Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

A 10-year vision

To protect and create a sustainable future for Europe’s largest, unspoiled nature and cultural treasure

Lapland – Sápmi – has become known as the untamed and uniques land of the north, serving as the great home for the Sami, charismatic species and natural treasures. It is a vast landscape connecting the Atlantic with the Baltic Sea through some of Europe’s wildest rivers.

Rewilding Lapland Artist impression of a vision

It is famous for its abundance of big moose living together with bears, wolverines and lynx, big reindeer herds migrating between the mountains and the largest remaining tracts of old-growth taiga forests left in Europe, the snow-capped mountains and glaciers, and where three of Europe’s largest untamed rivers remain free-flowing. At the western end, where the mountains meet the Atlantic, orcas, harbour porpoises and white-tailed sea eagles thrive in the spectacular fjord landscapes, and these values are seen as part of the wider Lapland landscape and heritage.

At the same time Lapland is home to the Sami people for millennia, with a unique culture, natural resource use, and relationship to nature rooted in ancient history. The citizens of Europe have started to realise the unique combination of nature and cultural qualities of Lapland.

Situation in 2025

In general

The wildlife, culture, landscapes and remoteness have become a magnet for visitors around the world. Through the coalition between Sami people and nature conservation, Rewilding Lapland has created a new economy anchored in a unique culture combined with wildlife comeback and rewilding, and the maintanance of the two main forces shaping the landscape of the north – large-scale reindeer migration and free flowing rivers. This new approach has generated interests at all levels of society in both Sweden and Norway and has also lead to a much stronger protection of the natural and cultural values. Rewilding Lapland has shown to be a change maker and shifted attitudes and practice from exploitation towards benefitting from innovative nature protection and wildlife management, re-connecting people with nature.

The sheer size and the diversity have enabled a number of successful initiatives and positive effects upon wildlife. The coalition between the Sami community and the rewilding initiative has been productive, and through mutual trust, people have gained confidence in starting new and stronger entrepreneurship with high standard accommodation, guided experiences including wildlife watching, as well as stronger markets for local produce. This, together with initiatives on new management models for different areas within Lapland integrating local Sami knowledge, has generated a clearly more positive attitude in the local society for the value and economic potential of wildlife and high quality tourism. These local developments have resonated in decisions at both the regional and national levels leading to the protection of all remaining old-growth forests on state owned land and to the stop of negative developments, like mining.

Peat bog lands and taiga boreal forest, Laponian UNESCO World Heritage Site

Peat bog lands and taiga boreal forest, Laponian UNESCO World Heritage Site
Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

The big idea of Rewilding Lapland connecting the Norwegian Atlantic coast via the mountains and Europe’ three of the largest untamed rivers – Kalix, Råne and Pite – to the Baltic sea, has shown to be a strong concept. Tourism along these arteries in the landscape has generated a strong, local movement for safeguarding and even increasing the natural values. The successful rewilding initiatives in Lapland, with the new concepts of managing nature at the same time as creating new economic opportunities, especially through ecotourism, have given echoes in the media with a positive impact on thinking and practice far outside the region.

The dialogue and cooperation with the Laponia World Heritage authority has been positive and constructive. A new alliance has been formed between Sweden and Norway built on the big vision of creating a conservation landscape from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Baltic Sea in the east, generating a stronger protection of the natural values anchored in a new, thriving economy. With all existing national parks and other protected areas in the two countries together with three of Europe’s largest wild rivers, Rewilding Lapland has become a globally outstanding example of economic development anchored in conservation.

Natural processes

The Rewilding Lapland initiative has strengthened the awareness of the already existing natural values and processes with free flowing rivers, large-scale reindeer migration, unbroken tracts of taiga forests, large intact wetlands, and where wildlife – like moose – still can migrate unhindered between summer and winter areas. Where necessary, some of the broken systems have been restored, especially along the rivers leading to the recovery of fish populations, like the Atlantic salmon and trout.

The reindeer migration is at the heart of Lapland that shapes the landscape and ecology and reconnects people with nature. It is the very lifeline of the Sami people and their unique culture. The mountain reindeer is dependent on unbroken landscapes with good grazing grounds in the high mountains and the forest reindeer needs open bogs and mires in the forest landscape in the summer. For both types of reindeer, old-growth forests with lichens in the taiga landscape provide the best winter conditions. The full protection of all remaining old-growth forests in combination with a reindeer adapted forestry and no threat from the mining industry to the most important reindeer winter areas are therefore put in place, safeguarding the ecological and cultural lifeline of the north.

Wildlife

The Rewilding Lapland initiative has enhanced the already rich wildlife. The obvious values for local economic development through wildlife watching together with new management models have led to more positive attitudes towards controversial species. The initiative have also led to a stronger interest in the many other species of the taiga, mountains, rivers and the seas, such as the gyrfalcon, Ural owl, siberian jay, beaver, otter, white-tailed eagle, salmon trout and orca on the Atlantic side. These species have also turned out to serve as attractions for tourism developments. The creation of ‘Alaska moose valleys’ has become a special attraction .

"Catch and release" fishing

"Catch and release" fishing
Magnus Lundgren / Wild Wonders of Europe

The combination of restoration of spawning ground for species like grayling, Atlantic salmon and trout with alterantive management models (such as ‘catch and release’) and ‘fish watching’ have stimulated the local economy and increased the stocks and size of fish. The critical importance of the beaver for fish and the forest lanscape have been communicated and is better understood, leading to more positive attitudes towards the species.

Local economic development

Through the success of the Rewilding Lapland initiative, in particular nature-based tourism is now seen as a serious and relevant economic alternative to industrial development, especially mining. The joined forces between local entrepreneurs, the Sami community and quality ecotourism have stimulated new businesses and products as well as more local, sustainable jobs.

The coalition between Sami communities and Rewilding Lapland built on trust and confidence opened up a new and stronger Sami entrepreneurship and helped Sami people in setting up new accommodations, selling guided wildlife experiences such as wildlife watching, and resulted in a better market for local produce, like reindeer meat. Reindeer herders live their live depending of nature, the weather and the reindeer and invite guests in an exclusive way to experience and learn about the reindeer herding as well as Sami culture and history. The direct value of wildlife for local economic development has also increased.

Protection

The new insight that protected land is not a ”dead hand” over the landscape but a potential for more local attraction, incomes and jobs has led to that local decision-manking favour nature protection. At the national levels in Sweden and Norway, the Rewilding Lapland initiative has generated new discussions and initiatives of ”rewilding” with a large landscape approach, innovative management models, and clear links between protection and the local economy and wellbeing.