It might not be the obvious choice, but if I had to pick the most important sustainability tool we have in Sweden, I think I’d take the Right of Public Access, allemansrätten.
Most of us are probably more willing to save something we feel strongly for. But it’s not easy to develop a strong relationship to nature if you haven’t got the possibility to access wild areas. The Right of Public Access makes nature something for everyone to enjoy rather than for someone to possess.
Allemansrätten itself is actually not a law, but more of a cultural heritage. However, there are laws that restrict allemansrätten, in order to protect vulnerable areas for example. But as long as you don’t camp in someone’s garden, leave rubbish or cause any damage, you normally have the right to roam freely in forests, have a swim in someone else’s water, put up a tent and stay for a couple of nights and pick wild berries and mushrooms.
Lately voices have been raised to change the allemansrätt, since some mean that it’s being (ab)used for commercial berry-picking or profitmaking large-scale group activities. The defence for these rights are profoundly rooted among most Swedes. though, and many hesitate to make any big changes. Going hiking and camping with my friends who weren’t born or raised here and seeing their astonishment, I’ve also come to realize that it’s something very precious.
Last weekend I spent exercising the right to roam freely together with a group of friends, in this case in Gåseborg [map] just half an hour from central Stockholm using public transport. It’s situated around the remainings of an ancient castle from the Neolithic Age and has a stunning view over lake Mälaren. On top of it all it’s an excellent spot for climbing.
In order to make the most of allemansrätten, here are some basic tips:
1. Figure out where you want to go. What are your main objectives? Climbing? Trecking? Swimming? Kayaking? Picknicking? Or do you want total stillness? A bit of Googling is a good way to find ideas. (The Swedish EPA has some suggestions here )
2. Pack some basic stuff (for example a tent, some food and water), call a friend and off you go.
3. In many well-visited nature areas the local authorities have put up public barbeque spots and there might even be firewood provided for visitors in order to save dead branches in the forest. These are excellent places to have a picnic or a barbeque.
4. Staying overnight is my personal favourite. There are few things that beat waking up to birds singing and having breakfast on a sunny rock.
5. Allemansrätten is a right, but it also means responsabilities. Don’t scare animals or disturb people living in the area. You’re not allowed to cut or injure growing trees. Be sure to take all waste with you. In short: Leave the place looking like you had never been there.
6. Enjoy! Listen to the wind playing in the leaves, smell the pine-needles, watch the ants work. Climb up a tree, spy on a bird, pick some edible plants…or just hang out with your friends by the fire, watching the stars. Nature is never boring.