Is the Swedish freedom to roam too generous?


Photo: Foto: Staffan Widstrand/Ekoturismföreningen.

As I’ve written here before, one of the Swedish things I’m most proud over is allemansrätten, or the Right of Public Access, which makes nature areas accessible to everyone. It gives you the right to take a walk, put up a tent to sleep one or two nights or pick berries and mushrooms on someone else’s land. This right to roam freely is not actually a law but an old and very beloved custom.

But recently there’s been a lot of discussions about how far allemansrätten should extend. Should commercial activities, such as tourist tours or large scale berrypicking have the right to roam as freely as private people, and without paying the land owner?
The Federation of Swedish Farmers has proposed that commercial operators will be excluded from the right to roam freely. That wouldn’t make any difference for “ordinary” people roaming around, they say. But both tour operators and non-profit organisations encouraging people to spend more time in nature are worried. The risk, they argue, is that it will be more difficult for everyone to enter these areas.

The Swedish Association for Eco Tourism points out that it’s not always the tour operators that cause the land-owners most problems. According to a survey, about a third of the forest-owners said that they have problems with public visitors, like city dwellers who aren’t used to being in nature and for example make fires carelessly or leave their waste behind. Tourism isn’t targeted as a big problem in that same survey.

So, should the Right to Public Access be restricted? Or would it maybe be enough to educate people better about how to act once you’ve left the concrete?The Swedish Environment Protection Agency is right now working on an inquiry about how to deal with allemansrätten in the future. Their thoughts will be presented later this year.