A RICH VALLEY
When the Etne water system was protected in 1994, preservation of the cultural landscape in Stordalen Valley was a a main objective. This is a valley with an exceptional abundance of Different types of plants and animals. In the grey alder forest in Stordalen there are more bird species than in most other places, in fact, denser than one tends to find in a tropical rainforest.
We can thank the plans for the power station for helping us to learn so much about the animal life in the valley. In connection with the application by Haugesund Energy company’s application to build out into the Stordal Valley water system, a comprehensive investigation was carried out in 1984. What was discovered about the animal life resulted in the building plans being replaced by permanent protection for the animals.
Lake Stordal, the biggest lake in Sunnhordland, lies considerably lower than the highest sea level after the last Ice Age (75-80 metres over sea level), a so-called fjord-lake. That is to say that the water had previously been a fjord, that turned into a lake as the land rose. Lake Stordal is rich in fish, with six types suitable for fishing: salmon, seatrout, trout, eel, stickleback, and char. Char is especially plentiful. The abundance of fish makes the lake very good feeding grounds for the arctic loon in summer, and for the goosander (also called merganser), the red-breasted merganser, grey heron and others in winter. In recent years there has also been a pair of White-winged scooters nesting here, which is extremely unusual in southern Norway. Because of the calcium-rich bedrock, together with the seepage from agriculture, the water can tolerate acidic rainfall. The many different species have therefore managed quite well.
The nearest drainage basin is dominated by an open cultivated forest, many places with a row of ancient, cropped (“pollarded”) deciduous trees that create good conditions for a varied bird life. One reckons that there are 6-8 nesting pairs of the County Bird, the White-backed woodpecker, in the river system, and there are good populations of the lesser spotted woodpecker (see picture to left). This is a sign of good availability of nutrients, especially of insect species that are typical of dead or dying timber. The cultivated forest also has abundant tits, black and white woodpeckers and cat owls.
The grey alder forest in Stordalen has attracted special interest. In an area by Hellaug one finds an average of 1120 bird pairs per square kilometre. This is the most recorded anywhere in Norway, regardless of forest type.
The most common nesting birds in the grey alder forest as documented by Hellaug, 1984
Chaffinch: 92 pairs/km²
Icterine warbler: 72 pairs/km²
Hedge sparrow: 52 pairs/km²
Willow warbler: 368 pairs/km²
Black cap: 60 pairs/km²
Song thrush: 40 pairs/km²
Robin: 72 pairs/km²
Redwing: 56 pairs/km²
Black and white flycatcher: 76 pairs/km²
Blackbird: 44 pairs/km²
From the time that domestic animals came to the country about 5 000 years ago, and for a long time after that, leaves were the most important winter fodder. Before the scythe came into use in the early Iron Age, it was easier to break off branches of leaves than it was to harvest grass. Grass was plentiful only in open areas, for example, along rivers and other water systems. Leaves were a mainstay long into our own time and have left their mark over large parts of the county.
The deciduous forest was harvested in a variety of ways. Some tree types, especially alder, was harvested from its roots at several year intervals. It would then sprout many new shoots. Since the fresh leaves were bitter, they were not disturbed by grazing animals. Through continuous cultivation the alder trees formed thickets of underbrush in the landscape. Birch and aspen were usually thinned from their crowns at 4 - 7 years intervals. These trees then stood as large forests known as "climbing forests". The branches that were left, were cut, so that many new shoots would sprout from them. The best nutrient value is found in the leaves of the elm, basswood, ash and willow. Together with the nutritious aspen leaf, these all belonged to what was called the "good forest". Ash could also help to prevent sickness, according to popular folklore. In Hordaland the "good forest" was often clear-cut of branches 2-3 metres above the ground, such that only the stems remained. This required a good understanding in order to carry out the work so that most possible new shoots grew out in the shortest possible span of time.
The deciduous forests were light and open with good growth conditions for both the treetops and grass. The ground was most often grazed in spring and cut and harvested in summer. The steep hillsides had a park-like landscape, with collections of small forests and scattered stumps or "climbing forests". Much food value was harvested from these hillsides and used as animal fodder or winter fertilizer for the fields. The pastures were not supplied with other fertilizer than what the grazing animals left behind.
"Leafing" is discussed in Appellate Court law. Writings from the 1700- and 1800s show how important leafing, barking and harvest of branches without leaves was in the towns of West Land. The number of such stumps one had was included in the basis for figuring one's taxes. In Etne, for example, Norheim in Stordalen was reckoned as a big farm, because of all of the pollarded trees there.
Everywhere the procedure was carried out according to a firmly entrenched procedure, testimony to the fact that the methods of operating these farms go back a long time. The special pollarding equipment, the leaf-knife, was developed in Viking times.
There are still signs of the pollarding that took place on the hillsides of Hordaland. Old stumps are common both in the forest and in the cultural landscapes, but most often it is at least 30 years since the branches have been harvested. The trees now have such heavy crowns that they have a tendency to fall over and break. Some few places still harvest leaves, among other reasons because they believe that the nutrients from the leaves is healthier.
In Etne one sees pollarded trees in nearly all parts of the municipality. Many farms have also received agricultural subsidies for restoring old pollarded trees, especially in Stordalen. By Sævareidberget in outer Åkra Fjord there was an area that was made into a landscape preserve in 1984. Here one finds moss overgrown and twisted stumps of many shapes. The aim of preserving them is to take care of the cultural landscape with its many hundred pollarded trees of ash, elm and basswood. There is still much work to do. Many pollarded stumps are very overgrown. It is difficult and dangerous work to go loose on the heavy branches with a motor saw in the steep terrain.
- Byrkjeland, S.; Håland, A.; Toft, G. O. 1984. Fuglefaunaen i Etnevassdraget, Hordaland og Åbødalsvassdraget, Rogaland.Konsesjonsavgjørende undersøkelser, K-prosjektet. Zool. Mus., UiB, rapp. ornitologi 20.
- Losvik, M. H. 1990. Skjøtselsplanar og skjøtselstiltak for 4 verna edellauvskogar i Hordaland. Sogn og Fjordane Distriktshøgskule. Skrifter 1990–8
- Odland, A.; Sivertssen, S.; Nordmark, O.; Botnen, A.; Brunstad, B. 1985. Stordalsvassdraget i Etne og Åbødalsvassdraget i Sauda. Konsesjonsavgjørende botaniske undersøkelser. UiB, Botanisk inst. Rapp. 35