SWEDISH FOREST – word count x 2,810

1. Follo us to the heart of the 2. Swedish Forest 3. The stream is a glittering beautiful sight, the trees full of twittering creatures. I’m lying here lazy, an idle child in the lap of my mother, Dame Nature Gustaf Fröding, 1860-1911 4. As far back as man can remember, the forest has played the bad guy in our collective imaginations. And of course it has given Swedes their fair share of dark tales. The mythical shadow of the enchanting skogsrå (a half-girl, half-demon who lures woodsmen to their doom, see page XX) is never far away. But in this vast and varied land, the forest is also a place of leisure, of beauty and of nature; a place to live, for both man and animal; a place to work, and the backbone of the domestic and export economies. Of Sweden’s 450,000 square kilometres land mass, a staggering 60 per cent (an area a little larger than the UK) is forest. Because of this, the Swedes have a very close relationship with the forest. It is a part of their hearts and minds. For many centuries Swedes have inhabited the forest and its environs, cohabited with its animals, and lived and thrived on both. Adam Reuterskiöld owns and manages 280 hectares of forest, 20 kilometres west of Stockholm; forest that has been in his family since the 1850s. He is a modern embodiment of the balanced relationship that Swedes have long had with the forest. “My goal is to pass it on to my children in a better condition than it was in when I inherited it,” he explains. Some 50 per cent of Sweden’s forest is in private ownership and, as is typical of many of these owners, Adam lives off – and in – his patch of forest. “My land is my business. I harvest the trees and sell the wood,” he says. “But I have a responsibility to care for my land. I work closely with environmental management here to ensure as much of the forest as possible is left untouched, but is still accessible.” Access is something Adam values very much. When not working the forest he spends his time wandering it, picking berries and mushrooms and hunting elk and deer. He’s not alone. In Sweden all people have right of access to all uninhabited land. Known as allemänsrätt, it is a freedom that is deeply entrenched in the psyche. As Adam says: “I have a duty to keep my forest looking good for people who use it.”

at least 700 species of insect that eat only oak.” says Adam Reuterskiöld. Forestry and related wood. generating more net export income than any other industrial sector. “Hunting.” Amanda explains the problem with this: “There are thousands of species that are dependent on wood of various types and at various states of decay. but says that there is hope: “We are working closely with .800 forest species on the threatened species list. chief entomologist for the Swedish Forest Agency concurs. “The forestry sector is the economic engine of Sweden. Although all forest companies now replant at a greater rate than they remove. head of group PR at Holmen. they usually replant the fast-growing cash cows of forestry: spruce and pine. it enriches my soul. creating an extraordinary diversity of shots for. the forestry industry has its detractors.” says Ingela Carlsson. Amanda Tass works for Save The Forest. The valuable biodiversity of Sweden’s forest is being decreased. pulp and paper industries have become a billion krona business. one of Sweden’s largest forestry. among others.000 registered hunters who regularly stake out the forest for hours on end for the chance to level their sights on a passing elk. But that doesn’t deter the estimated 300. the majestic. soaring golden eagle. Without the Swedish forest and the animals that live there I would never have started doing what I do.” he says. He has travelled the world. We estimate that clear-cut forestry has put 1. bear and wolverine. Like all big business.” Those same animals were responsible for man settling in Sweden in the first place. The sport also provides an income for the landowners who control the hunting rights. for instance. feather and fur. Sweden’s largest native creature – all these forest dwellers have sustained man for thousands of years with meat. Since the 1950s the forestry industry has been extensively clear-cutting the forest. mosses and lichens. “It helps to control rampant populations that would cause much damage to young trees. The elusive wolf. “The forest in Sweden is the emotional backbone of my life. National Geographic magazine. There are. its relation to the forest itself has become very important to the economy. the gangly. hunting the forest’s natives is tightly controlled.” Gunnar Isacsson. awkwardly regal elk.” If Sweden’s reliance on the forest’s animals is more for sport than survival these days. bone. regardless of which trees they remove. removing every tree down to the root. is a valid activity. “It’s like a release valve. paper and wood companies. with culls limited to strict numbers or totally banned. plus meat for the freezer. so-called king of the forest.Mattias Klum is a Swedish wildlife photographer. a Swedish non-profit organization that works to protect old-growth forest: “It might seem like we have a lot of forest in Sweden. especially elk and deer. We are at a stage now where Swedish forest is just 16 per cent broadleaf trees. but most of it is no older than 40 years. Most are insects. But he is most at home when at home: deep in the Swedish forest. Today. an unnatural bias of pine and spruce.

tap and ferment wine from birch sap. they are probably the best axes in the world. and it will be here long after I’ve gone. adventurer. Over the last 20 years we have pushed harder for a better balance between forestry and preservation. we eliminate the need for paint. with a 20-year guarantee. storyteller (most of which seem to involve charging grizzly bears and guns without bullets) and Renaissance man. local. handmade. bright-eyed enthusiast. He is an outdoorsman. what we do and how we live is dependent on the forest.” A small but growing band of companies and individuals are working with the forest in a much more sympathetic way. We’ve done it for 100 years and we will continue to do it. A wiry. But it was here before me. among other projects.” It’s a philosophy shared by Stellan Thagesson. a design company and eco lodge. what we eat.” says Daniel Bränby. and sells firewood to local schools. “Our philosophy is to keep it simple. oak and alder woods.” Every movement has its leading light. “I inherited this forest from my father.” Daniel explains. Hand-forged and ground. There is no electricity. which involves 20 hours of slow burning and two days of cooling of birch. “By making top-quality axes by hand. “I have no children so I have no one to pass the forest on to. not clear-cutting. but it’s the best. energetic. the axe as a forester’s tool all but disappeared. and if the likes of Daniel Bränby at Gränsfors and Stellan Thagesson have one.” he explains. only paraffin lamps. and we work with them to encourage partial harvesting. Good for the grill. is a series of five cabins and two tree houses (all hand built by Håkan) set in beautiful untouched forest. called Wood Hermitage. Together with his biologist-turned-designer wife Ulrika. The products are all sold locally. he is a survival expert at home in the forest. it is probably Håkan Strotz. Gränsfors’ third-generation family owner.” Stellan is part of a local cooperative of landowners that makes charcoal in traditional burning ovens. glue and epoxy used on inferior axes. good for the forest. Companies like Gränsfors Bruk.” he says. Ours are just a piece of steel and a wooden handle. The lodge.” he smiles. he runs Urnatur. That’s nature’s half. “Everything we do here is about the environment and in particular the forest. They receive subsidies for planting broadleaf trees. Håkan is a trained forester and local politician with the Green Party. He explains the production process. a landowner who manages about 50 hectares of forest in the south of Sweden. “We make axes for enthusiasts. campers and outdoorsmen. “Our product is a bit more expensive. “Half the wood goes up in smoke.” With the introduction of the chainsaw in the 1960s.” says Håkan.the education of forest owners. hunter. “What we want to create here is a place where what happens. makes fire with two sticks and knows how to make a pair of trousers. He forages for food. “My father realized there was a market for quality axes made the old-fashioned way. wood- . Gränsfors makes axes. a pot of glue and a length of twine from a dead deer.

after the sea eagle. a wood-fired sauna and solar-powered showers. Otherwise we leave the forest untouched and unmanaged – just as nature intended. “And the firewood. herbs and berries from the forest.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 5. it is capable of preying on young reindeer and foxes.” 7. “All the buildings here I made from trees from our forest. n To see our Swedish forest film log on to www. and the untouched.” The story of the Swedish forest is really a story of two forests: the managed and manipulated that supports big business. Forestry in Sweden makes approximately 60 Euros per hectare per year. it prefers the remote forests of northern Sweden. Eagles mate for life. “Forestry is the economic engine of Sweden” . Sweden needs to balance both in some sort of natural harmony. the golden eagle is Sweden’s second-largest bird of prey. We serve guests meat from our farm and mushrooms.” he says. Otherwise we leave the forest untouched and unmanaged – as nature intended. “The forest is the emotional backbone of my life” 8. 6. To make a living you need a good 400 hectares of production forest. With people like Håkan Strotz at the helm there is a good chance this will happen. too.burning stoves. old-growth forest that supports biodiversity. We make more here in a weekend than we would with a whole year of forestry. To make a living in clear-cut forestry you need a good 400 hectares. For the sake of its future generations. Known also as “the King’s eagle”. The eco lodge Håkan Strotz “I made all the buildings here at Urnatur out of trees from our forest. To me it makes much more sense to use our forests for more ecotourism. If you run ecotourism you can make an economically viable enterprise with one-tenth of that land. If you run ecotourism you can make an economically viable enterprise with one-tenth of that land. It helps to restore the forest’s natural balance and it is money making. myths and folklore and enterprising smallholders. Despite its fearsome aspect. golden eagle king of the forest With a body length of one metre and a wingspan well over two.

A ban on hunting allowed the population to grow again. we eliminate the need for paint. Her back . he hears the sound of feminine voices calling through the trees.” they say. the axe Gränsfors Bruk This is an old axe we found in the forest. walking backwards and beckoning him ever deeper into the forest. Nils. shivering. He is lonely. reaching out towards her angelic face. Chilled. glue and epoxy used on inferior axes. “What we eat. When Nils was found. He could only jibber about a fair maiden who had led him away. tired and cold. 11. 10. he was a depleted husk of a man. the maiden stopped.” he thinks. A cold dark February night in a wood in northern Sweden. A charcoal burner has just finished his day’s work tending his smouldering fires and is settling down to another hard winter night in his hut. but there is no one there. what we do and how we live is dependent on the forest” 12. she turned around. but just as he was about to touch her golden hair. The cousin approached. outside in the storm. 1951. three days later. Deep. “It was here before me and it’ll be here after I’ve gone” 13. but companies like Gränsfors Bruk (family run for three generations) are carrying on the traditional craft: “By making top-quality axes by hand. was lured deep into the forest by a beautiful woman.” He opens the door.9. Then there is a scratching at his door. and the government has since decreed that the ideal number of wolves is… 210. “Just the wind. deep inside the woods. the wolf the comeback kid Hunting caused the Swedish wolf population to dwindle until it was close to extinction in the 1970s. Suddenly. The Myths of the Forest A brief guide to the spirits ho live in the oods – and hat to do if you encounter one 14. “Darling… darling… let me in. as he followed transfixed. he remembers the previous year when his cousin.

tar boilers. These creatures had two important roles: they helped to explain the unfair distribution of fortune in those tough times. The forest spirit was not only a dangerous temptress. Humans often encountered them in the forest as the fairies’ daily life was very similar to their own: they farmed and tended their cattle. hunters. Fairies could intervene in human affairs and it is said that on rare occasions. These men wouldn’t suspect a thing until one day they might witness their wives bending a scythe blade or an iron bar with the superhuman strength of their bare hands! The fairies would also invite local women to their underground homes to assist them during a difficult childbirth. In return. got married. In the morning he packs everything he can carry and leaves for the city. Again the charcoal burner opens the door and there is the most beautiful maiden he has ever seen – long fair hair flows down her diaphanous clothes. not much higher than a man’s thigh. She was a skogsrå. Those who worked in the forest – charcoal burners. she also protected the wild animals from hunters. and her head is topped by a crown of summer flowers. even though no flowers have grown here for five long. cattle grazed on the mountain pastures in the forest. By Michaelmas. He escapes with his wits but vows never to spend another night in the forest. literally a “spirit of the forest”. she simply led one astray in the forest. Even the most skilled shots could miss their targets if she decided to misdirect the bullets. It is believed that when they left. herdsmen and lumberjacks – imagined it populated with mystical.) In northern Sweden during the summer. dark months. supernatural beings such as magical fairies (vittror) and seductive forest spirits (skogsrå). but one could never be sure. both herdsmen and cattle returned to their villages. half rotten and decaying with mould. The skogsrå was extremely erratic. the fairies moved into the forests and stayed in their chalets during winter. Sometimes it helped to make a sacrifice to her. had children and died. these women were given gifts of leaves or sticks. quarelled with their neighbours. But those who kept the gifts would find that when they returned to their home above . Whether angry or in a playful mood. who mostly lived underground. and played a colourful part in local folklore. which many of them threw away once they were back above ground in the human realm. The charcoal burner slams the door and spends the worst night of his life as the spirit of the woods and her sisters rattle the shutters and claw at the roof. celebrating the second harvest. (There was one ingenious way to defeat the skogsrå and find your way out again: by turning one’s jacket or sweater inside out.was a hollow tree. The fairies were short creatures. fairy women married ordinary men and lived with them for years. The scratching starts again.

The supernatural world was a sort of mirror image of the empirical world. if you go for a walk in the Swedish forest today. and it was through the tales of these fantastical creatures that the social order was maintained. and these stories and legends are symbolic of local customs and beliefs. don’t be frightened. Other women might find they were now able to see things others could not – a glorious reward from which they could profit. Just treat the woods with respect. oral codes laid down and the breaking of taboos was punished. We still find it easy to empathize with fairies and spirits. the leaves and sticks had turned into valuable gold and silver objects.ground. If you meet a skogsrå or vittror be polite and accept any gifts that are offered. And perhaps carry a GPS device! . So.