Stølsheimen Protected Landscape is part of the Fjellheimen wild reindeer area. It is not uncommon to see wild reindeer both in the summer and the winter. It is important to keep at a good distance and not disturb the wild reindeer if you see any.
Ancient trapping sites show that Stølsheimen has been a habitat for wild reindeer for a long period of time. Today’s wild reindeer herd originated from domesticated reindeer, and it is said that they are not as shy as the animals in other wild reindeer areas. When Vik and Voss Domesticated Reindeer Association was discontinued at the end of the 1960s, there were still a few individual animals that roamed the Vikafjellet mountains. These reindeer managed just fine on their own. They reproduced and formed the basis of the wild reindeer herd that lives here today. Today, several hundred animals make up the wild reindeer herd, and the landowners organize wild reindeer hunting in the area.
Fjellheimen wild reindeer area stretches across the municipalities of Vik, Høyanger, Aurland, Voss, Vaksdal and Modalen. There are good summer grazing pastures in this wild reindeer area. However, there are fewer winter pastures, and mountain ridges covered in lichen are very important grazing grounds for the wild reindeer. Access to nutrients during the winter is often minimal, and the reindeer are particularly shy during this period. Wild reindeer have a 20-30 year cycle regarding the use of grazing areas. Therefore, it is important to safeguard a large enough area to ensure future habitat for the herd. Currently, the herd consists of less than 400 winter animals, but the goal is to increase the population to around 500.
During the winter, the reindeer survive by eating lichen, which they can smell 60 cm beneath the snow. Reindeer fur, which is three times as dense as other species of deer, effectively insulates the animals against the winter cold. Their special hooves act as snowshoes in loose snow. During the spring, the reindeer follow the melting snow up the mountains in order to take advantage of the freshest and most nutritious green shoots. After the mating period in the fall, male and female reindeer split up to form herds of bulls and nursery herds (comprising of cows, juveniles and calves). The calving period takes place in May, both on the slopes just above the tree line and higher up in the mountains. After just a couple of days, the calf is ready to follow its mother.
Wild reindeer are shy animals that are easily disturbed by human activity. Roads, busy trails and areas with many cabins are effective barriers for the wild reindeer. The four original wild reindeer areas in Norway are now split up into 24 smaller and more or less isolated areas. This makes the reindeer particularly vulnerable when faced with other challenges such as climate change. If you see wild reindeer in the mountains, keep your distance so you don’t scare the animals away.
BirdsIf you take your binoculars with you on a trip, there is a good chance you will see a little meadow pipit sailing down from the sky and singing at the top of its voice. A glimpse of something white on a stone is probably a northern wheatear, giving the alarm with its characteristic call that people are passing by. He has traveled all the way from his overwintering home in Southern Africa. If you see something blue in a bush, you have been lucky enough to spot the bluethroat. He is known for his beautiful song and can mimic other birds and sounds, sheep bells for example!
PlantsLarge parts of Stølsheimen consist of mountainous terrain where the vegetation is dominated by moss, heather and small shrubs. From time to time, you might find beautiful mountain flowers such as the glacier buttercup, purple saxifrage and moss campion. Deciduous forests dominated by birch and gray alder trees grow on the slopes down towards Sognefjord. There are sections of deciduous forest along the shores of Finnafjorden, in Finnabotnen and in Vassdalen valley south of Ortnevik.
Mountain farming and grazing animals have shaped the vegetation in Stølsheimen over hundreds of years. Diverse plant life can be found in the places where the mountain pastures were maintained through grazing and haymaking. Typical flowers that can be found in between the grass are common sorrel, common tormentil, autumn hawkbit, harebell, common yarrow, alpine lady’s-mantle, meadow buttercup and spotted St. Johnswort. Less grazing means that the mountain farming areas are shrinking in size. Especially on the lower lying farms, tufted hairgrass, stinging nettles, raspberry, eagle fern, juniper and deciduous trees are taking over the mountain pastures.