Lapland – the last wilderness in Europe
Lapland is a landscape in Northern Europe whose boundaries are drawn differently. It is often used to refer to the part of Scandinavia north of the Arctic Circle.
Lapland has the largest extent, if one understands it as the settlement area of the Sami – the indigenous population of Lapland. According to this definition, Lapland is just under 10% larger than Germany.
The Sámi are an indigenous people. Lapland has never had its own statehood and is now divided between the four states of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
The very sparsely populated landscape gradually rises from the Baltic Sea to the west via flat-wave taiga areas and reaches heights of over 2000 metres at the Swedish-Norwegian border in the Skanden mountains.
Lapland is crossed by many great rivers. These include Torne älv, Luleälv and Piteälv.
The largest cities are Kiruna (iron ore mining), Rovaniemi, Jokkmokk, Arvidsjaur, Gällivare, Inari and Kirkenes. If the Kola Peninsula is added to Lapland, Murmansk is the largest city in the entire region.
The climate ranges from cool temperate on the Norwegian coast warmed by the Gulf Stream, over cold-moderate in the coniferous forest areas to subpolar in the mountain areas and tundra of the northernmost regions. Due to the Gulf Stream, Norway’s ports (e.g. Narvik, the oldest ore port) are ice-free all year round, while the Gulf of Bothnia freezes over in winter. The climate in Lapland is sometimes very extreme: at the same place it can fluctuate between plus 30 and minus 30 degrees Celsius during the year.
With the exception of the mountains above 600 mNN and the extreme north, the Boreal coniferous forest with spruce predominates on fresh soils and pine on drier soils. Deciduous trees include birch, rowan, poplar, aspen and willow, with birch being by far the most common deciduous tree in coniferous forests. The mountain birch (a subspecies of the downy birch) forms as a forest tundra the transition from the Taiga to the mountain tundra (Fjäll) up to about 800 mNN and the tundra in the northernmost parts of the Finnmark. In the mountains and tundra, grasses and dwarf shrub heaths predominate, interspersed with mosses and lichens. The cloudberry (Swedish: Hjortron), which grows in the numerous moor areas, is a popular dessert.
The wildlife of Lapland is typical for the cold temperate and polar climate zone, so that amphibians, reptiles and insects are only present in a small number of species. The bird life is particularly rich with many species of wading birds, birds of prey and songbirds. The first mammals to notice are the large herds of semi-domesticated reindeer, which visit the forest areas in winter and the mountain regions in summer. All reindeer of Lapland are owned by the Sami. Other harmless mammals are lemming, moose and brown bear. The predator wolf, wolverine and lynx are rare in Lapland. This also applies to the arctic fox, which is facing increasing competition from the red fox, which is immigrating from the south due to global warming.
Lapland has large deposits of mineral resources, particularly iron ore in Sweden, copper in Norway, and nickel and apatite in Russia. In addition, forestry plays the largest role in the economy of the Swedish and Finnish regions of Lapland. A special feature is the traditional reindeer husbandry of the Sami.
Lapland’s national parks and nature reserves together form the largest protected area complex in Europe. They are “Europe’s last wilderness”.
Sweden’s Lapland is crossed by three European roads. In Karesuando on the Swedish-Finnish border, the E45 begins, which leads south as far as Agrigent on the southern coast of Sicily. In the Swedish section of the E 45 (to Gothenburg), this is also the national road 45 (Rv 45, Inlandsvägen) – the only north-south alternative to the E 4 along the Baltic Sea coast. The E 10 (Nordkalottenvägen), the Rv 95 (Silvervägen) and the E 12 (Blåvägen) cross Lapland in an east-west direction. The traffic density is very low, the greatest risk of accidents is the encounter with reindeer or elk.
The Malmbanan runs through the northern part of Lapland from Luleå via Boden (connection to Stockholm and Gothenburg), Gällivare, Kiruna and Riksgränsen towards Narvik. Inlandsbanan also begins in Gällivare, leading south over 1300 km to Kristinehamn on the banks of the Vänern. Today, this route is used almost exclusively for tourist purposes.
Lapland – the last wilderness in Europe