, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 551–566 | Cite as

Sheep grazing in the North Atlantic region: A long-term perspective on environmental sustainability

  • Louise C. RossEmail author
  • Gunnar Austrheim
  • Leif-Jarle Asheim
  • Gunnar Bjarnason
  • Jon Feilberg
  • Anna Maria Fosaa
  • Alison J. Hester
  • Øystein Holand
  • Ingibjörg S. Jónsdóttir
  • Lis E. Mortensen
  • Atle Mysterud
  • Erla Olsen
  • Anders Skonhoft
  • James D. M. Speed
  • Geir Steinheim
  • Des B. A. Thompson
  • Anna Gudrún Thórhallsdóttir


Sheep grazing is an important part of agriculture in the North Atlantic region, defined here as the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Scotland. This process has played a key role in shaping the landscape and biodiversity of the region, sometimes with major environmental consequences, and has also been instrumental in the development of its rural economy and culture. In this review, we present results of the first interdisciplinary study taking a long-term perspective on sheep management, resource economy and the ecological impacts of sheep grazing, showing that sustainability boundaries are most likely to be exceeded in fragile environments where financial support is linked to the number of sheep produced. The sustainability of sheep grazing can be enhanced by a management regime that promotes grazing densities appropriate to the site and supported by area-based subsidy systems, thus minimizing environmental degradation, encouraging biodiversity and preserving the integrity of ecosystem processes.


Atlantic region Management Nordic agriculture Rural economy Sheep grazing Sustainability 



We are grateful to the Research Council of Norway for funding through the Environment 2015 program (Project 212897/E40), the Norwegian Environment Agency and North Atlantic Co-operation (NORA). We thank John Milne† for useful discussions on sheep grazing in Scotland, Paul Haworth, Alan Fielding and BorgÞór Magnusson for discussion and critical comments, and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise C. Ross
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gunnar Austrheim
    • 2
  • Leif-Jarle Asheim
    • 3
  • Gunnar Bjarnason
    • 4
  • Jon Feilberg
    • 5
  • Anna Maria Fosaa
    • 6
  • Alison J. Hester
    • 1
  • Øystein Holand
    • 7
  • Ingibjörg S. Jónsdóttir
    • 8
    • 9
  • Lis E. Mortensen
    • 10
  • Atle Mysterud
    • 11
  • Erla Olsen
    • 12
  • Anders Skonhoft
    • 13
    • 14
  • James D. M. Speed
    • 2
  • Geir Steinheim
    • 7
  • Des B. A. Thompson
    • 15
    • 16
  • Anna Gudrún Thórhallsdóttir
    • 17
  1. 1.The James Hutton InstituteAberdeenScotland, UK
  2. 2.Department of Natural History, University MuseumNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  3. 3.Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO)OsloNorway
  4. 4.Landbrugsfonden (Búnaðargrunnurin)TórshavnFaroe Islands
  5. 5.BiomediaRingstedDenmark
  6. 6.The Faroese Museum of Natural History (Føroya Náttúrugripasavn)TórshavnFaroe Islands
  7. 7.Department of Animal and Aquacultural SciencesNorwegian University of Life SciencesÅsNorway
  8. 8.Department of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland
  9. 9.University Centre in SvalbardLongyearbyenNorway
  10. 10.JarðfeingiTórshavnFaroe Islands
  11. 11.Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of BiosciencesUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  12. 12.Gramar ResearchTórshavnFaroe Islands
  13. 13.Department of EconomicsNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  14. 14.TrondheimNorway
  15. 15.Scottish Natural HeritageEdinburghScotland, UK
  16. 16.Hatfield CollegeDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  17. 17.Agricultural University of IcelandBorgarnesIceland

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