Sweden 19

Gävle, Sweden (Geran de Klerk, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Beale


In Sweden, you can walk, ride, cycle, ski and camp on any land you like, without the landowner’s permission. You can also forage, picking as many flowers, berries and mushrooms as you wish. And you can drive on private land, unless there is a sign that says otherwise.

In short, the concept of trespassing is anathema to a Swede. The Swedish tourist board even listed the entire country on Airbnb in 2017, advertising the freedom to roam to the whole world.

Forest camping in Sweden
Image: Flickr/ Mads Bødker

The concept of access regardless of land ownership is called ‘Allemansrätt’ – ‘everyman’s right’. The custom dates from mediaeval times, but was only passed as law in parliament in 1974, and enshrined in the Swedish constitution in 1994. Authorities can even force landowners to remove any fence in place which has the sole purpose of obstructing public access to a recreation area.

There are sensible exceptions. You cannot enter private gardens or cultivated land, nor can you camp within 70 metres of a dwelling place, or exploit the countryside for economic purpose, such as hunting and logging.

 

People are obliged to take care of the nature they enjoy, and respect others they meet. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has popularized the slogan ‘don’t disturb, don’t destroy’, a variation on the ‘leave no trace’ tagline found elsewhere.

Hikers in Lapland

Image: Flickr/ 63Grad Photography

Several other countries ensure similar freedoms, including the rest of the Nordic countries (though Denmark has some restrictions on private land), several Baltic states, Scotland and Austria. By contrast, many countries have restrictions on access to public land. In England for example, walkers are generally allowed to cross privately owned moors, heaths and coastal land, but not forests. In the US, property rights allow landowners to exclude others. And Northern Ireland has “draconian” access rights, according to the Chairman of the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs (UFRC).

Access to nature can be key to a population’s health, both in terms of encouraging an active lifestyle and for the soothing powers of the great outdoors. Japan has designated “therapy forests” where people are encouraged to go “forest bathing,” while doctors in Scotland are prescribing outdoor activities to help tackle a range of conditions. Medical research has linked time spent in nature with everything from reduced depression to improved immune systems.