The Vega archipelago is an open, cultural landscape made up of more than 6500 islands, islets and skerries. Fishermen and hunters have exploited it for more than 10 000 years. When the low islands surrounding the main island of Vega began to be used some 1500 years ago, it was just as convenient local bases when people periodically left home to fish, hunt and collect eggs and down. However, as time passed, many of these people realised that the rich flora and fauna on the extensive strandflat offered good opportunities for permanent settlement. Generations of islanders have protected the islands and shaped them into a unique cultural landscape.
The archipelago is not famed for large monuments or buildings. Its universal value is that people in the area have handed down the history and cultural traditions developed on an exposed coast with rich natural resources. Today, the islands are a living testimony to the life and toil of the islanders on an extremely exposed coast. The buildings and other traces left of the fishing hamlets and isolated homes reveal something of the conditions under which these people lived and worked. Nature has shaped the people, and people have shaped the nature in unique interplay.
The islands were abandoned during the 1960s, -70s and -80s. The houses and the nesting shelters for the eiders fell into disrepair and the entire cultural landscape was marked by decay. The World Heritage status and the optimism that has reigned in the last few years has led to more and more houses being rehabilitated, the “eider duck architecture” being rebuilt and former grazing land being brought back into use. Farmers from Vega and neighbouring communities now bring growing numbers of sheep and cattle out to graze some 50 to 60 islands in the World Heritage Area in summer. Haymaking even takes place again on some islands, like Hysvær, Søla and Skogsholmen.
Overgrowing due to lack of grazing and haymaking is the main challenge. These activities must be resumed and maintained to preserve the cultural landscape of the islands. The Vega Archipelago World Heritage Foundation and Vega Borough Council are jointly funding an environmental manager to supervise this work, and management plans for about 10 islands have been drawn up so far.