the Hudson Valley Green Times
Access to Nature: Every Person’s Right
By Anthony Henry Smith
Jakob Abrahamsson and Candace Droguett were stopping over on
their return trip to Sweden. They had just come from the Montreal
Film Festival and their time in New York was short. They live
in Stockholm, a city built on seven islands with many bridges
and waterways. It seemed all the more appropriate to meet them
for lunch in a seafood restaurant on Manhattan Island.
I first met Jakob during Walkabout Clearwater’s 1987 trip
to the Brunnsviks Folk High School in Ludvika, Sweden. Jakob first
visited the Mid Hudson Valley in 1991 and has returned several
times since. In June of 1996, Mount Gulian Historic Site celebrated
the 400th anniversary of the first performance of Shakespeare’s
original “Midsommer Nights Dreame.” On that occasion
Jakob returned to Beacon to help produce “A Masque Version
of Shakespeare’s Midsommer Nights Dreame.” at the
site in honor of America’s first distinguished Shakespearian
scholar, Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, who lived at Mount Gulian.
Jakob and Candace were both born and raised in Sweden. Their
professional experience in the film industry certainly qualifies
them as keen observers of the human pageant. Who better to ask
about Swedish attitudes and culture?
"Allemansratten," literally "every person's right,"
is a Swedish word. It refers to the fact that in Sweden everyone
is entitled to the “Right of Public Access” for the
purpose of enjoying the benefits of nature. People are permitted
to pick mushrooms and wild berries and flowers, as long as they
don’t harm protected species. One can even go on private
property as long as one respects the privacy of those living there.
One is allowed to use the streams and lakes for boating and swimming.
Of course, one is expected not to disturb or destroy anything,
including vegetation and wildlife. Special caution is necessary
during the growing seasons and when wildlife may be raising their
young. Dogs are permitted, but they must be kept under the control.
From March through August all dogs must be kept on a leash for
the protection of wildlife. Camping is permitted for a day or
two if the land is not being farmed and assuming you’re
not too close to a house.
People using this right are expected to be polite and use good
manners. If the property owners are available, the polite thing
is to ask permission to use their property. Owners very seldom
I asked how the Right of Public Access works on a day to day
basis in modern Sweden. Jakob responded without hesitation.
“I think it works quite unconsciously. People don’t
think about it. When traveling by car, people don’t hesitate
to stop and pick blueberries or flowers in the fields or by the
I wondered if people ever ran into problems with strangers coming
on their property uninvited.
If there were any problems, neither Jakob nor Candace had ever
heard of them. Jakob mentioned that his grandmother sometimes
extends the “right” to include other people’s
gardens, but the owners of the gardens have a sense of community.
Jacob explained it like this:
“They’re most likely to assume she’s from the
area (even though they know she might not be,) and so, in a way,
she’s one of us. She would consider it alright because she
feels she’s part of the community and if she doesn’t
know the owner, it’s something that just hasn’t happened
yet. This interpretation of “Allemansratt” is probably
a bit too drastic for most Swedes, who tend to wear their sense
of privacy and decorum on their sleeves.”
Jakob observed that although the Right of Public Access seems
very ancient, it probably doesn’t go back more than a few
hundred years. He thought the kings and nobility were probably
not very open to allowing the common people to trespass.
Nevertheless, when laws regarding "private" property
were drawn up, officials found they didn't need law to take care
of many things already covered by custom and heritage.
There is no law or written statement anywhere declaring “Allemansratten”
a “right.” No law covers it. People can refuse to
let you use their property, but usually they don’t. The
people entering private property don’t have to be polite
about it, but usually they are. It’s an example of ethics
in the form of manners. Both visitor and property owner act in
obedience to the unenforcable manners and customs of Sweden. It's
a wonderful example of how ethics and law can live comfortably
side by side in the Swedish culture. It may point toward the ethic
we all need to develop if we are ever to have a healthy humanity
functioning within a healthy ecosystem.
I asked Candace if the subject of “Allemansratten”
ever came up during her own childhood education.
“No, actually never. It’s such a common thing that
you don’t discuss it. It really only comes up when we try
to explain it to foreign visitors. When we do discuss it, I realize
how lucky we are that we have this privilege. Even though most
Swedes live in cities, part of being Swedish is to enjoy Nature.”
Jakob summed it up this way:
“Allemansratten” is similar to the right to free speech,
or the right to worship freely, or the right to freedom of assembly.
Those things are frequently discussed, because they might be lost.
But “Allemansratten” is never discussed because it’s
so unthinkable that we should ever lose it.”
There may come a time when “Allemansratten” will
be universally honored and observed. We’ll know that day
has finally arrived when people live Allemansratten and no longer