raging in Sweden, with over 25,000 hectares of woodland currently burning. There have currently been no serious injuries reported as a result of the widespread blazes, but the damage to the forests themselves is a huge blow to Sweden both financially and culturally.

Sweden's green soul: why forests are vital to the Swedish culture and economy
A dense pine forest in Småland. Photo: Alexander Hall/imagebank.sweden.se
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The value of the woodland currently burning is over 900 million kronor (approximately $100 million), according to the latest estimates from the Swedish Forestry Agency, shared on Monday. The total area affected is significantly larger than the 14,000 hectares that burned in a 2014 fire in Västmanland, which at the time was Sweden's most serious wildfire in 40 years.

Politicians and climate researchers have warned that with temperatures rising globally, Sweden is likely to face forest fires more frequently, with drought exacerbating the blazes and making them harder to extinguish.

So just what is at stake when Sweden's trees go up in flames?

More than half of Sweden – an area equal to the size of the United Kingdom –  is covered in forest. This area is actually growing thanks to protective policies that mean the growth rate outpaces the felling rate. The forests have long been used for fuel and timber first for domestic, then industrial use from around the 13th century.

Today, forests provide around ten percent of Swedish employment and exports. Most of the felled trees become timber, used for furniture, construction, and other wood products, with companies coming up with innovative uses for the wood all the time, such as textiles. The trees also used for pulp to make paper products, and a small proportion become biofuel, which is used for electricity and heating and could serve other purposes in the future – perhaps even powering aeroplanes.

READ MORE: Everything about the unprecedented 2018 wildfire season in Sweden


Burned trees in Gävleborg county. Photo: Pernilla Wahlman/TT

The forests are a particularly important source of employment in rural areas, where jobs in Sweden's other large industries such as tech and telecoms are harder to come by.

But while Sweden has been exploiting its forest for a long time, it has almost as long a history of protecting it: one of the first environmental laws passed anywhere in the world, the Swedish Forestry Act of 1903, was introduced in reaction to the rapid depletion of the forests in the previous century and stipulated that anyone harvesting trees must replant them.

This act has been revised and updated over the decades since in order to ensure that the country's flora and fauna don't suffer. Companies that wish to harvest forest have to submit a plan, which members of the public can object to. As a result, the Swedish Forestry Agency forecasts that the standing stock of timber will almost double in the period between 1930 and 2030.

But the forests are far more than just a source of money and they play a crucial role in Swedes' leisure time and family life.

This is one of the most active countries in the world, where many residents are part of an organized club and sports-related organizations are the most popular of all. The forest is where Swedes often go to hike, run, climb, cycle, and swim, sail or canoe in the forest lakes. The navigational sport of orienteering is extremely popular in Sweden, with around 600 clubs across the country.

A principle that makes this possible is 'allemansrätt' the 'freedom to roam' granted in the Swedish Constitution that gives all members of the public free access to nature and wilderness, including forests and water – even though most Swedish forests are owned either privately or by companies. The only exceptions to the freedom to roam are private gardens, land under cultivation, nature reserves and protected areas. 


More than half of Sweden is covered in forest. Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

This allows residents of Sweden spend a large part of their free time in the forests, whether for sport, for a day out walking and barbecuing, or for a camping holiday. You might hear Swedes refer to 'friluftsliv', which roughly translates as 'outdoor living'. The country underwent industrialization later than many of its European neighbours, and this is a possible factor in explaining why Swedes continue to value the simple pleasures of a walk in the forest so highly. 

It's not all about sport: berry and mushroom picking are popular activities in the autumn, and the right to do so (with the exception of protected species) is guaranteed under allemansrätt. People are also free to pick wildflowers – an important tradition at Midsummer, when Swedes traditionally weave seven different kinds of flower into a Midsummer crown.

Even families that live in the city often own a summer house in a more remote area, with around two thirds of the country having access to one of these traditional cottages. 


Forests also play a crucial role in Swedes' leisure time. Photo: Alexander Hall/imagebank.sweden.se

The forests are also home to many different animal, bird and insect species, ranging from elk to foxes, bats to brown bears, and Sweden has legislation to protect endangered species and conserve biodiversity. Over 1,800 of the plants and animals in Sweden's forests are at risk, and they depend on the environment for their survival.

The country is also home to 300,000 registered hunters, with hunting not just a form of recreation but also a way of keeping species numbers under control to prevent damage to the forests or biodiversity.

Swedes grow up in nature despite – or more likely, because of – the harsh weather conditions in winter.

Even in the coldest months, most people in Sweden will make a concerted effort to spend time outside, making the most of the limited daylight and taking the chance to take in Vitamin D whenever they can. The sheer length of Nordic winters makes it impossible to hibernate for the entire period, so if you live here, learning how to cope with and enjoy the cold weather is an essential life skill. Outdoor activities follow the seasons, so in the winter you might find people skating across the same lakes they swam in during summer, and taking to the forests for cross country skiing excursions.


Outdoor activities follow the seasons in Sweden. Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedes are protective of their stunning nature, and with good reason. It was in Sweden that the first national park was created in 1909. The country is also home to the tree believed to be the world's oldest, 9,550-year-old Old Tjikko in Fulufjället National Park. Laponia, the Arctic Circle region encompassing forests as well as mountains and lakes, is a Unesco World Heritage site.

But as climate change appears to be having an effect on Sweden's temperature, the country may have to come up with new ways of protecting its forests from the fires that look likely to become an increasingly common feature of Swedish summers.

Member comments

  1. this is so sad. i will keep praying that the fires stop soon and the forests of Sweden can be saved. blessings to all fighting the fires.

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HOUSING

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in

Whether you're moving to Sweden’s second biggest city for the first time or are looking for another neighbourhood, The Local talks you through some of your best options.

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in
Which neighbourhood of Sweden's second city is right for you? Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

First of all: where to look? The city of Gothenburg suggests on its website that sublets, houses and townhouses to rent all across West Sweden can be found on Blocket, a popular digital marketplace (in Swedish).

Other alternatives for rentals include the sites Bostaddirekt, Residensportalen and Findroommate, as well as Swedish websites like Hyresbostad and Andrahand. Note that some of the housing sites charge a subscription or membership fee. There are also Facebook groups where accommodation is advertised. An example in English is Find accommodation in Goteborg!.

If you’re buying, most apartments and houses for sale in Gothenburg and West Sweden can be seen on the websites Hemnet and Booli. Local newspapers often have property listings. Real estate agents (mäklare) can also help you find a place.

Majorna on a hot summer’s day. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Majorna

Majorna is a residential area in Gothenburg that has transformed from being a classic working-class district to becoming a hip and restaurant-dense cultural hub in Gothenburg. The buildings typical for Majorna are three storey buildings with the first storey built in stone and the topmost two built with wood — the houses traditionally called Landshövdingehus. This neighbourhood just west of the city center, beautifully positioned between the river Göta älv and the park Slottsskogen, is hugely popular with young families.

Majorna was traditionally populated with industrial workers and dockers. The area is still supposed to have a strong working-class identity, with many people living in Majorna seeing themselves as radical, politically aware, and having an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

This doesn’t mean, however, that one can live in Majorna on a shoestring. The average price per square meter here is approximately 55,000 kronor as of May 2021, according to Hemnet.

Eriksberg on Hisingen. Photo: Erik Abel/TT

Hisingen

From the centre of Gothenburg it’s only a short bus or tram ride across the river to Hisingen. It’s Sweden’s fifth largest island – after Gotland, Öland, Södertörn and Orust – and the second most populous. Hisingen is surrounded by the Göta älv river in the south and east, the Nordra älv in the north and the Kattegat in the west.

The first city carrying the name Gothenburg was founded on Hisingen in 1603. The town here, however, was burned down by the Danes in 1611 during the so-called Kalmar War and the only remnant is the foundation of the church that stood in the city centre.

Hisingen housed some of the world’s largest shipyards until the shipyard crisis of the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, the northern bank of the Göta älv has undergone major expansion. Residential areas, university buildings and several industries (including Volvo) have largely replaced the former shipyards.

Hisingen comprises many different neighbourhoods — Kvillebäcken, Backa and Biskopsgården are only some examples. At Jubileumsparken in Frihamnen, an area bordering the Göta älv, there is a public open-air pool and a spectacular sauna. Further inland you’ll find the beautiful Hisingsparken, the largest park in Gothenburg.

Apartment prices are still relatively low in certain parts of Hisingen, while the housing market in other neighbourhoods is booming. The average metre-squared price on Hisingen lies around 41,000 kronor.

Gamlestaden

Gamlestaden or the Old Town was founded as early as 1473, 200 years before Gothenburg’s current city centre was built. You can take a seven-minute tram ride towards the northeast to this upcoming district (popularly known as ‘Gamlestan’) which, like Majorna, is characterised by the original Landshövdingehus in combination with an international atmosphere.

What was once an industrial centre, mostly the factory of bearing manufacturer SKF, is now rapidly turning into something new, as restaurants and vintage shops move into the old red-brick factory buildings.

The multicultural neighbourhood is also close to the famous Kviberg’s marknad (market) and Bellevue marknad, where you can buy everything from exotic fruits and vegetables to second-hand clothes, electronics and curiosa.

The Gamlestaden district is developing and should become a densely populated and attractive district with new housing, city shopping and services. In the future, twice as many inhabitants will live here compared to today, according to Stadsutveckling Göteborg (City development Gothenburg). Around 3,000 new apartments should be built here in the coming years. The current price per metre squared in Gamlestaden is 46,000 kronor.

Södra Skärgården. Photo: Roger Lundsten/TT

Skärgården

It might not be the most practical, but it probably will be the most idyllic place you’ll ever live in: Gothenburg’s northern or southern archipelago (skärgården). With a public bus or tram you can get from the city centre to the sea and from there, you hop on a ferry taking you to one of many picturesque islands just off the coast of Gothenburg.

There are car ferries from Hisingen to the northern archipelago. Some of the islands here are also connected by bridges. The southern archipelago can be reached by ferries leaving from the harbour of Saltholmen.

Gothenburg’s southern archipelago has around 5,000 permanent and another 6,000 summer residents. The archipelago is completely car free and transportation is carried out mostly by means of cycles, delivery mopeds and electrical golf carts.

Most residences here are outstanding — wooden houses and cottages, big gardens — and always close to both nature and sea. Finding somewhere to live, however, is not necessarily easy. Some people rent out their summer houses during the other three seasons. When buying a house here (the average price being 5.5 million kronor) you have to be aware that living in a wooden house on an exposed island often comes with a lot of renovating and painting.

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