BLACK TIMES IN KILSBERGEN

 

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Bleak deforestation around Ramshyttan

ECOTOURISM CHOMPED BY MACHINES

1 November 2010 Ramshyttan

In the last four months the state forestry company Sveaskog has well-nigh demolished one of the most beautiful areas of Sweden. In the Kilsberg hills riding and rambling trails are desolate after forestry activity with monster machines, casting a gloom on ecotourism development. Sveaskog owns the land.  So is it their right?

Only 20 minutes from Örebro and 2 hrs 30 minutes drive from Stockholm, blue hills rise out of the plains – an area of extraordinary natural riches. These are the Kilsberg hills – Kilsbergen. Forests and former forests roll out for miles, up hill and down dale, with predators (wolves, lynx, and fox) and plenty of elk and deer, not to mention smaller mammals.

Once the coastline of an ancient sea, this line of hills has the feeling of a world apart from the flatlands that formed the sea floor 10 000 years ago. Northern conifers mix with deciduous trees in Kilsbergen creating biodiversity.  There are strange rock formations, waterfalls, and dozens of pure lakes and streams that glitter dark like obsidian. The iron in the rock has given Bergslagen a part in Swedish history with small iron smelting communities and independent spirit – and cultural relics of ironworks and old timbered cottages add to the mystique of wandering through this terrain.   

However, for four months the state forest company Sveaskog has been so active that it has devastated forests and rambling trails in this part of Bergslagen. It’s near total onslaught. Locals report that the forests in areas around Ramshyttan in the Kilsberg hills (Kilsbergen) have almost all gone – except for a nature reserve, Sveaskog’s “Ecopark” introduced 2007, and small private forests. In “efficient” modern style, with the aim of getting timber or biofuel at low cost, they have used monster machines.  They have taken not just most of the trees, but the undergrowth too (of course). So they have destroyed countless habitats for animals and plants. And not just nature has been devastated.

Riding trails and old foot paths have been ploughed up by the monster machines and areas of the famous trail Bergslagsleden denuded. The topography of large areas has basically been altered. In their impatience they haven’t waited for good weather, so the machines have sunk into the wet ground and churned up the surface. Banks on the side of former trails have been flattened. Stones on age old walks have been flung away so all you have is a mush and later dry, rutty broken useless trails.

The pretty village of Ramshyttan, once famed for its iron working, is still a haunting spot with painted wooden houses, and tree-lined banks cradling little lakes and rushing stream. The very stream that once drove the mills. It is one of the highlights of Bergslagsleden, and has a shelter once deep in the forest. Now the shelter is exposed by deforestation. And in whatever direction you walk, ride or drive you feel this sense of devastation.

No doubt one should be grateful for the much heralded Sveaskog Ecopark, a few kilometers from Ramshyttan, which has a magical view over the flats from Rusakulan  in the heights of Kilsbergen. When created in 2007, it was Sveaksog’s 18th Ecopark, and part of a very verbal philosophy on sustainable forestry, and upholding the natural environment with much reference to the fascinating geography, geology, biodiversity and culture of Bergslagen.

Now in retrospect the Kilsbergen Ecopark may have been timed as a compensation for the coming forestry operations in the area. Which may be connected with prioritizing biofuel as their little contribution to the climate crisis rather than sustaining the forests by laying off the monster machines.

Under the heading (translated from Swedish) Sustainable forestry gives more, Sveaskog’s website accessed 5 November says they are now increasing the returns from the forest, while upholding ecological and social values

This weekend the full destruction of these operations hit me.

Over dinner I asked three owners of houses in Ramshyttan: How bad is it?

“It’s terrible. There are almost no riding trails left”, said Marie. “Even the old trails which are meant to be protected have been destroyed. Behind my house was an ancient trail – very beautiful, banked with stones. It was only a mud pool when they had finished.”

Why don’t you protest?

“I have asked Sveaskog to come and pack down the earth – I am thinking first of all about the danger for my horses,” said Marie. “But I am also very sad because the trail by my house is spoilt – it was so beautiful…”

The famous hiking trail Bergslagsleden has also been hit – it wanders through denuded areas with sticks and stones and silly thin trees here and there. In some areas where there is private forest some of the charm is left. Where they have demolished banks and ploughed up the actual trail Sveaskog will try to fix it, Marie says. That is the usual form. Charge at the job like a bull, and if no one complains about damage leave it, otherwise try to fix it…

 “You know that this is a state company,” she added. “The private companies would have been more careful.”

We sat in the candlelight and our meal seemed so sad too. Something that Sweden should be proud of, something that is rare in the world is diminished, maybe for the next generations. Despite gaining the Ecopark in 2007, Kilsbergen has become a lesser place.

Apart from the 200 km Bergslagsleden, hiking and riding of world class followed seemingly endless other trails through the rolling forested hills by endless lakes and rivers. Ramshyttan Hästgård (horse farm) was putting up a website for international equine ecotourism, based not just on the wholesome clean lakes of Kilsbergen, the hills and forests … but world class riding. There were 20 riding trails, at least, Marie says … having owned her little red and white cottage for some 30 years, and she and her Icelandic horses have discovered every corner.

Now there are few riding trails left to boast of. What trails remain seem so bleak.

The Kilsberg hills look as if they have mange. Some small patches of forest (thank goodness), some scraggly scrubby self regenerating old forestry destruction. And large areas with nothing left except a few thin tall trees here and there…like a few hairs left in the bare areas of skin on a mangy cat. Trees that look sad and pained and lost. And other areas with completely NOTHING.  Except sticks, weeds, mud and dried earth sometimes with the tracks of the monster machines.

“They went on for four months,” says Roland who is engaged in sustainable farming and ecotourism in Ramshyttan.

“Night and day those machines were going…I couldn’t sleep,” says Kathleen, who owns a house in the village.

But can’t you do something I asked?

“There is nothing left to save now,” says Roland. “It’s all gone except for the nature reserve and the Ecopark.  They owned the land; they can do what they like.”

Is this really true that they can do what they like? And even if they are allowed to, is it right?

If the people of the world had accepted autocracy and tyranny, what would our lives look like today?

These are my questions:

RESPONSIBLE FORESTRY

1. As a state owned forestry company, should Sveaskog not be involved in responsible forestry and community cooperation? They have shown a welcome consciousness of conservation with the Ecoparks – and sustainable forestry is a favourite buzzword for them – but their Ecopark is a drop in the ocean and their activities leave the following questions.

COMMUNITY AWARENESS

2. Why come to one area and one community with monster machines – and destroy almost everything in a few months? Why not spread the forestry activities more fairly over their domain from North to South of Sweden. This would be responsible forestry – responsible behavior towards the community.

WATERSHED AREAS

3. Why choose a watershed area, a catchment area – why denude the hills here when the forestry companies own vast tracts of forests on lowlands? Watershed areas are vital for the healthy ecology of much wider zones; rivers run from Kilsbergen down into a chain of lakes that feed the farmlands and towns below, providing water for growth, life and recreation. A bare hill does not catch water by itself – it is the trees that create a huge surface area for condensation. This is well known.

SUSTAINABLE TOURISM

4. Why sabotage sustainable tourism? Why choose such a particularly beautiful area for such savage treatment – the closest mountains to Stockholm, the beautiful backyard of Örebro, and an area with great potential for ecotourism? It is already popular with German and Dutch tourists (at least before the destruction). Bergslagen is an area full of artists, inspired by its beauty. It also has the mystique of the old culture of independent iron workers, which further adds to the cultural richness that attracts sustainable tourism. With responsible forestry one would take care not to undermine the economic livelihood of the community. One would first talk to the community and find what they are aiming at.

RAMBLING AND RIDING TRAILS

5. Why not first research where all the riding and walking trails are and then avoid them when felling trees – leaving a swathe at least four trees deep. That would be responsible forestry. The beauty of country roads, lanes and trails touches on the identity and culture of the area, as well as on tourism.

TRULY SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY ZONES

6. Why not create many more special zones where properly sustainable forestry methods are used.  Currently “sustainable” forestry seems to embrace the all-destroying machines, and is called sustainable merely because they try to leave 10% of the trees (xx trees per hectare). So they miss out the odd tree but devastate everything else. The trees once deep in the forest are long and tall and emaciated, and almost all the other plant species are gone. All shelter for animals gone.  In areas of special significance like the whole of Kilsbergen, they should go back to ancient methods with modern newly designed machinery that is nimble and can avoid total destruction. Why not be inspired by the days not so long ago, when the forests held trees of all ages and all heights, mixed conifer and deciduous.  The old trees were felled in the summer and dragged over the snow in winter – leaving younger trees and the undergrowth with all its richness so plant and animal life could continue in full biodiversity. Sweden is trying to become a leader in green technology. Why not make a thing of sustainable forestry – sustainable and responsible? Instead of the current parody of it…

ISLANDS OF SAFETY AND REGENERATION

7. In areas that maybe have less cultural and natural significance, where there are vast areas without villages and riding and walking trails, why not apply the 10% rule in a more nature-friendly way. Instead of leaving trees here and there with nothing between, why not leave copses – little islands of completely untouched vegetation which will act as a reservoir for plant regeneration and a hiding and breeding place for animals.

SAVE KILSBERGEN

8. Why not try to save the little bits of forest that are left in Kilsbergen? Not much but it could get worse. The Ramshyttan inhabitants are worried that Sveaskog will now descend to the waterways and banks of the lakes – for example the end of Sågdammen.  At least try to do better in the rest of Berglsagen if there is anything left to save.

BIOFUEL AMBIGUITY

9. Why not look honestly at the biofuel story. The current output on the web from Sveaskog has some complicated and unfathomable arguments with a skip and a hop sideways in the logic. They give the welcome news that Sweden’s forests trap half of the CO2 that the country produces – a nice contribution to ameliorating global warming. They state that old trees do not contribute so much to trapping CO2, so basically it is better to cut them down. They don’t say what they mean by old. The trees felled around Ramshyttan were definitely not old  (Sveaskog fortunately sold some very old forests to private people recently). The implication is that they will immediately plant lots of vigorous young trees – but in 10 years I personally have not seen any trees planted where Sveaskog denuded the slopes. Further, they seamlessly jump to a conclusion that biofuel production is important for meeting the world’s shortage of fossil fuels as if that is the same thing as sustainable forestry per se. It may be true that it will help against global warming, but surely if you burn all those trees the CO2 so lovingly trapped is let out?

GAME RESERVES?

10. Finally why not have a wider vision? Why not save the whole ecosystem in special areas. Swedes go all the way to South Africa or Kenya to see wildlife, and spend Swedish money there. Why not save our own animal life, not just by saving their habitat, but by limiting hunting in nature reserves so they become GAME reserves with tourism potential and bring in animal tourism money instead of just exporting it. Game reserves that include carnivores and herbivores.J

Sweden’s hunting lobby has royal blessing and many powerful supporters so the licence to kill walks a tightrope between please them (let hunters kill as many as possible)  and leave them (leaving animals to breed so they can be killed later on). The hunting lobby has apparently managed to persuade the Swedish government that the wolves, to give one example of their “lobbying power”, are genetically degenerate and that a large number should be killed to make way for some Russian wolves to enter from the north. A sizable number of wolves were shot but genetic tests showed no degeneration (according to SvD). Wolf hunting is to continue however. No doubt the real reason for killing wolves is that hunters are concerned that wolves eat into their hunting potential. Some would say it goes deep in the male genes to kill.  But it also goes deep in human nature to protect – I dare say protection and social cohesion are our strongest survival instinct – being such physically weak animals without it. So let’s protect nature in all its glory. If they can do it in the third world – surely Sweden can do it too.

My daring idea is that in at least one area of Sweden there should be a proper game reserve …. Where game rangers only go in to kill as part of the balance of nature between plants, herbivores and carnivores when the natural balance fails. And where you have some sporting chance of seeing a carnivore. Very few people have seen the wolves of Bergslagen (though I myself have seen one, just before he was shot). Now there is even less chance after the killing spree of wolves recently. To be really far thinking the game reserve should be a large area to allow genetic variation in the animal stock, fenced to prevent wolves eating people’s sheep and so on (as they apparently occasionally do).

POSTCRIPT ON CONSUMPTION

And as a probably unwelcome postscript: If we make Sweden more rich in its natural treasures through conservation and sustainable forestry and tourism,  perhaps a simpler existence may seem worthwhile – and we will be tempted to consume less. Consumption is surely the real problem behind fuel reserves and global warming though it is the last problem we want to honestly face…

 NOTE

On the web I found the following romantic text about the Kilsberg Hills (www.tysslingen.com):

“Nature and culture in the heart of Sweden. … Where the wilderness meets the bygone culture of the plains – smeltinghouse ruins and other relics of the past. Ramblers´trails cross the old ore routers (sic) (routes?) and the rubble-stone beaches of ancient seas.”

The Kilsberg Hills (Kilsbergen) formed the coastline of a great sea only 10 000 years ago, and the chain of hills is fringed with sandy and pebbly ancient beaches. Below lie the flats of Örebro, stretching some 200 km to the Baltic, and once the floor of the sea, these days rippling in summer with wheatfields. The Kilsberg Hills lie in the wider hilly area of Bergslagen, an area known for its iron mining and iron smelting from the middle ages until the last century.

Ramshyttan is one of many small iron working communities in Bergslagen – called names like Pershyttan, Lockhyttan, Garphyttan and Grythyttan since “hyttan” refers to the smelting works.  Ramshyttan’s iron working remains are mentioned in tourist literature.  The song writer Björkman lived in Ramshyttan and wrote the song Dans på Rusakula (the hill that crowns the Ecopark and looks out over the flats that once lay under the sea). Ramshyttan has attracted artists, potters, and singers to move in to its wooden houses some dating far back, others built in the early 1900s – as in other areas of Bergslagen. Ramshyttan’s other claim to fame is the shelter on the hiking trail Berslagsleden – situated exactly where Sveaskog has denuded a hillside in the last month. The only beautiful trees left around there are on private land – fortunately sold by Sveaskog before they began the last savage round of demolition.


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