The new division will be based on collective, updated scientific foundation, and it should be possible to translate the units in this system in relation to the most important international systems for nature classification. The project is carried out by a group of Norwegian experts.
A basis for management
The intention of such a system is to provide a professional basis for the Norwegian public and private areal management. Therefore, the new classification must be based on a logical and consistent system for all areas in Norway, such as on land, in the sea or in freshwater – or in transitional zones between these.
Definition of 'nature type'
According to Norwegian law on Biodiversity (NOU 2004:28), a nature type is defined as:
Homogeneous type of nature comprising all plant and animal life, and the environmental factors working there, or particular types of nature occurrences such as ponds, unproductive islets in fields, geological occurrences, etc.
This definition implies that a categorization of nature types must consider the natural system as a whole. The work on a new classification of nature types must, in other words, take into consideration biological factors (which species are represented) and environmental conditions (climate, hydrology, topography, and geology), and also biological environmental factors such as the occurrence of dead plant and animal remnants (corals, turf, etc.).
The expert group on the project “Ny norsk naturtypeinndeling” has developed an additional definition, which is to be used in the work:
A nature type is a type of nature that, if in accordance with a set of criteria, is seen as homogeneous, to a smaller or larger extent.
This definition is in accordance with the common understanding of the terms 'nature' and 'nature types', and the use of these terms in environmental management.
Principles of nature type classification
The expert group has chosen some general principles to make the basis for a nature type classification:
- Variation in nature is mostly a gradual process, and no classification can be defined as right or natural. The work on a New division of Norwegian nature types is therefore primarily an evaluation of which classification is more adequate.
- Since variation in nature is mainly a continuous process, it is difficult to classify natural unities (nature cannot be classified). New division of Norwegian nature types should be a pragmatic division into unities which do not claim to be natural. The division is therefore a typification, rather than a classification.
- All areas within Norwegian sovereignty, oceans and Svalbard included, is comprised by New division of Norwegian nature types.
- New division of Norwegian nature types will characterize types of nature on three levels landscape, ecosystem and biotope, and make it possible to identify particular nature occurrences as nature types. In fact, three parallel divisions are made, and one nature type can be a landscape, an ecosystem or a biotope. The reason for this is that society has a need for naming nature on different scales.
Biotope – Division on a detailed scale; biotope may be used to describe a species' living place (substrate), e.g. dead logs on the forest bottom, little whirls in a river, or a hollow oak.
Ecosystem – The main level will be the ecosystem, the middle level on the scale. Different types of forest, sea shores and so on, are distinguished on this level. This would be the most useful level for persons working in areal management.
Landscape – Successful management of larger areas implies administration of different parts of a whole; a mire usually consists of several ecosystem types, e.g. wet or dry areas, open mire or wooded. The mire, however, constitutes one hydrological system where all parts are dependent on the others being intact, to continue being a mire. This implies that if parts of the mire are drained, other parts will be affected. Mires therefore, are examples of areas that must be managed on landscape level, same as rivers and lakes.
- New division of Norwegian nature types will cover all areas of Norway, divided into non-overlapping nature types. To begin with, each point will be classified only as one nature type within the three level system (landscape, ecosystem, and biotope). Since nature is three-dimensional, however, systems like caves, lakes and oceans must be classified as nature types lying on top of each other (points must be defined in three dimensions; at the same point on a map, there might be a rock with a cave 25 m beneath, inside a mountain).
- Typification must be based on available knowledge about the variations in Norwegian nature. The scientific basis must be documented, both when the knowledge is empirical (weak basis) or scientifically documented (strong basis). All nature types suggested in the New division of Norwegian nature types must be recognized as a well-known nature type, easily distinguishable from similar nature types. A searchable, Internet based database containing this knowledge basis is under construction.
- The aim of typification is a characterization of nature types based on well-defined and objective criteria. Focus is on typification of ecosystems, but typification of biotopes and landscapes will also be important. Particular nature occurrences will receive less attention.
The project “New division of Norwegian nature types” lasts until the end of 2007, when a first draft of “nature type division for Norway” will be available. The work on nature type division is, however, an endless work. With increasing knowledge there will be an increasing need for changes to the nature type division. In the longer term, the New division of Norwegian nature types will be updated on a regular basis, so that the division at any moment reflects the knowledge level we have about variations in Norwegian nature.