Sweden’s Ojnare forest becomes protected area

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The Ojnare forest on northern Gotland. (Jonas Neuman/Sveriges Radio)
The Ojnare forest on northern Gotland. (Jonas Neuman/Sveriges Radio)
The government has decided that the Ojnare forest on the Baltic Island of Gotland needs to be protected for its unique environmental values.

This means that a controversial limestone mining project will be stopped, and the trade union involved is not happy about the decision.

The legal process regarding the planned limestone mining project in the Ojnare area in northern Gotland has been going on for ten years. It has become a drawn-out battle, pitting the good of the environment and water resources against the mining industry and jobs.

In March of this year, the case landed on the government’s table as the regional authorities on Gotland and the Environmental Protection Agency proposed turning the land into a Natura 2000-zone, making it part of an EU-wide network of nature protection areas.

Package to help Gotland economy

This week, Environment Minister Åsa Romson, of the Green party, announced the decision to go ahead with this.

She said that in Ojnare and Bästeträsk, Sweden has something unique in the world, with a unique type of nature in a relatively large interconnected area, which deserves to be protected according to EU law.

As a way to mitigate the economic fall-out of the decision, the government has also decided to invest 100 million kronor in a job creation scheme for Gotland.

Romson said that the details of this package will be designed together with local businesses, unions and local authorities, and will see to what is best for long-term development and jobs on Gotland.

Meanwhile at the mining company Nordkalk, the decision was a big disappointment.

“Of course we are very, very disappointed. We had hoped for a decision where the limestone industry could remain, while at the same time protecting a large area as part of Natura 2000,” said Eva Feldt, communications manager at the company.

Implications of decision for industry

And the trade union IF Metall was also against the decision.

“We think it is very unfortunate that it has not been possible to balance the interests of the industry with the environmental interests. It will mean big problems for many people on Gotland, now that limestone mining is stopped,” said Anders Farbe, chairman of IF Metall.

Politically, the Green Party – which is the smaller party in the government coalition – has been very much in favour of the decision. But according to Swedish Radio’s political analyst Thomas Ramberg, even the bigger government party, the Social Democrats have seen this as a pretty straight-forward decision, as it was recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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