Wildfires and over-crowding: People in Sweden warned to take care in nature this summer

Wildfires and over-crowding: People in Sweden warned to take care in nature this summer
A sign at Hellasgården nature reserve outside Stockholm warns visitors to avoid crowding. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT
People in Sweden should take extra care when out in nature at the moment, due to the current weather and the risk of infection in crowded environments, authorities have warned.

Sweden's Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) warned on Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic has led to increased pressure on popular beauty spots.

Restrictions on long-distance travel and guidelines to socialise outdoors rather than inside when possible have led to more people than usual spending time in the country's forests, parks and nature reserves.

The agency emphasised that it didn't discourage people from enjoying outdoor space, especially since the risk of spreading infection is lower outside, but warned people to do this safely. The previous day alone had seen around 30 grass fires and another 30 wildfires reported in the country following a spell of warm, dry weather.

“It's important that everyone who's out in nature think about this, for example if you're going to have a barbecue. Be careful and follow any local fire bans, it may not be suitable or even allowed to grill where you are,” said Svante Werger, an advisor at MSB.

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The Environmental Protection Agency took part in the daily coronavirus briefing for the first time to issue a similar warning.

“It's a difficult time for many people at the moment, and nature is an important place for getting energy and being able to exercise, where people can meet and keep distance. We are hearing from across the whole country that there are very large increases in the number of visitors in protected natural areas, especially those that are close to densely populated areas,” said Clas Svedlindh, a department head at the agency.

One example he gave was the Tyresta National Park outside Stockholm, where the number of visitors is currently twice the level of a typical year.

“It's important to show consideration both to other people and to nature itself. The right to roam is an asset, but it also includes responsibilities,” Svedlindh said, referring to the Swedish Right of Public Access which in principle gives all people the right to walk, cycle and camp on any land excluding private gardens.

Some of the warnings he gave were to keep distance from others when out in nature, especially when staying in one area such as when taking a rest or coffee break, and to consider going to a different area if the car park is full or it looks busy, in order to avoid crowding.

“We have many thousands of kilometres of walking paths across the country, so it could be a chance to discover new natural areas, maybe those that don't get so many visitors,” he suggested.


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