Natural environment, cultural environment and landscape

A total of 16 per cent of Norway’s land area is protected under special acts of law. Planning in accordance with the Planning and Building Act is therefore important in order to protect and develop natural, cultural and landscape values in line with national targets.

Norway’s natural and cultural landscapes are important resources for regional and local development. The municipalities have chief responsibility for the management of landscapes, natural diversity, cultural heritage sites/monuments and cultural environments, and important reindeer husbandry and agricultural areas. A total of 16 per cent of Norway’s land area is protected under special acts of law. Planning in accordance with the Planning and Building Act is therefore important in order to protect and develop natural, cultural and landscape values in line with national targets.


Norway is known for its magnificent scenery and beautiful landscape, and it is of national importance to protect these values. Our cultural landscape can only be maintained through active use. The everyday landscape where we live and work is also important to people’s well-being and quality of life.

Norway has endorsed the European Landscape Convention, and this commits us to promote the protection of and to administer and plan the use of all types of landscapes.

Almost half of threatened and near threatened species listed on the 2010 Norwegian Red List for Species live in forests. Former farmland and agricultural areas that are still in active use are also habitats for many threatened species. Changes in land use are the most important reason for the reduction in natural diversity in Norway. More than 85 per cent of threatened or near threatened species are threatened because their habitats disappear or are changed. Physical interventions are the biggest threat, but forestry and agriculture also have a negative impact on many species. A sustainable land use policy that takes account of natural diversity is a condition for reversing this trend.

It is necessary to coordinate application of the Planning and Building Act, acts relating to specific sectors and the Nature Diversity Act in order to ensure knowledge-based nature management and in order to meet the management objectives, principles and rules of the Nature Diversity Act relating to sustainable use and nature protection. The schemes for priority species and selected habitat types define rules for the management of natural diversity outside the protected areas. All decisions by public agencies shall take account of and emphasise the principles set out in the Nature Diversity Act, and such decisions shall contain a reference to these principles.

Decisions must be based on adequate knowledge; where too little is known, the precautionary principle shall be applied in order to prevent potential significant harm to natural diversity.

Optimum modes of operation, technology and localisation shall be used to prevent or limit harmful impacts on natural diversity and to produce the best results for society at large. An assessment must be carried out of the plan or project’s cumulative environmental impact on the ecosystem, including on species and habitat types.

In mountain and outlying areas, natural and cultural resources, interests relating to outdoor pursuits and commercial use shall be taken into account and complement each other. As the only country in Europe, Norway has mountain areas that are habitats for wild reindeer. The wild reindeer’s functional habitats must be secured, and regional plans for coordinated management of mountain areas are important for the future of wild reindeer in Norway.

In parts of the country, the shore zone has come under strong pressure of development. The general public shall have access to the sea, and the interests of the general public shall have priority in the 100-metre belt along the sea.

Important scenery, cultural environments and landscapes shall be preserved. The Government has adopted national guidelines for diversified management of the shore zone that take account of different conditions and needs along the coast.

Norway’s natural river systems are unique. River systems are important for natural diversity, and intact wetland systems work as buffers against climate change and as natural cleaning systems. Regional water management plans are now being prepared for all freshwater bodies and coastal waters in the entire country.

Everybody shall have the opportunity to enjoy health-promoting, pleasurable and environmentally friendly outdoor pursuits in their local community and natural surroundings. Green lungs and outdoor recreation areas near cities/towns are important for outdoor pursuits. In addition, such areas are often valuable in terms of natural diversity and cultural heritage sites/monuments, and their preservation is therefore of extra importance.

In their capacity as planning authorities, the municipalities are the primary managers of cultural historical assets. Changes in the use of land and buildings add to the challenge of safeguarding these values. Sustainable use of cultural heritage sites/monuments and cultural landscape is necessary to prevent deterioration and overgrowing in rural areas, while in the cities/towns, cultural historical values must be an integrated part of urban development and redevelopment.

A thriving agricultural sector and active management of agricultural land use and cultural landscapes must be based on sustainable use of resources and land management. Only three per cent of the land in Norway is cultivated. It is a national goal to halve the reallocation of the most valuable land resources.

Centuries of active reindeer husbandry has created a special cultural landscape. As a source of income, culture and way of life, reindeer husbandry is unique in the national and international context and is a key bearer and developer of Sami culture. It is a major challenge to secure sufficient land for sustainable reindeer husbandry.

Natural environment, cultural environment and landscape in figures

The 2010 Norwegian Nature Index shows that the natural diversity situation is good in the sea, coastal waters, lakes and mountains. Of the big ecosystems, it is the open lowlands and the forests that are in the poorest condition. The 2010 Norwegian Red List for Species classifies 2,398 species as threatened and 1,284 as near threatened. The most important negative influences are encroachment for the purpose of building houses or roads and changes in land use in forestry and agriculture.

The 2011 Norwegian Red List for Species classifies 40 habitat types as threatened, most of which are connected to wetlands or forests. In the period 2003–2008, areas of unexploited nature were reduced by 1,000 km2. This is significantly higher than in the period 1998–2033, when the reduction was approximately 640 km2.

At the turn of the year 2007–2008, there were approximately 460,000 buildings within 100 metres from the coastline. This corresponds to about 12 per cent of all buildings in Norway.
The buildings are mostly boathouses, garages and outhouses belonging to houses, followed by houses and holiday homes.

Despite a reduction in new buildings in recent years, the available seaside areas are shrinking. In the last ten years, the areas available for outdoor pursuits have been reduced by 2.1 per cent for Norway as a whole. Southern Norway, from Østfold county to Hordaland county, has seen a reduction of 3.7 per cent.