Planned Limestone Mine Sparks Protests Deep in Swedish Forest
On the island of Gotland east of mainland Sweden a small group of young naturalists have set up a tent camp on a patch of a state-owned forest nestled between two nature reserves. They are there to protest a planned limestone mine that could soon transform Ojnareskogen, a dark green pine home to several endangered species, into a gigantic and blindingly white hole in the ground which they say risks polluting the ground water.
The slideshow above is from the time when the camp had just three inhabitants (July 2012). Before they knew it, hundreds of Swedes joined the protest. Spokesperson of the protesting group Fältbiologerna, Salomon Abresparr, has shared his account of the events.
You began the protest with just a few people and a tent. When did the movement gain traction? What was the defining moment?
It happened when we first stopped the machines and the issue became a bit more known. Or perhaps when the farmers gathered and did a manifestation in the forest. The big boom in national media came when 70 police officers came to Gotland to help Nordkalk [the mining company] clear cut the forest. But we’re doing much more than just sit on the forest floor: we guard the forest, we talk to visitors and at the same time arrange actions, demonstrations and put pressure on the authorities, politicians and Nordkalk by having meetings, writing letters, statements and proposals.
Did you talk to the mining company?
Several times. We have visited their office and have tried to have a conversation with them, but they don’t like to argue with us. They repeat their three arguments: that they have a permit, that the environmental risks are being exaggerated and that the mine will create jobs.
Are some locals in favour of the mine, not against it, and if so – why?
[People in favour of the mine] exist. They are either employed at Nordkalk or have relatives or friends employed at Nordkalk or in other parts of the limestone industry. There are also people in favour of the mine generally because of the jobs that will be created by it, even if these will exist for a very short period of time (25 years) compared to other jobs that will continue for many years on (in tourism and agriculture) and which also may be negatively affected by the mine. People who argue in favour of the mine put jobs today before nature, water and future jobs.
Can you prove the mine is a hazard to the ground water?
No, you can’t prove either that the mine is hazardous or that it’s not good for the ground water. However, two of the three experts on hydro-geology who have looked at this case found serious risks and are worried for the ground water. They also criticise the third expert for having done a lacking investigation with poor measurements.
Which endangered species currently live in Ojnareskogen?
It depends a bit on which area you look at. Ojnareskogen has no precisely defined borders. 265 species is the number we use most often. I don’t know the name of all those species, especially not in English. Gaffelfibbla, hårig dolkstekel and gotlandssnok are three of them. Additionally, the area has one the highest density of key biotopes – threatened environments of high biodiversity – in Sweden.
Do you believe you will succeed in stopping the mine?
Yes! We have the ethics on our side, we have the support of the people on our side and the mining permit is breaking the law, both Swedish law and EU environmental law.
Apart from sitting on the ground in the middle of the far-off forest, one of the protesters’ strategies is to actively use social media. A collection of tweets in English and pictures from the protests can be seen in the story “The battle for Ojnare” on Storify. Alternatively, try looking for #ojnare in your favourite social media.
Still, the mining company wants its mine. This is yet another conflict between the drive for development and business on one side, conservation and shared resources on the other. The Finnish mining company, Nordkalk, is already operating huge mines elsewhere on Gotland. The company refused the opportunity to comment on the issue for ThinkBrigade.
If you wish to support the protest you can begin with signing the Save Sweden’s Forests petition on Avaaz.
All photos by Benno Hansen. For more information about endangered species please refer to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Note: “endangered” is just one of seven categories on the Red list.