THE LAND TENURE SYSTEM IN NORWAY,
AND LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN RELATION TO LAND ISSUES
Anders Anderssen, (March 1998) Advisor to the County Governor, Sogn og
Presented to Highlands and Islands
Forum 1998, Inverness, March 20-22, 1998
I have not come here to tell you how you should do things, but rather to give a short
presentation of our own system in regard to major land issues.
Land tenure and farm lands
Land is a most valuable resource in Norway. This is easy to understand in a country
with only 3% arable lands, 37% forests, 44% highlands, bogs, freshwater surface, wetlands,
and the rest mountains, talus slopes, snowfields and glaciers.
Most agricultural land is privately owned. There are few large estates outside those
belonging to the State Forestry Agency. This is especially the case in Western Norway,
which in topography and climate has many similarities to the Scottish Highlands and
Farms are relatively small: a few hectares crop fields, similar acreage of nearby
grazing land, larger acreage of forested area, and communal rights in much larger areas
above timber line.
Individual farm units thus include a wide variety of types of land. It is an
exaggeration to say that many farms constitute a strip of land from tidewater through the
forest belt up to the edge of the glacier - but not too far from the truth. Land division
- which needs public approval - has altered this ownership pattern somewhat the last
The Land Act regulates the use and transfer of land ownership outside built-up areas.
There are strict rules as to non-citizen buying land. Agricultural lands must be used as
such, and the owner of farms is required to live there as well. A law of primogeniture
secures that the ownership stays in the same family. Transfer of areas larger than ˝ ha
need a concession from the local council. Decisions may be appealed to the County land
Board, and further up to the Department of Agriculture. In some cases the Government makes
the final decision.
If time had permitted, I would have gone into some details in the Land Act. Instead, I
suggest that you read it yourself, as attached hereto.
Local communes and the use of natural resources
As mentioned above, the local commune has decisive influence over the use and transfer
of agricultural lands, including forests. All communes are required to have agricultural
and forestry officers on their staff. Private owners of forests and highlands have the
right to hunt there, subject to strict regulations under the national wildlife act.
Similarly, adjacent property owners have the right to fish in rivers and lakes. Salmon and
sea trout fishing is strictly regulated. Otherwise, fishing licences may be bought
everywhere and are inexpensive. Salt-water fishing is open to all.
Hydro power is considered to be a national as well as a local resource and is subject
to comprehensive planning procedures. The National Assembly must give the final approval
of major projects. Both the affected local property owners and the commune receive
considerable monetary compensation for «loss of a local natural resource». The commune
also benefits by getting a percentage of hydro power output to use locally or to sell on
the open market. These revenues may be spent outright, but are generally set aside in a
local economic development fund. - In addition, local communes often own a share of
regional power companies, and share in their profits.
In the built-up areas of the commune, the Plan and Building Act regulates the use of
lands and buildings. Here, the commune exercises considerable power. When additional lands
are needed e.g. for housing or industrial development, there may be a clash between the
Plan and Building Act and the Land Act, oftentimes to be referred to the county level for
What is the role of the state in respect to land use
Land use is for the most part subject to local democratic management through the
commune. The communes are subject to control and monitoring by the County Governor, who is
the representative of the central government on the county level.
State controls over land use - in addition to the Land Act and Plan and Building Act -
is carried out through national legislation e.g .in the following fields:
The management of this legislation is for the most part left to the local communes
(approx. 440) and the county governors (18). Regulatory measures as indicated here apply
to all lands regardless of ownership. Special restrictions apply to the use of national
park lands et al.
Leikanger - presentation of a small commune
Communes may range in size from a few hundred inhabitants to one-half million (Oslo).
They all have the same type of local democratic self-government, same political structure,
and similar administrative system and responsibilities.
In order to illustrate the situation, I would like to show a number of slides of
Leikanger commune, which I know well since I have lived there for a number of years.
So - let the following overhead slides speak more or less for themselves. Leikanger is
not a «rich» commune. The levels of income and public service may be said to be average.
If anything is atypical, it is the status as a county administrative centre, with a
relatively high number of academics in the work force, and a good local climate for
If «seeing is believing», please come and visit us some time!
Land Use policy in Norway - some critical points as to land use, what ought to be
1. Norway needs better protection of large predators( bear, lynx, wolverine) against
the rage of sheep owners: back to shepherding?
2. Western Norway: spruce is an introduced/exotic tree. Plantations ought to be
outlawed, which would help indigenous trees ( pine, broadleaves) take back their natural
3. Planning of national parks should be closely linked to parallel rural devlopment
schemes in abutting ( gateway) communities.
4. Statutory protection of shoreline belts (100m) ought to be strengthened and enforced
for the benefit of the general public.
5. Local councils ought to have more power to prevent the construction of agricultural
roads, especially forestry roads.
6. Norway has strong legislation against the use of offroad vehicles outside roads.
However snowscooter use in the 2-3 northernmost areas is almost out of control