Transhumance is the seasonal movement of livestock between mountainous and lowland pastures. It occurs throughout the world, including Scandinavia, France, Italy, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Switzerland and amongst the Sami people of Scandinavia. This practice is based on the difference of climate between the mountains (where the herds stay during the summer) and the lowlands (where they remain the winter). Its importance to pastoralist societies cannot be overstated. Milk, butter and cheese - the products of transhumance - often form the basis of the local population's diet.

In the past transhumance was widespread throughout Europe, in some areas - such as the Isle of Lewis in Scotland - within living memory. Today much of the Alpine transhumance is carried out by truck. In other parts of the world a more traditional approach is maintained; for regions of the Himalaya transhumance still provides the mainstay of several near subsistence economies - for example, that of Zanskar.

Often traditional nomadic groups that have subsequently settled into a regular seasonal pattern are described by anthropologists as practicing transhumance.



Missing image
A sæter in Gudbrandsdal. Note that it is above the tree line.

In Scandinavia, the sæter/seter (Norwegian) or Säter (Swedish) (from old Norse setr) is a common mountain pasture used in the summer for transhumance. In the summer (usually late-June) the livestock is moved to the mountain farm, often quite distant from the home farm, preserving the meadows in the valleys for use as hay. As fall approaches, once the grazing is no longer adequate, the livestock is returned to the home farm.

In Sweden, this system was predominantly used in Värmland, Dalarna, Härjedalen, Jämtland, Hälsingland, Medelpad and Ångermanland.

Due to Norway's highly mountainous nature, it was common to most regions in Norway. “The Gudbrandsdal area include lateral valleys such as Gausdal, Heidal, Vinstradal, and Ottadal. The area comprises lowland parishes 200 m above sea-level and mountain parishes 800 m above sea-level, fertile soil in the main valley and barren summits in Rondane and Dovrefjell. Forests surround the farms, but higher up the woods give way to a treeless mountain plateau. This is the ‘seterfjell’, or summer farm region, once of vital importance both as summer pastureland and for haymaking. There are still some summer farms left, but many old seters have become chalet villages.” (Reference: Welle-Strand)

Place Name

The place name appears in Sweden in several forms Säter and Sätra and as a suffix: -säter, -sätra, -sätt and -sättra. The names appear extensively over Sweden with a centre in the Mälaren basin and in Östergötland. In most of Sweden, it used to mean "forest pasture at a distance from the settlement", whereas it in western Sweden meant "mountain pasture".


Adventure Roads in Norway by Erling Welle-Strand, Nortrabooks, 1996. ISBN 82-90103-71-9

See also

de:Transhumanz ro:Transhumanţă


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