Norway is characterised by considerable local variation in terms of topography, geology and climate. The environmental conditions change rapidly over short distances. The Norwegian land area is a mosaic of ecosystems and habitats, with a unique combination of species. For instance, Norway comprises 26 different regions of vegetation geography.
By the end of 2009, 15,7 per cent, or 50 861km2, of Norway’s mainland area were protected under the Norwegian Nature Conservation Act. National parks constituted more than 50 per cent of this area. The total number of protected areas was 2 612. There were 32 national parks (not counting Svalbard), 195 landscape conservation areas and 1 911 nature reserves.
Norwegian nature protection: Mountains before sea
A large portion of the Norwegian protected areas are mountainous land. A number of other nature types, such as coastal and marine habitats, are not yet adequately represented. An area of only about 2 700 km2 of Norway’s marine waters is currently designated as protected under the Nature Conservation Act. Norway has an international responsibility to safeguard a representative selection of fjord and coastal areas of types that are not found anywhere else in the world.
In comparison with the Norwegian mainland, much more of Svalbard's area is protected, including large marine areas. National parks and nature reserves in Svalbard are protected under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act. 65 per cent of the area of the islands is protected, together with about 75 per cent of the territorial waters stretching as far out as to the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit.
The IUCN encourages all countries to set aside at least 15 per cent of all types of habitats as protected areas. When the nationwide National Park Plan is fully implemented, the 15 per cent protection level will be achieved for mountain habitats, and a better selection of fjord and coastal areas will be protected.
In 2003, the Storting, Parliament of Norway, gave its support to efforts to expand protection of forested areas. A long-term programme to encourage landowners to protect areas of forest on a voluntary basis is in progress. Implementation of the county protection plans for mires, wetlands, deciduous broad-leaved forests, rich deciduous forests and important coastal sites for seabirds will result in the protection of more coastal and lowland areas. The Storting has approved proposals to draw up a marine protection plan. Some protected areas need active management to maintain their conservation value. There is an urgent need for management plans and funding for management measures.
For more information, please visit the Directorate for Nature Management website (in Norwegian).