Sustainable Rangeland Grazing in Norse Faroe

Abstract

The introduction of domestic livestock, particularly sheep, and rangeland grazing by Norse settlers to Faroe during the ninth century has generally been described as a major pressure on a sensitive landscape, leading to rapid and widespread vegetation change and contributing to land degradation. This view has, however, been developed without consideration of Norse grazing management practices which may have served to minimize grazing impacts on landscapes as well as sustaining and enhancing vegetation and livestock productivity. These alternative scenarios are considered using a historical grazing management simulation model with Faroese climate and vegetation inputs and given archaeological, historical and palaeoenvironmental parameters. Three contrasting rangeland areas are investigated and, based on the maximum number of ewe/lamb pairs the rangeland could sustain, modeling suggests that utilizable biomass declined with the onset of grazing activity, but not to a level that would cause major changes in vegetation cover or contribute to soil erosion even under climatically determined poor growth conditions. When rangeland areas partitioned into what are termed hagi and partir are modeled, grazing levels are still within rangeland carrying capacities, but productivities are variable. Some rangeland areas increase biomass and livestock productivities and biomass utilization rates while other rangeland areas that were too finely partitioned were likely to suffer substantial decline in livestock productivity. Partitioning of rangeland is a likely contributor to long-term differentiation of landscapes and the relative success of settlements across Faroe beyond the Norse period.

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Thomson, A.M., Simpson, I.A. & Brown, J.L. Sustainable Rangeland Grazing in Norse Faroe. Hum Ecol 33, 737–761 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-005-7596-x

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Key Words

  • historical ecology
  • modeling
  • rangeland management
  • Norse Faroe