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Norway’s changing cabin culture:

My cabin is my castle

Ask a Norwegian where he most likes to be, and he is likely to say at his cabin. In Norway, cabins are getting bigger and better-appointed. What is the environmental impact of this development, and why do Norwegians so enjoy cabin life?

To most Norwegians, the term “cabin” conjures up special associations and carries a distinct cultural significance steeped in the nation’s long tradition of cabin life. Once, the typical cabin was quite small and often had neither electricity nor running water. But today, the living area of a newly-constructed holiday home actually exceeds that of the average dwelling in Norway (103 m2 vs. 101 m2 in 2006).

Huts are disappearing
Senior Research Scientist Bjørn Petter Kaltenborn of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) is among the few who conduct research on Norwegian cabin culture. Dr Kaltenborn headed the interdisciplinary project “Conflicts and sustainability around second home development” under the Research Council’s now-concluded research programme Changing Landscapes (the LANDSKAP programme). The project involved researchers from both the social and natural sciences.

Hytteliv i endring

This research field is extensive, to say the least; there are now roughly 400,000 cabins in Norway, located largely in mountain areas. Today’s second home bears little resemblance to the simple, traditional hut in the forest or mountains that many people associate with cabin life. Practically all new cabin communities are now built with roads and infrastructure for water and sewage. They are, in essence, residential developments in nature areas.

Feeling of wellness
The basic motivations for having a holiday home have remained stable over time. Most people appreciate the essential elements of cabin life: contact with nature, and having a place to spend leisure time with friends and family. Cabin life affords them the opportunity to enjoy peace and quiet as well as outdoor recreation.

“Cabin users are a very diverse group,” explains Dr Kaltenborn. “Some want a simple, close-to-nature experience, while others prefer to live in an apartment complex in the mountains where they can park their car in an underground garage and take a lift up to their flat.”

Hytteliv i endring

“In general, cabin life is associated with positive feelings and has been demonstrated to have an important, psychologically curative effect on many people.”

Disturbance to reindeer and bears
What is a welcome respite for people, however, can adversely affect nearby fauna. Many cabin communities are being constructed in areas that serve important functions such as migratory routes, winter habitats or calving grounds for wild reindeer – areas where the animals are particularly vulnerable.

Villrein

Research indicates that cabin development disturbs animal life more than we like to think. Reindeer, for instance, prefer to keep several kilometres’ distance from permanent infrastructure, which means that large tracts of mountain areas are, in practice, no longer part of their habitat.

Large carnivores such as bears are also greatly disturbed. While older male bears and females often withdraw to the wilds, younger male bears are more likely to remain near civilisation and come in contact with humans, points out Dr Kaltenborn.

 

Written by:
Siv Haugan/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Victoria Coleman
Published:
08.04.2010
Last updated:
08.04.2010