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The eight rules you need to follow when exploring Swedish nature

The eight rules you need to follow when exploring Swedish nature
Make sure you know the rules before you set out. Photo: Lindsten and Nilsson
With its vast forests, countless lakes and beautiful shoreline, Swedish nature is a dream for hikers and adventurers of all kinds. The right to roam in nature is enshrined in law, but with this freedom come some strict rules which residents and visitors should be aware of before they venture out.

In 2017, Sweden's official tourism board placed the entire country on Airbnb, promoting its lakes as “infinity pools” and rocks as “a terrace with a view”. Travellers were invited to view all of Sweden as a potential holiday home, with laws guaranteeing the right to set up your tent almost anywhere and spend the night.

But before you do, make sure you've understood the rules that exist to prevent disturbances and keep the wilderness clean.

1. Right of public access

The Right of Public Access or 'Allemansrätten' is part of Sweden's constitution and states “everyone shall have access to nature”.

This forms the basis for many outdoor activities, recreation and tourism in Swedish nature, and has become a cornerstone of Swedish cultural identity. Essentially it means you can walk, hike, camp and swim in nature, without needing to pay or apply for permission.

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Exceptions apply for private gardens and in the 30 Swedish national parks. Camping in these areas is not allowed, in order to protect the nature and the animals that live there. It may also be prohibited to start a fire, bring a boat or even a dog in the area. You can find the specific rules that apply to protected areas on signs at the entrance.

Elsewhere, they key thing to keep in mind is the motto “Don't disturb — don't destroy”. That means avoid damaging nature, leaving behind waste or causing nuisance. 

Photo: Jonas Forsberg/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

2. Foraging and picking flowers and berries

Many of the plants found in Swedish nature are edible and therefore popular to pick.

Berries and mushrooms are owned by whoever owns the land on which they grow. But at the same time, they can be picked by everyone under Allemansrätt. Even large-scale commercial picking of berries and mushrooms is permitted as long as it does not directly disturb the landowner.

But some plants, flowers, berries and mushrooms are protected and so extra rules apply to them. All orchids are protected by Swedish law, for example, and the protected status means that you cannot pluck or damage them.

Young trees must also not be impeded in their growth, and existing trees may not be felled. Carving your name, or anything else, on rocks is also not allowed.

And when foraging for mushrooms, you should be extremely careful for your own safety. A list of poisonous mushrooms can be found here.

3. Motor traffic in nature

The right to roam freely in nature does not apply to your car. In most areas, driving off marked paths is not allowed, but in agricultural areas, and for forest management, some exceptions are made.

Because off-road driving causes all kinds of problems for nature and different animal species, it is forbidden to drive off-road throughout Sweden. This means that all unpaved roads are prohibited for motorized traffic.

When the land is covered in snow, you may use a snow mobile outside paved roads. During winter time there are special snowmobile trails in place, and it's best to follow these. But snowmobile driving isn't covered under the allemansrätt, so it's not allowed to drive on private property.


Photo: Johan Willner/imagebank.sweden.se

4. Hunting and fishing

There are around 300,000 hunters in Sweden, and Sweden is also a popular destination for many hunters from other countries.

Whether you live in Sweden or a visiting, every hunter must have a permit and renew it every year. This costs 300 kronor annually and must be shown during hunting at the request of the authorities.

You will have to prove your knowledge about hunting with a theory and practical exam to obtain a permit. Hunting legislation, ethics and methods are covered in this, while the practical exam consists of safety, distance estimation and a shooting test.

In addition, as a hunter you must have permission to hunt in the area. Part of the country is managed by the government, large companies or individuals. They can lend their hunting rights to individuals.

The rules for fishing are less strict. 

Everyone can fish in public waters and Sweden's five largest lakes, as long as this is done with a standard hand gear rod and not within 100 metres of fish farms or stationary fishing gear.

Fishing in private waters is only allowed with a licence, but in some areas along the coast you don't need it. 


5. Dog-walking

Want to take your dog on a walk through nature? Then you are bound by a number of rules. Between March 1st and August 20th dogs must be kept on a leash, in order to protect wildlife during the mating season.

But also in the other months of the year, it is mandatory to keep dogs under close control.

Special rules apply in national parks and nature reserves. In some parks dogs must be kept on a lead or dogs may not be allowed at all. The owner of the dog is responsible and liable for any injury or damage caused by the dog.


Photo: Tomas Utsi/imagebank.sweden.se

6. Camping

Anyone who wants to spend a longer time in nature can spend the night in a tent.

According to Allemansrätt, you can pitch your tent for one or two nights in Swedish nature. The only rules that you should take into account are to make sure you are not camping in a garden adjacent to a house or pitching your tent in an area where cattle are grazing or crops are grown.

If you want to go camping with a large group, it is good to ask permission from the landowner for this. Local rules may also apply, which could mean that camping is not permitted. In many national parks, for example, camping is only allowed at specially designated places. These special rules can be found via the municipality or local police.

7. Sports

Cycling, hiking, skiing, horse riding, boating and swimming are all popular activities in Swedish nature.

Cycling is allowed on roads and lanes, including private ones. But on cultivated ground, gardens, or ground used for growing crops it is not allowed. As a cyclist you may not get too close to houses in a way that disturbs their residents.

Some soft surfaces are easily damaged if you ride over them with a bicycle; especially in spring and autumn, the wet grounds are easily damaged by bicycle tires. 

The rules that apply to hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter are similar because many of the routes that are skied and hiked are the same. The most important rules are that you may not walk or ski over cultivated land, you must not cross the grounds of a house, and that you cannot damage or disturb nature. In winter the general rule is that skiing is allowed on all snowy surfaces, including crop fields.

Horse-riding is also allowed under allemansrätt, but is controversial. Because horses damage the surface quickly, many landowners are not happy with these rules. Just as with bicycles, it is wise to avoid soft and easily damaged surfaces. Although it is not mandatory, it is respectful to first inform the owner of the lands where you want to go horse-riding.

In shipping, “good seamanship” is the most important rule, and that also applies to Swedish inland and coastal waters. Whether you take a refreshing dip or anchor your boat somewhere, always take the nature and residents in the area into account.

8. Lighting fires

Open fire in nature can be a major danger.

Especially in dry summers, the risk of forest fires is high and a small campfire can quickly get out of hand. The best option is to place a campfire on a gravel or sandy surface, so the chance of the fire spreading is the smallest.

During dry and hot summers it can happen that a complete ban on open fire is set in place to prevent forest fires. These bans may prohibit any form of open fire, even in specially equipped campfire places. It is best to check the website of the region in question during the summer or to check with a local tourist office.

For more information, visit the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency's website or the local region.


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