Vega is on the Birdlife International list of the most important areas for birds in Europe because of the importance of the archipelago and the wetlands on Vega for a variety of birds. The extensive areas of shallow water around Vega, and the wetlands on the island, mean that plenty of food is available for seabirds.
A total of 228 species have been observed in the area. About 110 of these breed here, which is a high figure so far north. The area has good populations of divers, grebes, cormorants, shags, black guillemots and common eiders. Some 2800 pairs of cormorants bred around Vega in 2008, but the number has been as high as 4000 pairs. Up to 2000 pairs of cormorants have nested on Nordvær (an islet at Skjærvær), which therefore at times has been the world's largest breeding colony of this subspecies. Many diving ducks and grebes live here in winter. The black guillemot also breeds abundantly here, and two of the largest colonies in Norway are found in the breakwater at Skjærvær and at Bremstein.
The archipelago is an important moulting area for common eiders and greylag geese. It is also a valuable staging (resting) site for barnacle geese migrating from Scotland to Svalbard in spring. Several parts of the Vega archipelago were designated as bird sanctuaries, nature reserves or protected landscapes in the Coastal Protection Plan for Nordland in 2002. This protected some of the country's most important breeding, moulting and wintering areas for seabirds. The work done to record birds in the archipelago in the 1970s and the results of the Coastal Protection Plan formed an important part of the basis for seeking World Heritage status.
Resting places for geese
Human activities have been important for several species of birds; the haymaking on the islets provided valuable resting places for barnacle geese migrating northwards or southwards, as well as for other breeding and moulting geese. These places ceased to exist when the islands were depopulated. This meant that the birds resorted to arable land on the main island of Vega, resulting in a great deal of research by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research from the mid-1980s. The research showed that the greylag geese moved their autumn migration forward so much that it was difficult to hunt the birds before they left. As a consequence, Vega now has a local management plan which has resulted in less grazing damage and more successful hunting. Two important measures are an earlier open season and areas on the island where the geese can rest from the hunting pressure for parts of the day. The aim is to delay their southward migration in the autumn to be able to take out more geese from this large population.
Photo: Lars Løfaldli