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Kristianstad Wetlands, Sweden (Sweden KW)

Contact Information

  • *Thomas Hahn
    Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research
    Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

Project Team and Institutions

  • Carl Folke*
  • Thomas Hahn*
  • Åse Johannessen**
  • Jon Norberg**
  • Per Olsson*
  • Lisen Schultz*

*Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research (CTM), Stockholm University

**Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University

Sven-Erik Magnusson and Karin Magntorn of Ecomuseum Kristianstads Vattenrike (EKW), Kristianstad and Hans Cronert of Scania County Board Administration, Kristianstad were the members of the advisory board of this assessment.

Funding for this assessment was provided by the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences, and Spatial Planning and the Swedish Research Council. In-kind contributions were provided by the Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research and the Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University.


Condition and trend assessment applies to the years 1989–2003. Scenarios are under development. The project time frame is 2001–2005.

Background Summary

Kristianstad Wetlands is a semi-urban area of high biological and cultural-historical values in southeastern Sweden. It was designated to have international importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1974, and is currently being evaluated to become a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. KW covers 1,100 square kilometers of the Helgeå River catchment area and the coastal regions of Hanö Bay within the municipality of Kristianstad. The whole catchment of the river is 4,749 square kilometers. KW includes Sweden’s largest areas of flooded meadows used for grazing and hay-making. Many of the unique values of the area are associated with these social-ecological systems, which depend on both the proliferation of grazing and hay-making, and the annual flooding of Helgeå River. The wetland areas are directly connected to Kristianstad, a city of 28,600 inhabitants. The whole municipality has 75,000 inhabitants.

Assessement Approach

This assessment was carried out in an area where the ecosystems have been managed in an adaptive collaborative process since 1989, by the Ecomuseum Kristanstad Vattenrike (EKW) and local steward associations. The assessment area was chosen because Kristianstad Wetlands appears to be an example of a successful response to a perceived decline in ecosystem services. The response consists of formulation and implementation of the ecosystem management approach, including involvement of many different stakeholder groups (local steward associations), linking scales, combining knowledge systems, and using ecosystem services while maintaining them. The assessment identified three types of knowledge relevant to ecosystem services: (1) ecological knowledge, (2) technology and knowledge of management practices, and (3) knowledge of social processes behind management practices. Ecological knowledge involves knowledge of flora and fauna and their diversity as well as ecological processes and functions at various temporal and spatial scales and how these processes are linked across scales. Our aim was to draw lessons from KW that could be applied in other areas. In addition, the assessment process would strengthen the on-going management by providing useful frameworks such as resilience theory and the MA conceptual framework. Understanding social factors such as learning, trust building, sense making, conflict resolution, as well as navigating rules, incentives, and funding are crucial for increasing the capacity of managing ecosystem services in a sustainable fashion. Information was collected through literature review, including scientific reports and other reports such as vegetation surveys, species inventories, land use maps, historical records, protocols, and annual reports. We also conducted social-ecological inventories and semistructured interviews with key informants.

Key Findings

Social mechanisms behind transformation toward ecosystem management. In KW, the self-organizing process was triggered by the perceived threats to the area’s cultural and ecological values among people of various local steward associations and local government. The threats challenged the generation of ecosystem services in the area. We show how one individual, a key leader, played an instrumental role in directing change and transforming governance. The transformation involved three phases: (1) preparing the system for change, (2) using a window of opportunity, and (3) building social-ecological resilience of the new desired state. The local policy entrepreneur initiated and created trustbuilding dialogue and mobilized social networks with actors across scales, and started processes for coordinating people, information flows and on-going activities, and for compiling and generating knowledge, understanding, and management practices of ecosystem dynamics. Sense-making, collaborative learning, and creating public awareness were part of the process. A comprehensive framework with a shared vision and goals that presented conservation as development and turned problems into possibilities was developed and contributed to a perception shift of the values of the wetland landscape among key actors. A window of opportunity at the political level opened in 1989, which made it possible to transform the governance system into a trajectory of ecosystem management. The transformation involved the establishment of a new municipality organization, EKW. This flexible organization serves as a bridge between local actors and governmental bodies and NGOs at different organizational levels. Such a bridging organization is critical in the adaptive governance of the wetland landscape. It is also critical in initiating and maintaining social-ecological processes and strategies that contribute to resilience such as developing motivation and values for ecosystem management, directing the local context through adaptive co-management, and navigating the larger sociopolitical and economic environment.

Major vulnerabilities. KW’s vulnerabilities include dependence on a few key individuals and on the European Union’s system of agricultural subsidies, the Common Agricultural Policy. Although EKW is a flexible organization with no legal authority, it has taken initiatives for land use plans that have been sanctioned by the municipality or national agencies. The present application to become part of the Man and the Biosphere Program is another means to decrease vulnerabilities.

Role of local stewards. Social-ecological inventories are useful for providing the baseline information on ecosystem condition and existing management, and for strengthening capacity to manage ecosystems. Local stewards can provide local ecological knowledge derived from detailed, long-term monitoring and active management of ecosystem services. In addition, they often collaborate within horizontal and vertical networks with shared management responsibilities (adaptive comanagement). Thus local steward associations can play an important role in ecosystem management, and should be included in efforts to strengthen capacity to manage ecosystems for human well-being.

Added value of community-level assessments. Community-based assessments include fine-scale processes that are hidden at larger scales. They also involve local users and managers, who directly influence the ecosystem. In doing this, they can reveal local ecological knowledge which is site-specific, detailed and long-term, and complements scientific knowledge. Communities can also give lessons for sustainability, in the sense that they have managed their ecosystems for a long time. In addition, strengthening capacity to manage ecosystems sustainably requires involvement of all people who shape the ecosystem.


  • www.vattenriket.kristianstad.se
  • Hahn, T, P. Olsson, L. Schultz, C. Folke. In manuscript. Collaborative learning, organizational innovation, and adaptive co-management: The case of Kristianstad Vattenrike, Sweden. Presented at the conference ‘‘Bridging Scales and Epistemologies,’’ Egypt, March 2004
  • Olsson P., C. Folke, and T. Hahn. In press. Social-ecological Transformations for Ecosystem Management: The Development of Adaptive Co-management of Wetland Landscapes in Southern Sweden. Forthcoming in Ecology and Society .
  • Olsson, P., L. Schultz, C. Folke, T. Hahn. In manuscript. Social networks and institutional interplay for improved ecosystem management: the case of Kristianstads Vattenrike, Sweden. Presented at the conference ‘‘Bridging Scales and Epistemologies,’’ Egypt, March 2004.
  • Schultz L., P. Olsson, C. Folke, and Å . Johannesen. In manuscript. Ecosystem management by local steward associations: A case study from Kristianstads Vattenrike, Southern Sweden. Presented at the conference ‘‘Bridging Scales and Epistemologies,’’ Egypt, March 2004.
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