The Swedish Living Lab within the ALFAwetlands project is the island of Öland, situated in the Baltic Sea just off the southeast coast of Sweden.
Covering a surface area of 1,342 square kilometres and home to approximately 26,600 inhabitants, Öland is connected to the Swedish mainland by the Öland Bridge, constructed in 1972. The island’s diverse cultural landscape includes grasslands, forests and the expansive limestone pavement of Stora Alvaret on Southern Öland.
Today, climate variability poses a challenge to water management on the island – in recent years, Öland has experienced droughts and water scarcity which put strain on already limited water resources.
A changeable landscape
Natural wetlands on Öland are often ephemeral; they appear and disappear as seasons and weather change. However, extensive ditching during the 19th and 20th centuries has exacerbated the short-lived nature of these wetlands. Large-scale drainage efforts, subsidised by the Swedish state, aimed to secure access to arable land for crop production to feed a growing population.
As a result, around 90% of Öland’s wetlands were drained, reducing the landscape’s natural capacity to retain water on land. The lack of surface and groundwater reservoirs means that most of the rainfall on Öland runs rapidly out to the Baltic Sea through the island’s extensive ditch systems, without contributing much to groundwater formation.
One place, many values
Any given site in Öland’s varied landscape may have many layers of value. For instance, a restored wetland may symbolise economic value to a farmer who uses it to irrigate his crops. An avid ornithologist will instead see a rich ecosystem of interconnected fauna and flora. Pastures for grazing resonates with both cultural historians who may see thousands of years of connected biodiversity and cultural heritage, and local residents who see their forbears’ toil and care.
The governance of water and wetlands on Öland therefore involves multiple interests and potential trade-offs between agriculture, tourism and conservation. New, less predictable weather patterns mean that water access on the island can no longer be taken for granted, and water management on Öland faces the increasingly challenging task of balancing these diverse interests.
Living Lab Öland. @Carolin Seiferth
Knowledge co-production for inclusive governance
The ALFAwetlands team from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, are leading a series of stakeholder workshops on Öland. The workshops are core activities in Work Package 2, “Co-creation and inclusive wetland restoration”. These workshops explore knowledge co-production and how more diverse views and interests can be integrated into water management practices.
Today, there are multiple projects underway on Öland to restore the island’s natural hydrology and recreate water’s former role in the landscape. However, wetland restoration efforts often face obstacles due to conflicting interests and rigid regulations. In response, the co-creation process aims to build a joint understanding of the challenges and potential solutions surrounding water scarcity on Öland, with the goal of facilitating collective action for long-term climate action.
Öland is at the forefront of climate change adaptation in Sweden, and water and rewetting the landscape will play a central role for ensuring many different values and qualities
Photo by @Carolin Seiferth
Help us to save wetlands! Stay tuned!