Reindeer research in the Nordic countries

Reindeer husbandry is, for the Sámi people, a symbol of their culture and heritage, and also an important part of their economy. However, the practice is under severe pressure from other land-use, predators and recently from climate change. Concerns are being raised that the grounds used for reindeer herding may be lost in the near future.

Read more:
Reindeer herding in Fennoscandia – same, same but different
Research on reindeer husbandry – international cooperation
Snapshots from Nordic reindeer research


Conditions for the reindeer herders differ somewhat between Finland, Sweden and Norway, but many conflicts and problems are comparable. It is therefore natural that researchers in the Fennoscandian countries cooperate to a large extent.

Research related to reindeer husbandry has been going on for several decades. Birgitta Åhman is Professor in reindeer husbandry at the Swedish University of Agricultural Research (SLU), and also president of the worldwide Arctic Ungulate Society. She points out three main challenges for the reindeer industry.

– First, there is the conflict between land use and land use rights, which is still far from being solved. The access to pasture land is a prerequisite for the survival of the reindeer culture. Second, loss to predators is a huge problem for the reindeer husbandry. Increasing populations of bear, wolverine, lynx, golden eagle and wolf lead to severely reduced incomes, which can only be partly recompensed by the government. Third, we have the consequences of climate change, which has made winter grazing a problem and also alters the whole ecosystem of the mountainous area. With more frequent ice barriers on lichen-rich grounds, reindeer cannot dig for the fodder, and herders are forced to give supplementary feed and even keep the reindeer in enclosures. This, in turn, creates new problems such as the spread of diseases, she says.

Birgitta Åhman, Professor in reindeer husbandry: “Loss to predators is a huge problem for reindeer husbandry”. Photo: Jens Frank.

– These challenges are the same across the whole area where reindeer herding is practiced, although the degree of each challenge may vary, she adds.

More about these challenges later, but first a short history.

Ancient culture


Reindeer naturally occur across the whole northern part of the globe, in Europe, Asia and North America. The animal was an important prey for early settlers soon after the glacial retreat, and evidence of hunted reindeer can be found in rock-carvings that are several thousands of years old in e.g. northern Norway. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in 98 AD about a group of people he called fenni, who hunted, dressed in animal skins and ate herbs. The first written evidence that reindeer were domesticated could have been when, in the 800s, the Norwegian farmer Ottar referred the Sámi and their managing of reindeer in herds to the English court, but there are theories that domestication started far earlier.

Reindeer herding developed in the 1500s-1700s to become the main business of the Sámi people. The herds are moved between summer and winter pastures, in some cases over large distances from the Scandian fells in the summer to the coast of Sweden in winter, or from the mountainous areas in Finnmark in winter to the Norwegian coast in summer. Some reindeer herding communities are more stationary, keeping the herds in the forested landscape.

Closed borders…

Historically, reindeer herders moved without restrictions over the Sápmi region. The situation changed when the border between Sweden and Norway/Denmark was settled in 1751. The Lapp Codicil formalised the rights of the Sámi to continue to move reindeer across the border, but the rights have changed over time and are now regulated in reindeer grazing conventions. The border between Norway and Russia was closed in 1826, and between Finland and Norway by the Finnish-Russian authorities in 1852. These closures were a severe setback for reindeer herders who historically had partly used coastal Norway for their summer pasture. The border between Sweden and Finland was closed in 1889.

…and increased intrusion

Ever since settlers began to colonise the Sápmi area, the reindeer culture has been under pressure from others who claim access to the land. The obstacles are much the same in the Fennoscandian countries: dam building for hydropower, windmills, roads, mining and tourism. In Sweden and Finland, reindeer herders share the same area as is used by forestry. In Norway hut-building areas reduce the pasture land. All these activities together represent a threat to the future of reindeer husbandry. On top of that, there is racism among the non-Sámi population, with harassment of the reindeer herders and even illegal killing of reindeer.

The gradually reduced pasture area, and particularly the reduced access to lichen-rich forests, has great impacts on the reindeer industry. While the number of reindeer remains quite stable in the region, the conditions for the herds and their opportunities to migrate, rest and feed are becoming increasingly scarce. Reduced fodder forces the reindeer owners to provide supplementary feeding, and in Finland also to keep the reindeer in enclosures. More reindeer in small areas increases the risk of diseases spreading and also causes problems with over-grazing.


Since the reindeer move freely most of the time with limited supervision, they are subject to predators, a problem in all of the countries. According to, predators are responsible for 80% of reindeer losses in Norway. reports that 20,000-70,000 reindeer are killed every year in Sweden. Lynx and wolverine are responsible for the largest losses. In Finland, wolves and other predators are more common closer to the Russian border, but wolverine is the main predator on reindeer.

Climate change

A threat which has increased in recent decades is global warming, with particularly accelerating temperatures in the Arctic. Warmer winters with frequent thaw and ice periods can make the snow so densely packed that the reindeer cannot dig for ground lichens. On the other hand, longer snow-free periods could be beneficial. However, climate change is considered a severe threat to the reindeer, and long-held knowledge of where to feed and rest is no longer reliable.

Conflicts with forestry

Site preparation can reduce much of the lichens on the ground. Photo: Mats Hannerz

Forestry is, besides reindeer husbandry, the spatially most extensive activity in Sápmi. Harvesting old stands and site-preparation of the soil have severe negative impacts on access to lichen fodder, particularly during the bottleneck period in the winter. A lot of research has been conducted on the effects of forestry and processes to mitigate the conflicts. Currently, great effort is being made to find constructive solutions through dialogues between reindeer husbandry and forestry communities, but it is still a fact that the former extensive old forests are rapidly being replaced with younger and denser forests, with fewer lichens and with more disturbance of the original feeding places and migration routes.

Reindeer herding in Fennoscandia – same, same but different

Reindeer owners


In Sweden, only a person who is member of a reindeer herding community (Sameby) has reindeer herding rights. An exception is the Concession area in western Sweden (Torne valley), where other locals can own reindeer, but Sámi people manage them.

Norway has similar rules, and only Sámi with rights to a reindeer earmark can conduct reindeer husbandry. In southern Norway, there is a Concession area with a limited number of reindeer, where both Sámi and non-Sámi are engaged in reindeer husbandry.

In Finland, anyone who is a Finnish citizen can own reindeer, but must be accepted as a member of a reindeer herding district. In the northernmost herding area (Sámi), almost all owners belong to the Sámi people. The maximum number of animals that can be owned by an individual in Finland is 300 in the southern region and 500 in the northern parts of the reindeer herding area.

More about reindeers:
Reindeer research in the Nordic countries
Research on reindeer husbandry – international cooperation
Snapshots from Nordic reindeer research


Number of owners

SWEDEN has 51 reindeer herding communities (Sameby) with about 4 700 reindeer owners.

NORWAY has 556 Siida units with 2 900 people as members. Of these 2 200 are in Finnmark, the northernmost county in Norway.

FINLAND has 56 reindeer herding districts with about 6 700 reindeer owners. For most of them reindeer herding is a secondary occupation , besides farming, forestry etc. Fulltime herders number about 800, of whom 600 are Sámis.


Number of reindeer

The numbers reflect the winter herds, after slaughter but before the calves are born.

SWEDEN has a relatively stable population around 250.000 reindeer.

NORWAY has slightly more than 200.000 reindeer. In addition, a population of wild reindeer (the last population in Fennoscandia besides a newly established in southern Finland) lives in southern Norway (about 30.000 reindeer).

FINLAND has about 200.000 reindeer and a small population of wild reindeer south of the reindeer herding area.

International cooperation in reindeer research

A broad spectrum of research topics is related to reindeer herding and the Sámi culture. From working conditions, viruses and diseases, racism, climate change, land-use effects to predator losses, and many others. Several research questions are similar across the whole region occupied by reindeer, and international cooperation is therefore well established.

More about reindeers:
Reindeer research in the Nordic countries
Reindeer herding in Fennoscandia – same, same but different

Snapshots from Nordic reindeer research


The Arctic Ungulate Society brings together researchers on reindeer/caribou and muskox in international conferences every fourth year. The last conference was held in Sweden (Jokkmokk) in 2019, with some 110 delegates.
Contact: Birgitta Åhman (president),

ReiGN is a Nordic Centre of Excellence with a focus on reindeer husbandry. The overall aim is to understand how climate change and other processes in the Arctic will affect reindeer husbandry in Fennoscandia and how the industry can adapt to these drivers. Partners of ReiGN represent Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Contact: Øystein Holand,

Nordic association for agricultural science (NJF) has a Reindeer Husbandry section. The section promotes reindeer research in the Nordic countries and organises the Nordic Conference on Reindeer husbandry research. Contact: Birgitta Åhman (chair),

Snapshots from Nordic reindeer research

More about reindeers:
Reindeer research in the Nordic countries
Reindeer herding in Fennoscandia – same, same but different
Research on reindeer husbandry – international cooperation


Reindeer husbandry planning (Sweden)

Per Sandström, SLU, is convinced that the “Renbruksplan” improves the dialogue between reindeer husbandry and other land users. Photo: Mats Hannerz

Per Sandström at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Umeå has been involved in reindeer husbandry planning (Renbruksplaner) for the last 20 years. The plans are each reindeer herding community’s own tool to describe their use of the land, where the reindeer feed, move and rest. The plans are essential for communication with other land-users such as those involved in forestry, energy production, infrastructure development and mining. SLU is an active partner in developing and evaluating the plans, and Per Sandström is hopeful:

– We have recently completed an educational campaign about the use of reindeer husbandry planning, and we conclude that the dialogue has become far more positive. The increased knowledge and understanding about the reindeer herders´ claims is extremely helpful for the planning of forestry activities, mine prospecting or the need for passages over railways or roads, he says.

The development of reindeer husbandry planning is unique to Sweden.

– We have seen a growing interest in our way of creating and improving dialogue including from our neighbouring countries, he says.

Read more: (in Swedish)
Contact: Per Sandström,


Structure and economics in reindeer husbandry (Norway)

Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) is conducting several research projects on reindeer herding. One example relates to the economic sustainability of reindeer herding. In one of the reports, the conclusions are that (1) There is no clear connection between ownership structure and effectiveness in reindeer herding. There is a strong, traditional capacity among the Sámi to cooperate flexibly irrespective of ownership structure. (2) The values created go exclusively to the owner of the reindeer, with no specific reward for labour inputs.

Read more: about the specific project “Driftsøkonomi i norsk reindrift”,
Reindeer research at NIBIO:


Reindeer and climate change (Finland)

“In northern Finland, climate change could at its worst [will] trap Arctic animals in a narrow strip of land between the Arctic Ocean and the approaching forest zone. Rising temperatures affect the utilisation of Arctic nature in numerous ways.”

Extreme variations in weather in late autumn make feeding more difficult for reindeer. This is one of the conclusions from the research on reindeer and climate change at Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). If thaws and rain wet the snow and ground high on the fells where most reindeer graze, the snow cover will freeze into a solid and dense layer of ice when the temperature drops below zero. An ice-cover makes it more difficult, or sometimes impossible, for the reindeer to dig for food. One positive side of climate change is that snow-melting comes earlier and improves the availability of food in late winter. However, the early onset of spring cannot compensate for the problems during the winter season.

Another problem with rising temperatures is that insect attacks could get worse. Autumn weights of calves have dropped after exceptionally warm summers. Warmer summers may also lead to the expansion of parasitic insects northwards.

Read more: Reindeer and climate change,
Contact: Jouko Kumpula,


Winterfeeding of reindeer (Sweden)

In reindeer husbandry, winter-feeding has increased due to competing land use activities and climate change. This may be beneficial in the short-term, but may risk the animals’ future ability to make use of the natural forage resource and reduce the opportunity to utilise natural pastures.

The project Reinfeed aims to gain knowledge of best practice for winter-feeding of reindeer and other animals to avoid possible deterioration of foraging performance on natural pastures.

Read more: REINFEED,
Contact: Anna Skarin,


Forestry and reindeer husbandry (Finland)

Reindeer husbandry and forestry overlap in northern Finland, and there have been disputes between those involved in the two forms of land use for over a hundred years. A study from the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi has examined the different perspectives of practitioners of reindeer herding and forestry. The study showed that a number of conventional forestry measures decrease either the number, surface area or quality of the reindeer pastures. The impacts of reindeer husbandry on commercial forests are mostly marginal. Consultation procedures have improved relations between the state forestry and reindeer husbandry practitioners. Corresponding procedures are also being sought for private forest owners. Actions that forestry can take include ensuring uneven-aged forest structure, saving old-growth trees, harvesting logging residue on lichen-rich sites, using light soil preparation and natural regeneration.

Read more: Turunen, M. T., Rasmus, S., Järvenpää, J., Kivinen, S. 2020. Relations between forestry and reindeer husbandry in northern Finland – Perspectives of science and practice. Forest Ecology and Management vol 457, 117677.


Impacts of wind power (Sweden)

A large part of the wind power in Sweden is developed in the northern part, and thus ends up in the reindeer herding area. The knowledge of how wind power affects reindeer has increased, but there are still uncertainties of how the wind power affect the winter grazing area in the forest in Sweden. Wind power involves cumulative effects from roads, power lines and also disturbance from the wind turbines and rotors.

Read more: About Vindval,
Contact: Anna Skarin,

Salvation by bioenergy – what is the potential?

Climate change, fossil fuels, greenhouse gases… We need to find ways to a sustainable future. Can bioenergy be part of the solution?


There are a lot of different views on the potential for biomass production. But it is widely believed that, in order to reach carbon neutrality, the use of bioenergy should continue to grow. Bioenergy can provide large amounts of clean energy at acceptable environmental costs. But will there be side effects, such as hunger, biodiversity loss and substantial greenhouse gas emissions?

To provide guidance on this matter, SNS, Nordic Joint Committee for Agricultural and Food Research (NKJ) and Nordic Energy Research have produced a policy brief: Sustainable use of biomass for heating and transport fuel. The aim is to contribute to the current debate on the important, but complicated, issue of sustainable use of biomass.


Download the policy brief

NordCAW symposium: antibiotic resistance, animal welfare and sustainability

Foods produced by animals with poor welfare pose a serious threat to human health. The purpose of the symposium is to increase awareness and knowledge of the One Health concept and to show that animal welfare is closely linked with the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance and thus human health.

Text: Margareta Stéen


Animal welfare and animal health affect the use of antibiotics in food production and thus the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Animals that live in poor conditions become stressed and can suffer from and spread infectious diseases. The use of antibiotics increases and the risk of antibiotic resistance arises.

The Nordic and Baltic Animal Welfare Centers (NordCAW) want to be a strong voice for animal welfare and work to reduce the use of antibiotics in food production. We work in the “One Health perspective” with the aim of protecting the health and well-being of animals, people and the environment.

With the symposium, NordCAW wants to share and disseminate knowledge about the consequences for poor animal welfare for the development of AMR in the Nordic and Baltic countries as well as in the rest of the EU.

When: Mars 24 2020,  10.30-17.10

Where: Audhumbla, VHC, Ultuna, Uppsala, Sweden



New networks funded by NKJ

The NKJ board had a tricky task to evaluate and rate the ten received proposals in the recent call for funding, but we are happy to present the new networks below! 

The focus areas of the call were:
·    Soil as a carbon sink
·    Alternative proteins
·    Arctic agriculture and climate
·    Extreme weather

All of these are areas have been of special focus for NKJ lately. However, networks focusing on other aspects of Nordic agriculture and food research were also encouraged to apply for funding. In total, ten proposals were received and evaluated by the NKJ board. We are happy to support the six networks in the list below, with activities in 2020 and 2021.

NKJ wants to promote Nordic collaboration among researchers from the agricultural sectors by networking activities such as conferences and seminars and also encourage Nordic researchers and institutions to apply for larger funds by joint efforts. Our funded networks are truly Nordic, since they have to gather at least three Nordic countries! They also need to be gender balanced and we encourage them to actively engage younger researchers and PhDs. 

These are the funded networks:

Resilient Northern Crops Network (NordCrop)
Carl-Otto Ottosen
Århus University

Nordic Crop Wild Relative network – conservation for a more resilient Nordic agriculture
Anna Palmé

Cultured Meat – Nordic Take
Jette Feveile
Århus University

Hrannar Smári Hilmarsson
Agricultural University of Iceland

Exploring pathways to protect soil carbon stocks in agroecosystems
Ji Chen
Århus University

Diversification of the Nordic protein sources
Anne Pihlanto
Natural Resources Institute Finland


At the moment we have an open call for networks in plant health and alternative proteins. Read more and apply here before April 15th.



Nordic cooperation for adaption: forests and fields in climate change

The NKJ & SNS funded project Adaptation, mitigation and breeding of trees and crops for future climate, Genes4Change, organized a scientific seminar in Oulu, 18th-19th March, 2019.

The aim of the Genes4Change network is to combine Nordic researchers and stakeholders to discuss adaptation, mitigation and breeding of trees and crops for future climate. Climate will be similar for plants and trees, and enhancing collaboration will be beneficial for both.


The network gathered together people from different disciplines to discuss together adaptation, mitigation and breeding of trees and crops for future climate in Oulu Science Garden  in 18th-19th March, 2019. The number of participants was limited to 80 due to space, but excellent representation from both agricultural and forestry side, high quality invited speakers together with excellent contributors.

Genetics is crucial

Basic research on local adaptation is increasing our understanding on possibilities to mitigate the effects of climate change. Genetics of most crucial issues on climate change: changes in growth rhythm and increasing need for resistance against biotic and abiotic factors were discussed, influencing both forest tree species and for agricultural plants.  Methodologies already used in model species to study genes and gene networks are becoming available also for other species. Need for large scale international collaboration with multidisciplinary approaches is evident.

It takes time

While evolutionary process needs several generations, the studies on genetics of local adaptation, breeding and optimal deployment of genetic material are also time demanding, and should continue across several generations of researchers.

In the meeting, we also celebrated long careers of outstanding researchers in the field, Outi Savolainen, University of Oulu, Bengt Andersson-Gull, Skogforsk, and Antoine Kremer, INRA, who all have contributed much to our understanding on genetics of local adaptation, and possibilities to mitigate effects of climate change via breeding and optimal deployment.

In the panel, the honorary speakers presented their views on climate change: what have we learned and how to proceed, and discussed these issues  together with “next generation researchers”, JP Verta (University of Helsinki) and Delphine Grivet, INIA,  The honorary speakers’  take home messages were recorded and stored in the web.

See the discussion

Thank you for joining the digital future with us

Nordic Testbed Network got a real push forward when 40 participants met to set the course for the digital transformation in the Nordic bioeconomy. 

For NKJ, cooperation is the key. Therefore we want to gather Nordic testbeds to establish a network that can lead the way towards a sustainable society in a digital future. To facilitate the development of new and existing testbeds, the Nordic Testbed Network aims to unite and strengthen testbeds aimed at supporting the digital transformation of the bioeconomy.

November 12th our participants met to set the vision and structure of the network. More info here

Inspiration talks

Frida Magnusdotter Ivarsson kick-started the workshop with a very inspiring and energizing talk on the subject “Organizing for digital innovation”, followed by a very interesting talk by Monika Svanberg on “Mobilizing testbeds”. The different testbeds represented at the workshop were also presented with some inspiring talks about how they work to enhance bioeconomy.​

But this wasn’t a day for just listening. In workshops, the participants also worked hard to set the vision and structure of the Nordic Testbed Network. The economy of the network was also discussed; how do we use the resources at hand in the most efficient and effective way?

Next step

After the workshop, we now have an even better basis for the Nordic Testbed Network! We will now gather all good ideas harvested during the workshop and our coordinator, Maria Tunberg, will use it as a starting point for further development of the network.

There are already testbeds connected to the network and more will join. Spread the word and use the hashtag #nordictestbednetwork to reach out to interested actors in the digital transformation bioeconomy.​

More about Nordic Testbed Network

New NKJ networks in One Health

Five networks get funding from NKJ for networking activities in One Health. The decision was made in the board meeting in Lysaker, Norway. 


The board has decided which of the applicants will get funding to develop Nordic research in One Health. Five networks will arrange workshops, meet and write joint large scale applications, all to bring Nordic researchers closer together  and make the best out of our common knowledge.

The call has been opened in two rounds.

Animal welfare

One of the funded networks, NordCAW, is into how animal welfare is interconnected to human wellbeing and environment. A few Nordic and Baltic institutions will be active in the network. Workshops and seminars will be organized and the Nordic/Baltic voice will be stronger in an international perspective. We are pleased to see that the network actively will involve young researchers!

Another of the newly founded networks, Nordic vets against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), will organize workshops and seminars in three Nordic countries to share thoughts about research activities and form a platform for future collaboration on different aspects of antimicrobial resistance. The network is also aiming to longer-term collaboration and to proceed to scientific joint research calls such as H2020.

Three additional networks was accepted for funding in this call with the focus area One Health. We hope you will gain a lot of knowledge, cooperation and good ideas through your new networks!

New board members

The NKJ board has got two new members. Kirsti Anker-Nilssen is one of them. She represents Norway and works on a daily basis on Landbruks- og matdepartementet. The other one is Sæmundur Sveinsson from Iceland, working on MATIS. You are most welcome to join the work for Nordic agricultural research!