'Reindeer rebellion' in central Finland

A reindeer photographed in Lapland

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Free-range reindeer are reportedly annoying locals in central Finland

Locals in central Finland are campaigning to have reindeer corralled all year round in a dispute with traditional herders.

In what’s been described by national broadcaster Yle as a “reindeer rebellion”, people living in North Ostrobothnia and Kainuu regions want tighter restrictions on herding, because they say that the free-range animals are damaging their crops and forests and harming their livelihoods.

While the indigenous Sámi use traditional herding areas in the north of the country, people living to the south of Lapland want tighter controls on the animals, and have been taking to social media to press their case.

It’s a controversy that has raged through the years, but has reared its head after the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry launched a survey recently on the regulation of reindeer herds, the Aamulehti news website reports.

One of the campaigners, Helena Hietarinta, tells Aamulehti that many locals are afraid to speak out about rogue reindeer amid fears of threats and retaliation.

However, groups representing the reindeer herders say that they too have been on the receiving end of abuse and vandalism.

“People do not look after their livestock, as the law obliges,” Hietarinta says. Instead, “Reindeer herding blatantly violates the constitution in many respects,” she says.

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Are reindeer part of the natural order, or a nuisance to local landowners?

The ‘great devil’

According to the current regulations, reindeer in herding areas have freedom to roam, but should not be able to access agricultural or forest land without the landowner’s permission.

Outside of the northern Sámi homeland, reindeer herders are obliged to build fences to contain their animals, and are liable for damage to private property.

The reindeer problem has split Finnish social media. One Aamulehti reader posts that “the reindeer is a great devil. It annoys me when reindeer are used for tourist marketing. I would like an absolute ban.”

But another says that fencing in the reindeer would upset the natural order: “If the reindeer are removed from the forests, many wolves, bears and other animals will die from hunger, or visit gardens to pick up dogs and cats,” the poster says ominously.

Reporting by Alistair Coleman

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