The Nordic tradition of freedom to roam in landscapes, named Allemannsretten in Norway, is increasingly contested. Small-scale farmers in Norwegian periphery landscapes feel challenged by ever more people that “invade” their outfields to do new outdoor activities. One question that surface in conflicts, is what duties towards other people and vulnerable nature that accompany the rights of Allemannsretten.
To illuminate the unclear duty aspect of Allemannsretten, the LOCUS-project explores local customs, understood as an informal «law» that determines «good behaviour» within the frames of Allemannsretten. Local customs may differ between landscapes, depending on their natural qualities, culture, history, and much more. In a changing world with increased mobility, new technologies, and fluctuations in politics and economic life, landscapes and their use change. Hence, local customs in a specific landscape alters over time. Changes in collective understandings of good landscape behaviour are challenging small-scale farmers in the Reisa Valley in Northern Norway, where our main case is located. With reference cases outside Oslo, Norway, and in Finland and Iceland, we ask how local customs may be renegotiated and what may be at stake for humans, floras and faunas in such negotiations. Along the way, we consider local customs as collective “assemblages” where different knowledges and understandings of nature intersect and entangle. Not only Allemannsretten is contested – so is also the nature within which the right to roam freely is applied. Altogether, local customs concern people’s knowledge and ownership to nature and nature management. In the LOCUS-project, we acknowledge this experience-based ownership and its relevance to mitigate biodiversity loss and global warming. Hence, we also support this environmental engagement “from below” through different activities organized together with our cooperative partners.
The project takes Olwig’s theory of landscape as a departure, including his focus on the substantive practiced landscape as opposed to the abstract, scenic, and scientific landscape that is found in law and formal governance practices. With this focus, we study how landscape practices are knit together in a complex system of customs and relations that constitute regimes for local problem solving and decision-making. Local customs in nature practices are central to sustaining periphery communities and enhance mitigation of biodiversity loss and climate change from ‘below’. This point has yet to find its place in conservation and management and is particularly important in times where we experience increased mobility. Increased mobility puts Allemannsretten as well as local livelihoods such as small-scale farming under pressure. With a collaborative ethnographic approach, we unfold how conflicts and conflict solving can be dealt with, through processes that pay respect to local customs and modern expectations in the Reisa Valley, with a side glance to other Nordic peripheries. The project is based on a collaboration between researchers from UiT The Arctic University of Norway, inhabitants in the Reisa Valley and local government offices, including North Troms Museum and the Reisa National Park Center. The project also has an element of comparative research through collaboration with research communities in Southern Norway, Iceland and Finland.