IMG 9969hdr

10 Things I Discovered From Exploring Lapland


Last summer, the nice folks at the EU granted me some funds to carry out fieldwork in Lapland. I suppose I thought it would be like a slightly colder Scotland, but of course I was completely wrong (about this, and lots of other things).

Here’s a few things I discovered…

1. Lapland has lots of definitions. It’s both a region encompassing parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia; as well as being the name of the provinces in Finland and Sweden. Lapland can also refer to the land historically inhabited by the Sami people. A bit confusing.

2. One of the biggest dangers in Lapland is Elk and Reindeer on the road. The rather gruesome local advice (to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt) is that you should swerve for Reindeer, but Elk are so massive that it’s safer to head straight for them (in theory they’ll go straight over the roof). Gruesome! Jokes aside, it’s important to be vigilant, it’s amazing how well this large animals can blend in, only appearing in the road at the last minute.

3. Autumnal moth outbreaks can cause devastation across large areas. Every few years an outbreak moth larvae can make it looks like fire has torn through the forests, with only blackened birch stumps remaining. in 2005-09 more than 400km2 were destroyed near the area where we were working. It’s staggering to think this can be caused by a moth, and we had never even heard of it!

4. There are Brown bears, but unfortunately you are very unlikely to see them. Sensibly they avoid humans, and hibernate for about 200 days through Winter. If you are particularly keen, there are some wildlife hides often frequented by bears that it is possible to visit. The Finnish word is Karhu, also the name of our favorite Finnish beer!

5. Reindeer, peach and blue cheese go great on a pizza. Surprisingly this concoction is quite common, at least in Northern Finland. It can’t be very traditional, but it is delicious.

6. North Cape, on the Norwegian coast, is the Northern most point of Europe. It’s actually not, Knivskjellodden point, just to the West actually extends over a kilometer further. Regardless of this, both are on Magerøya Island anyway, just off the mainland, so the true Northernmost point could be a little way to the South anyway. Confusing! Luckily it doesn’t really matter, because the scenery is stunning and the region is well worth visiting just for that.

7. Lapland is the land of the midnight sun. It’s an odd thing standing outside in bright daylight, at midnight. The sun stays visibly for roughly 73 days in the summer (depending on where in Lapland you are).

8. Finland is Europe’s most heavily forested country, covering more than 75%of the land area. About another 10% is accounted for by sparsely wooded areas and boggy mires, also lovely habitats. With this abundance of natural resources, the Finnish forestry system is incredibly sustainable, only around 1% of this area is harvested each year.

9. Lapland is of course the home of Father Christmas (for Brits), Santa Claus for lots of other people. There’s a ‘genuine’ Santa’s villiage just North of Rovaniemi, the regional capital of Finnish Lapland.

10. Lastly, Lapland is covered in Dwarf birch, the reason for my visit. This nondescript little tree also grows in the Scottish Highlands where it is much much rarer. I’m studying it to help understand the effects of climate change and habitat fragmentation, as part of my PhD. So as well as learning a great deal about Finland, we also came back with over 400 samples to keep me busy in the lab over Winter!

P.S. We also discovered these curious Reindeer exploring our camera trap!

This article was written for the friendly folks over at Silverstick.

Related Posts:

  1. Joona Lehtomäki
    Joona Lehtomäki03-03-2014

    Thanks for the nice wrap-up of you experiences in Lapland. I completely agree about the pizza, but as someone who grew up believing the advice in your point 2, it was rather shocking to learn that it may not be worth much at all.

    More seriously though, coming to your point 8 of the Finnish forestry system being incredibly sustainable, I’m not so sure. As a minor detail, the average area treated with fellings 2003-2012 is 2.3% (Finnish Statistical Yearbook of Forestry 2013), and that includes poorly productive forest land and unproductive land. For forest land the figure is roughly 3%. I know, nitpicking stats is not the best use of anybody’s time, but in absolute terms this still makes a difference.

    More importantly and from the perspective of ecological sustainability, 36% of threatened species in Finland are primarily forest species and prevailing forestry practices have been deemed as the main reason for many species and habitats becoming threatened. Hanski (2011) provides a nice summary of the current situation and conservation issues, and what perhaps could be done about it.

    • James_Borrell

      Hi Joona,

      Thanks for taking the time to post all that information, very useful and much appreciated! I agree with all the points you’ve made, there’s of course much more to these issues than we could pick up on in a short time.

      So there’s definitely still room for improvement, but having seen the way things are run in a few other countries, I would encourage the Finnish to be proud of what they have achieved (whilst still working to improve it!)

      Thanks for commenting!


Leave a Reply

Widget not in any sidebars