HABITAT - Foto: Brynjar Stautland
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Fotograf: Brynjar Stautland

Habitats

Sunnhordland owns a variety of landscapes, from weather beaten islands and skerries facing the ocean, till deep forests, long fjords, impressing waterfalls and glaciers in alpine mountains. The Gulf Stream gives us a mild and wet climate with average temperature of 5 degrees Celsius in January - February and 18 in July. Climate and landscape make Sunnhordland an oasis of rare nature types and species, specially linked to the boreonemoral rainforests. Several of these species are red listed (in danger of extinction).

Lynghei - Foto: Brynjar Stautland

Photo: Brynjar Stautland

The coastal heathlands

has characterised the coast from Portugal to Lofoten ever since people with knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry immigrated here 4,000 years ago. The forest was burned down to provide winter grazing for sheep. The most common heather species are common heather, purple heather and bell heather. Heather moorland is still a characteristic landscape feature in Sunnhordland, but fewer and fewer grazing animals will eventually cause the heather moorland to overgrow. Sitka spruce in particular has become a major problem in many places in the heathlands of Sunnhordland.

The forests

in Western Norway are characterised by coastal pine forests. The mild climate provides favourable conditions for specially adapted oceanic mosses and lichens, with a very limited distribution worldwide. Such species are usually found on north-facing slopes and are referred to as boreonemoral rainforest, where boreonemoral comes from the vegetation zone in which Sunnhordland is located. The rarest lichen species are found especially on deciduous trees of rowan and hazel that are mixed into the rainforest (prickly lichen, barn lichen, red spotted lichen and pear lichen)

Furuskog - Foto: Jan Rabben

Photo: Jan Rabben

Photo: Hovaneset, Per Fadnes

Pastures

Southwest Norway is rich in ancient grazing land that has been used over thousands of years, grazed by domestic animals and little fertilised except for what the animals leave behind. Hovaneset in Stord municipality is one such site, which also has burial mounds from the Bronze Age. The burial mounds (coastal mounds) were placed on islands and headlands facing the sea so that passers-by could see that the land was "occupied". Localities such as Hovaneset with a long history of use (continuity) have distinctive pasture mushrooms that are only found in such environments. Hovaneset is the richest locality in Norway when it comes to such species. Around 90 different species of grassland fungi have been found here, 40 of which are on the red list (Artsdatabanken 2015). But this is just one of several such sites in Sunnhordland. In 2019, a new species for Norway was found at this site, and there is a good chance of finding more of these here.

Local nature in Sunnhordland

We hope that this little booklet will inspire you
to go on an adventure, get to know plants, animals and birds and enjoy the unique nature Sunnhordland has to offer. Maybe you'll want to learn more? Perhaps you can join your family on a species treasure hunt or a hike in our different types of nature? 

Click here to view the digital booklet!

Furuskog - Foto: Jan Rabben

SUNNHORDLAND HAVE 70 NATURE AREAS PROTECTED BY LAW. THIS SELECTION OF PROTECTED NATURE AREAS GIVE AN IMPRESSION OF THE HABITATES IN THE GEOPARK.

Island

Fluøyane Nesting Reserve, Tysnes

This reserve is a group of islands in the Bjørnafjord north of Tysnes, and has been prioritized for ring-marking of birds since 1987.

Important bird groups include black-backed gulls, grey gulls, herring gulls, terns and greylag geese. Fluøyane is one of the best sites in the county in terms of species richness and number of individuals. Large colonies of all four commonly breeding gull species, as well as a tern colony (32 pairs in 1981) and many more unusual species in the skerries.

Source: www.naturbase.no

Swamp

The Salamander-park, Sveio

In the centre of Sveio is a reserve for the protected great crested newt. 3000 - 4000 years ago, the great crested newt was widespread over large parts of Western Norway. Today it is very rare both in this country and in the rest of Europe. One reason is that newts and fish cannot coexist. The ponds in the newt park are empty of fish and have no spawning grounds for fish.

The Salamander "park" is not tidy as parks often are. This is how it should and must be. The salamander spends much of its time on land. They come ashore in the evening and at night to find food, but for much of the year they hibernate under a tree root or in a rocky outcrop. If you see a newt on land, leave it alone. Even though they are poisonous, they are vulnerable on land. The easiest way to see a newt is to walk calmly towards a pond and look down towards the bottom. The salamander is easily agitated and is quick to hide in the mud or under a branch.

Source: Visit Norway's website.

Salamander-parken - Foto: Ida Vollum

Photo: Ida Vollum, VN

Mountain

Folgefonna nasional park,
Kvinnherad

Folgefonna glacier consists of three glaciers: Nordfonna, Midtfonna and Sørfonna, as well as numerous tiny glaciers, the glaciers altogether covering 207 km2 of a total of 545 km2. Measurements show that the glacier is almost 400 meters at its thickest, and at its highest point annual precipitation is 5500 mm. Like bread dough resting on an uneven surface, the glacier is slowly seeking lower ground. Glacier arms pour into the surrounding valleys, even forming icefalls where the terrain is particularly steep. The dramatic Bondhusbrea offers one such dramatic icefall – and the sight is unforgettable!

Folgefonna National Park was established in 2005. It is one of 46 Norwegian national parks. As the name implies, at its heart is Folgefonna, Norway’s southernmost and third largest glacier. The gateways to Folgefonna National Park, as well as the many attractions and facilities in its vicinity, are continually being developed to enhance the experience of visitors. Four wilderness preserves border the national park: Bondhusdalen, Buardalen, Ænesdalen and Hattebergsdalen.

Between the glacier and the fjords there are several ecosystems and habitats. The ice surface of the glacier, valleys with deep shadows and calm bays by the fjord makes different demands to the creatures living there. The Red deer is numerous in these valleys, and of predators there is marten, lynx, fox and ermine. In the 15. and 16.th century here was bears and wolves which was eradicated early 1900-. Kvinnherad is today the municipality in Norway with the highest number of annual felling permits (appr. 1500 a year).

Source: Folgefonna nasjonal park's website.

Forest

SKOGAFJELLET, TJONGSPOLLEN AND SAGVATNET NATURE RESERVE, BØMLO

These three nature reserves border each other and are located in the southeastern part of Bømlo municipality, right in the southwest of Vestland. The protected area is strongly influenced by the sea and lies in the boreonemoral vegetation zone, characterized by coniferous forests with elements of rich deciduous forest. Børøyklampen constitutes the highest point at 179 meters above sea level. The entire area comprises a mosaic of forests, heather moors, and marshes. In lower parts of the terrain, smaller ponds and lakes are commonly found. The landscape is small-scale and varies significantly over short distances. The bedrock is diverse but occasionally contains rock types that support a rich flora with several demanding vegetation types. Green schist and greenstone dominate, but there are also less nutrient-rich rock types like quartz porphyry. It is primarily the rich flora that forms the basis for the protection of Sagvatnet. Several pine forest communities have been documented in the Sagvatnet nature reserve. The blueberry pine forest is found on well-drained slopes in the lower parts of the terrain. Besides blueberries, lingonberries are important along with bog bilberry, crowberry, twinflower, wood sorrel, and one-flowered wintergreen, in addition to various mosses like the stair-step moss, pine moss, and bog moss. In several places, one finds species typical of rich pine forests in the region. These are species that give the forest a low-herb character, such as wood horsetail, marsh marigold, sanicle, and wood violet. In the tree layer, one finds holly and oak in several places along with pine, but also hazel and lime. Low-herb pine forests where grasses and herbs dominate are registered, for instance, in the steep south- and southwest-facing slopes at Hovda southwest in the reserve. Characteristic species include wood rush, wood sorrel, wild strawberry, creeping snowberry, large cow-wheat, wood lettuce, and lingonberry. In north-facing slopes, the ground layer is often dominated by peat mosses, and the coastal type of heather-bilberry forest is common. This type stands in contrast to the dry southern cliffs where the forest is often more open. Here, the heath star moss covers large patches over otherwise bare rocks and knolls. In sheltered places, purple heather forms communities with bog bilberry, heather, and lingonberry. Especially in higher-altitude parts of the reserve, we find purple heather among open pine forests. Dry scrub communities with honeysuckle and aspen are typical at the edge of the pine forest. A specific pine forest formation is registered in Askedalen. It has a ground layer resembling low-herb forest or rich wet meadow and occurs on flat ground within a relatively small area. Species found here include wood horsetail, star sedge, blue moor grass, field woodrush, meadow woodrush, corn mint, water mint, bog milkweed, marsh valerian, heath speedwell, and bog violet. This forest formation is a result of cultural influence in the form of moderate grazing and mowing.

Photo: Tjongsmarka, Brynjar Stautland

Scattered pine tree growth is found in several places on peatland where specifically heather, cranberry, and juniper are dominant. Occasionally, broad-leaved cotton grass is also important. The bog vegetation in the area is highly varied and includes several communities along the gradient from poor to rich and from mound-dominated to moundless bottoms. The rich bog around the small pond is particularly interesting. Here, large quantities of round-leaved sundew grow (NT), forming communities with marsh tea, bog sedge, round-leaved sundew, lesser bog rush, white beak sedge, brown beak sedge, cranberry, and bog garlic. In the northeast end at the edge of Grutle Lake, swamp vegetation has been registered on the ridge bottom with creeping bentgrass, marsh bedstraw, and marsh cinquefoil in addition to some of the rich bog species mentioned above. Biodiversity linked to birds is largely associated with the coniferous forest itself, which also limits the overall number of species. This might be the reason why the protected area hasn't been frequently visited by ornithologists, resulting in few records in general. However, there are significant natural qualities in the protected area, and for birds, it's particularly the size and variation in the coniferous forest that make the area an important habitat. The forest is diverse, providing ample access to dead wood, which is optimal for woodpeckers that find a lot of their food in insect larvae within dead trees and require the presence of deciduous trees (often aspen) to excavate nesting holes. The white-backed woodpecker is one of these species. White-backed woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, grey-headed woodpecker, and green woodpecker have been registered as breeding birds in the reserve. The sea eagle has made a strong comeback after being protected in 1968 and nearly being extinct in Hordaland. The first breeding discovery in the county was made in the far north of Bømlo in 1986, and shortly after, it established itself in the Tjongspollen area, remaining there ever since. The goshawk is also well established and is the top predator in the forest environment. The peregrine falcon has a permanent presence in this part of the municipality. Other birds of prey are mostly observed during migration periods and include species like gyrfalcon, merlin, and kestrel. Discoveries of trace signs during fieldwork in 2013 suggest that the eagle owl might also be a breeding bird. Among game birds, the black grouse is the most numerous, although it's likely that the population was higher when the landscape was even more open and heather plants were better maintained. Capercaillie is rarely observed, and there isn't a significant population.

Passerine birds associated with coniferous forest environments are common to observe. Crested tit, coal tit, blue tit, willow tit, treecreeper, meadow pipit, and tree pipit have established residency. Otherwise, the common thrush species are also present here. Swallow is also registered, and it's possible it nests within the reserve. The coniferous forest is the dominant habitat in the area, and none of the ponds have a particularly rich wetland characteristic as often found in areas influenced by cultivation. Therefore, relatively common waterfowl such as tufted duck, mallard, common goldeneye, and goosander are observed. The common sandpiper is a frequent species associated with Sagvatnet and Tjongspollen. Among mammals, deer are the most commonly seen in the area. The population has generally increased significantly in Bømlo since the 1950s, with around 150 animals hunted annually in the municipality. The number of insectivores we have is poorly studied, but it's natural to believe that common shrew and pygmy shrew are established residents in the reserve. Hedgehogs are relatively common on Bømlo but are not registered in the reserve as they are primarily associated with gardens and deciduous forests near settlements. Rodents like squirrels are common, and field voles, wood mice, and bank voles are also likely established. Among bats, the water bat has been registered hunting over the water surface at Sembastova. Northern bats, and possibly also whiskered bats and Brandt's bats, are established. Mink is the most common carnivorous mammal. The polecat is established but can be considered very rare. Otters have increased significantly since 2010 but are still threatened. Fishing gear represents the biggest threat, and several have been found drowned in fishing gear in Bømlo. It's likely that Sagvatnet Nature Reserve, with its many ponds and stream courses, constitutes an important habitat quality for the otter. Adders and slowworms are relatively common in the protected area. The common lizard is also a probable species, although it's often only seen very rarely, typically on warm summer days. Among amphibians, only the toad has been registered in Bømlo. There are trout in most of the waters in the reserve, but there are a few small ponds without an inflow where fish can migrate from neighboring watercourses. Three-spined stickleback has also been registered, including in Askedalstjørna and Sagvatnet. In Grutle Lake, there is also Arctic char. Eel is listed as 'critically endangered' due to a significant decline in its population. It is likely established in several lakes in the reserve.

Bømlo and the geographical location of Sagvatnet provide mild winters and otherwise warm climates, which are advantageous for both plant species and heat-loving insects. Dragonflies are also selective, often dependent on warm and sheltered places, clean water, and diverse natural edge vegetation. For instance, the first sighting of the small blue damselfly was near Andal, not far from Sagvatnet, in 2010. In August 2012, a rich occurrence of this species was also recorded at the outlet of Askedalsvatnet in the Sagvatnet Nature Reserve. Additionally, the broad-bodied chaser, common chaser, small red damselfly, black darter, brown hawker, and common hawker have been recorded in the reserve, but it's likely that several more species call this area home. During field surveys in the summer of 2007, jelly-like 'clumps' were found lying at the bottom of the stream.  Ophrydium versatile. These are small clumps of single-celled organisms, which by definition are neither animal nor plant. Each cell aggregates and adheres to each other with a kind of secretion. They live in symbiosis with microscopic algae. Chlorella that lives inside the Ophrydium‐cells and thereby gives it the green color. Similar to the dragonflies, these also require clean, clear water, making them a good indicator of the quality of the water in the forest reserve.

Source: Conservation plan for Sagvatnet nature reserve

Sea

Trollsøya, Austevoll

Protected area for Lobsters

The lobster (Homarus gammarus) was red listed in Norway in 2022, and Trollsøya in Austevoll municipality is the first marine area in Sunnhordland which is protected to improve management of the lobster population. In 2019 it was 1,8 times as many lobsters in the protected area compared to the reference area, and in 2021 this relation was increased till a number 3,1 times higher.

About three weeks into the lobster season, there is a significant change in this ratio, and Trollsøya then has between 6.4 and 8.2 times more lobsters than the reference area. This clearly demonstrates the impact of extensive lobster fishing, where the population in the reference area is reduced by between 47 and 80% after three weeks of fishing. This is a significant reduction in such a short time, indicating that the intensity of recreational lobster fishing is very high.

At the Geopark's urging, the Cooperation Council for Sunnhordland encouraged all municipalities to consider similar measures in their respective areas.

Source: Marsteinen