Northern Europe’s untamed land

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Erlend Haarberg

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Erlend Haarberg

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Orsolya Haarberg

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

Northern Europe’s untamed land

Northern Europe’s untamed and unique land – the great home of the Sami, charismatic wildlife species and natural treasures.

Swedish Lapland – Sápmi – is a unique blend of untamed nature and cultural heritage. Here old-growth forests, mountains, glaciers, free-flowing rivers and extensive wetlands co-exist with the indigenous Sami community since millennia. There is no other place in continental Europe with such vast, uninhabited, road-less and original landscapes as Swedish Lapland. The composition of fauna and flora is still largely intact and the functioning of ecosystems unaltered. Here, the large-scale reindeer migration and largely intact river systems shape the ecology and the landscape as well as people’s lives. However, even under such pristine conditions, there are threats and needs to ensure that the uniqueness of the land remains and that some lost components are brought back.

With the snow-capped mountains, glaciers, unbroken taiga forest, vast wetlands and rich wildlife, Swedish Lapland is for good reasons sometimes referred to as “Europe’s Alaska”. The Rewilding Sweden area is located in northern Sweden and Norway. It stretches from the Atlantic fjords in the west over a range of mountains, vast taiga forests and marshlands, and connects with the northern part of the Baltic Sea via some of Europe’s most well-preserved river systems – Råne, Kalix and Pite rivers. Within a core area of more than 3 million hectares, less than 1,000 people live permanently.

Rewilding vision

For each rewilding area we developed an inspiring vision that shows our ambition for the next ten years. Together with our local partners we work to make this vision a reality.

What are we doing here?

Connecting mountains with the Baltic Sea: the blue-green corridor

Criss-crossed by countless waterways, Swedish Lapland is defined as much by its rivers and lakes as it is by its sprawling forests. While many of these rivers have been dammed, others provide anglers with some of the best fishing in northern Europe.

Yet even on undammed waterways, a variety of anthropogenic factors have negatively impacted fish migration. Rivers such as the 210 kilometre-long Råne and 400 kilometre-long Pite today witness annual runs of salmon and sea trout that are far less than their natural carrying capacity.

Working in collaboration with fishing associations on both the Råne and Pite, Rewilding Sweden is now working hard to boost fish migration, through activities such as spawning ground restoration and the removal of artificial obstacles. Sonar-based fish counters are used on both rivers to measure results.

In Sweden’s first-ever fishing management system, the Råne River Fishing Association – a collection of 275 landowners that rents fishing rights – now employs a strict catch-and-release policy, and has imposed a complete ban on fishing in the river at certain times of the year. A similar approach has been taken on the Pite, which is renowned for its salmon, sea trout and grayling.

Together with river restoration, Rewilding Sweden is exploring new nature-based business opportunities, providing support to enterprises involved in fishing and otter watching on the lower Råne.

Securing guided reindeer migration through protected forests

Reindeer migration is one of the processes that defines Swedish Lapland, shaping the local landscape and ecology and connecting people with nature. It is the only remaining European example of an ecological system based on migrating large herbivores. In the north of Sweden, around 900 Swedish Sami are still actively involved in reindeer migration and herding.

In summer the herds of these Sami graze in the mountains, feeding on grass, leaves and fungi. But in winter they migrate to the forest, looking for food and shelter. Under the shallow layer of snow beneath the forest canopy, they can find the ground lichens essential to their survival. Tree-hanging lichens, found in old-growth forests, are also important.

Unfortunately, these lichens are an increasingly rare commodity, with wintering grounds negatively impacted by mining and intensive, large-scale forestry. Rewilding Europe is working with Rewilding Sweden and local partners to support guided reindeer migration, raising awareness of these threats and supporting Sami communities in their fight for traditional grazing rights. The aim is the full protection of all remaining old-growth forests, combined with the adoption of reindeer-adapted forestry and the elimination of mining threats to key reindeer wintering areas.

Promoting co-existence with wildlife

Swedish Lapland’s vast wilderness is home to a huge diversity of animals. This is a land where healthy populations of brown bear, lynx and wolverine still roam free. These rich natural resources can form the basis for a far more vibrant and sustainable local economy. Within the project Wildlife Economies (WLE) we work with 8 other parties on enabling nature-based enterprises in 4 European regions, including Swedish Lapland.

By collaborating with Sami communities to develop wildlife watching businesses and guided reindeer tourism, the Rewilding Sweden team and partners are working to grow a local nature-based economy and reduce human-wildlife conflict. Raising Sami income from wildlife watching will hopefully contribute to greater acceptance and protection of local wild nature, including an increased tolerance of the presence of large carnivores.

“Up here everything is about nature”

Linnéa Falk
Team Leader

How would you characterise your rewilding area?

In the Swedish Arctic the landscape is defined by forests, wetlands, tundra and mountains. Here the Euro-Asian taiga meets the Atlantic, separated by the Scandinavian Mountains. Parts of the area have been used for forestry, mining and hydropower, but vast areas are still free from exploitation. The iconic animal is the semi-domesticated reindeer, which undergoes large seasonal migrations.

The area is a part of Sápmi, the land of the Sami indigenous people of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. The apparent wilderness is not the result of an absence of human activity, but from the traditional, non-destructive way of life of the Sami people.

What would you like to see achieved in your rewilding area in the next five years?

I would like to see forestry, mining and infrastructure planning will take reindeer migration into account far more than today, with green-blue corridors connecting high areas with the Baltic Sea.

Obsolete dams will have been removed so that life can start returning to rivers, drained wetlands will have been restored, and extensive areas of forest protected and rewilded. The local population of Arctic fox will be on the road to recovey, and we will have begun to explore whether muskox can coexist with reindeer in the mountains. We will have developed new nature-based business models for the area, with the overall result that more wild nature is protected from destructive exploitation and people are benefiting sustainably from wildlife comeback.

Our main achievements

Visit the area

Ringed by the Arctic Circle and bordered by Norway, Finland and the Baltic Sea, Swedish Lapland extends across the top quarter of Sweden. Frequently referred to as “Europe’s Alaska”, the region is home to the Sami – the European Union’s only indigenous people – who call Lapland Sápmi.

Learn more

Orsolya Haarberg

Image gallery

Team members

Linnéa Falk

Team leader

Board members

Nina Siemiatkowski
Walter Naeslund
Magnus Sylvén
Frans Schepers

Advisors to the board:

Lars-Anders Baer
Lena Lindén


In 2015, a new legal entity (a foundation) was registered in Sweden, called Rewilding Lapland. The name of this organisation has now changed into Rewilding Sweden (2018), and is Rewilding Europe’s preferential partner. In 2015, both organisations signed a 5-year partnership agreement, including a 5-year strategy for the rewilding initiative.

Rewilding Sweden has established partnerships with the local association for the Pite River (Pite Älv Ekonomisk Förening) and the Råne River (Degerselsbygdens Samfällighetsförening). Also, an partnership has been established with the Swedish Ecotourism Association.

Other important, current partnerships include the Norrbotten County Board (Länsstyrelsen Norrbotten), Swedish Lapland, local municipalities (e.g. Arvidsjaur), the Swedish Tourist Association (Svenska Turistföreningen), the Swedish Biodiversity Centre (Centrum för Biologisk Mångfald), and the Grimsö Wildlide Research Station (Grimsö Viltforskningsstation).


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