Water grasslands in Norway
30.08.2017, by Bénédicte Gaillard
Research: NIBIO, Sebastian Eiter, Oskar Puschmann et al.; upload: Bénédicte Gaillard: The entries are still in process
The importance of irrigation for productivity of meadows and other farmland was early recognized politically. Subsidy schemes for irrigation were introduced from the early 20th century on, and became very regular around the Second World War (Borgedal 1966). In 1939 c.76ha farmland were irrigated nation-wide, 35ha of which was grassland (Borgedal 1966). This grassland was distributed among counties as follows: 46% in Oppland (including. Nord-Gudbrandsdal), 17% in Sogn og Fjordane, and 22% in Hedmark, Buskerud , Hordaland and Akershus (Borgedal 1966). Until 1959, irrigation capacity in Norway had increased to 180ha, and further increase was expected (Borgedal 1966).
Aamo, E.S. 1972. Ungdom og landbruk. 2. utgave. Landbruksforlaget, Oslo.
Borgedal, P. 1966. Norges jordbruk i nyere tid, Bind 1 Planteproduksjonen. Bøndenes forlag, Oslo.
Christensen, A.L. . Vassdragene – blodårer i landskapet. in: Larsen, T. (ed.) Kulturminnestafetten -97: om kulturminner langs kyst og vannveier, pp. 25–28. Forbundet KYSTEN, Oslo.
Dokken, I.S., Dahl, E. & Simenstad, J.A. 1999. Ymse gamalt frå Nord-Sel. in: Bakke, P., Bakke, K., Bergum, M. Berntsen, P.A. & Fredriksen, B. (eds.) Gåmålt og nytt frå Sel, pp. 24–33. Sel historielag, Otta.
Ile, T. 1958. Bygdabok for Øyer: Natur og kultur – innsyn og utsyn, 1. Øyer bygdeboknemnd, [Øyer].
Kjøk, E. 1979. Garmo sokn. in: Bjørgen, S., Kjøk, E., Mo, E., Rustad, A. & Venås, K. (eds.) Garmo kyrkje og sokn, pp. 19–30. Garmo sokneråd, [Garmo].
Sømme, A. 1954. Jordbrukets geografi i Norge – Geography of Norwegian Agriculture, A. Tekstbind. J.W.Eides forlag, Bergen.
Historically systems of small canals, sometimes combined with half-open wooden pipes, were built to lead water from the mountains onto farmland. These canals are most generally called vassveiter, with local variations. Local terms for a half-open pipe were, for example, tro (pl. trø), dæle or lekja (Ile 1958). These irrigation systems are up to several hundred years old and several kilometers long (Christensen ). Maintenance work was resource consuming and had to be carried out annually, possibly also on demand in between (Kjøk 1979, Dokken et al. 1999). However, in years with relatively much precipitation, including snow melting right before the vegetation season, need for irrigation could be reduced or even absent on some areas (Sømme 1954). Even wind shields were built to prevent snow from being blown away from farmland before melting (Sømme 1954). The water was not only used for farmland irrigation, but also led to farmsteads for household use (Dokken et al. 1999). Since the beginning of the 20th century, it has become more common to use sprinkler irrigation. River water from the valley bottom is spread with motorized pumps via tubes. Farms without possibilities for larger investments even lost their water supply for some time in the transition period from the old to the new system (Kjøk 1979). However, mountain water may still be used directly to some degree (Sømme 1954, Christensen ), but not at least indirectly: to generate hydroelectricity for running the pumps.
Some irrigation canals were still maintained and functioning at least in the 1990s (Christensen ). In areas with historical irrigation systems, their previously high importance for community and farming economy is well reflected in a rather strong local appreciation as cultural landscape heritage.
National awareness of historical grassland irrigation is clearly lower.
Descriptions can be found in local history literature, and maintenance and restoration is done as part of cultural history hiking trails or outdoor museums.
There is no specific term for water meadows in Norwegian language. Hay meadow in general is called eng or, with specific reference mowing, slåtteeng. In most parts of Norway there has always been enough precipitation to cultivate farmland, including meadows, without irrigation. Exceptions are the farming settlements in the northern part of the valley of Gudbrandsdalen and in the innermost fjord districts of Western Norway (Aamo 1972, Christensen ). Northern Gudbrandsdalen is located in the most extreme ‘rain shadow’ east of the main mountain ridge of the Scandes, with as little as about 300mm of annual precipitation. The inner fjord districts of Sogn and Hardanger have a somewhat higher precipitation, but steep slopes and a coarse soil texture with a low capacity for water retention.