Heathland Centre

Peter Emil Kaland

professor, deputy head

University of Bergen

Department of Biology Allegt. 41 N-5007 Bergen Norway


For 5000 years, heathlands have been Europe's cultural landscape along the Atlantic coastline - from northwest Portugal in the south to the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. These heathlands are the result of unique ecological interactions between human beings, the coastal climate, plants, and domestic animals. Modern agriculture has led to the loss of more than 80%2525 of this open landscape to cultivation or from woodland encroachment.

Only in the marginal areas of the European heathlands - in the extreme south, west and north - are small areas of heathland still being worked by farmers according to age-old traditions. While older coastal farmers in Norway are still familiar with the traditional methods of managing these heathlands, very few young farmers have this knowledge, and this traditional way of life will soon die out completely. If we wish to maintain some heathland areas managed in the authentic way for the future, we must act now before the last generation of traditional heathland farmers dies. The Heathland Centre at Lygra is attempting to do just this.

Extensive interdisciplinary research projects into the Norwegian heathland landscape were carried out by the University of Bergen during the periods 1971 - 76 and 1991 - 95. In addition to expanding our knowledge of the subject, this work also resulted in the establishment of the Heathland Centre at Lygra. The planning of the centre started in 1989, and Queen Sonja of Norway opened it in May 2000. The site covers ca. 1.7 km2, and lies ca. 50 km northwest of the city of Bergen.
The purpose of this centre is to:
• Manage the heathlands as a living cultural landscape, integrated with the running of five local farms. The land-use of the heathland should be as authentic as possible.
• Set the heathlands at Lygra into national and European contexts.
• Act as a sanctuary for ancient breeds of farm animals.
• Provide facilities for research and education.
• Disseminate knowledge on the traditional coastal cultural landscape to a broad Norwegian and international public.
• Work as a national centre of excellence for the management and use of the heathlands.
• Engage the centre in the future development of the resources available in the Norwegian coastal landscape.

Restoration of the whole site began in 1992, as a cooperative effort between landowners, researchers at the University of Bergen, and landscape managers at the Cultural Landscape Centre in Hordaland county.
When the Heathland Centre was opened the following restoration work had already been carried out:
• 25 buildings had been restored on their original sites in the landscape.
• 2 new buildings had been built (including the information building with exhibition, auditorium, class/meeting room, offices and cafeteria).
• Ca. 1.5 km of stone walls had been restored.
• The management and operation of the whole heathland area was once more up and running.
• One of the landowners was changing over to the old cultural historical farming methods (as in the 1940s). Another farm has 12 cows of a modern breed.
• Ca. 140 sheep of the old Norwegian type, and 6 cows of the old red West Norwegian breed had been reintroduced.
• Ca. 4 km of footpaths for the public had been laid.

Through the international organisation "The European Heathland Network", the Heathland Centre has been drawn strongly into the dissemination of knowledge on the heath landscape at the European level:
• In 1998-2000, the centre was the leader of the EUinformation project (Raphael program) HEATHCULT (Exhibition at EXPO2000 in Hanover, 2 international travelling exhibitions, WEB-site)
• As a follow-up to HEATHCULT, 23 researchers from 8 countries have contributed to the book: "5000 years with Burning - The European Heath Landscape".
The book project was led by the Heathland Centre. The book gives the first total summary of the European Heath landscape both as nature and as cultural heritage, and has been translated into 6 languages (4 published by 2006).
• In 2003-2004, the centre led the EU-project HEATHGUARD (Cultura 2000: European Heritage Laboratories) which was comparing the management of four heathland reserves in Portugal, Germany, Scotland and Norway.

The Heathland Centre is unique in Europe by being the only location in the European heathlands where an authentically managed heath landscape has been organised and adapted for educational purposes.