In my life as a Norwegian I have taken for granted that I am free to move around as I please. Whether it´s in the forest or open country, in rivers or lakes, among the skerries or in the mountains, I can move around free of charge, regardless of who owns the land. But I have learned that this right is quite unique in a global context.
If you´re not from here it might be hard to comprehend that the public has a statutory right to stay on someone else´s property. But in Norway we can in fact hike, camp, and harvest wild foods such as berries, mushrooms, flowers and saltwater fish, with the support of the law. And this law is called ”the right to roam”. However this access applies only to uncultivated lands. So the neighbour´s yard, or the farmers cornfield is still off limits.
Cultural heritage and values
“The right to roam-law” is an important part of our cultural heritage. It was created in a time when there was a lot fewer of us, and we were scattered and lived off nature´s offerings. “The right to roam-law” originally served as a platform for communication, cooperation, transport and resource use.
But today this right is more about giving the public an opportunity to spend time in nature. Norwegians see great value in understanding and connecting with nature. We believe that if we know her well, we are more likely to care for her. A close affinity to nature is also considered to give great health benefits.
“The right to roam-law” is universal and democratic. It applies to everyone regardless of age, economic status and nationality. This means that foreign visitors can enjoy the uncultivated parts of Norway same as the natives. However, there are some limitations and responsibilities related to this privilege.
Enter at your own risk!
“The right to roam-law” gives you access to nature. However it does not provide you with any facilities, or any promises of safety while you are out there.“The right to roam- law” does not protect you practically or legally if you were to fall in a river or get lost or against any other accident that might occur.
The law presupposes that you accept nature as she is, with all her quirks and dangers, and that you accept full responsibility for your own actions. Do you have the required skills and training?
Keep in mind that the marking of footpaths and bridge building is often done by random enthusiasts, who are under no obligation to maintain them. Even if the planks on a bridge are rotten, or the signposts on a footpath suddenly disappear, you have no legal rights. You still only have yourself and your own judgement to blame in case of accidents, and there is no other “responsible part” to sue.
Sustainable hiking- and camping culture
As a guests in nature and on someone else´s property, it is expected that you keep the area in good condition. You have to consider what effect your behaviour and presence will have on the environment, the landowner, and other visitors.
A good question to ask yourself is “what traces am I leaving”? Ideally you should not leave any imprint on your surroundings. The next person arriving at your camp site should not be able to tell that you have been there. You should bring all your litter back with you, and be gentle with the surrounding vegetation.
Traditional outdoor activities such as hiking and berry picking, are considered to be harmless. These types of activities make the foundation of ”The right to roam-law”. Modern outdoor activities such as motorsports and speed-biking however, can disturb the natural peace and the quality of someone´s experience. Such activities have their own regulations.
“The right to roam-law” is under pressure
Unfortunately though, as society and culture changes, this statutory right is now facing some challenges:
Commercial exploitation from various businesses such as travel agencies, can result in increased traffic. This can cause damage to the environment and great inconvenience for the landowners. And in a worst case scenario, these businesses can put pressure on the government to restrict “the right to roam” legislation.
Pressure to raise the standard of outdoor facilities can also result in developers introducing a fee to gain access to one of their “developed areas”. This challenges the democratic principle that “the right to roam-law” should give everyone free access to nature, regardless of their economic status.
Another threat to the law is that landowners have the right to reassign their property, for example by building cabin fields. Areas that used to be uncultivated will then be defined as cultivated, and the public will no longer have the right to roam there.
My conclusion is that with freedom comes responsibility. By following some simple guidelines and demonstrating respectful and safe behaviour, we should be able to maintain this unique privilege, “the right to roam”, for our future generations. Let´s keep enjoying our wild and beautiful planet, on nature´s own terms.
Want to enjoy nature in your own pace? Try our self guided tours such as the Scenic and cultural hike at Mt.Ulriken, or the Panoramic hike across Vidden? These hikes will leave you with experiences that perfectly demonstrates the beauty and importance of The right to roam.
Marianne Thon Sørensen (email@example.com)