Sheep grazing in the North Atlantic region: A long-term perspective on environmental sustainability

Louise C. Ross, Gunnar Austrheim, Leif-Jarle Asheim, Gunnar Bjarnason, Jon Feilberg, Anna-Maria Fosaa, Alison J Hester, Oystein Holand, Ingibjorg S. Jonsdottir, Lis Mortensen, Atle Mysterud, Erla Olsen, Anders Skonhoft, James D. M. Speed, Geir Steinheim, Des B.A. Thompson, Anna-Gudrun Thorhallsdottir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Sheep grazing is an important part of agriculture in the North Atlantic region, defined here as the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Scotland. This process has played a key role in shaping the landscape and biodiversity of the region, sometimes with major environmental consequences, and has also been instrumental in the development of its rural economy and culture. In this review, we present results of the first interdisciplinary study taking a long-term perspective on sheep management, resource economy and the ecological impacts of sheep grazing, showing that sustainability boundaries are most likely to be exceeded in fragile environments where financial support is linked to the number of sheep produced. The sustainability of sheep grazing can be enhanced by a management regime that promotes grazing densities appropriate to the site and supported by area-based subsidy systems, thus minimizing environmental degradation, encouraging biodiversity and preserving the integrity of ecosystem processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-566
Number of pages17
Issue number5
Early online date1 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to the Research Council of Norway for funding through the Environment 2015 program (Project 212897/E40), the Norwegian Environment Agency and North Atlantic Co-operation (NORA). We thank John Milne† for useful discussions on sheep grazing in Scotland, Paul Haworth, Alan Fielding and BorgÞór Magnusson for discussion and critical comments, and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


  • Atlantic region
  • Management
  • Nordic agriculture
  • Rural economy
  • Sheep grazing
  • Sustainability


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