Before we walk on I would like to tell you a bit more about Ängsö National Park, which is one of Sweden's first National Parks. The National Park was created in 1909, the same year as the National Parks of Abisko, Garphyttan, Gotska Sandön, Hamra, Pieljekaise, Sarek, Stora Sjöfället and Sånfjället were created. The total area of the park is 168 hectares, of which 93 hectares are water.
The National Park is loved for its ancient farm landscape located in the wonderful archipelago environment, and of course for its wealth of spring flowers. It also has a wide variety of bird life. The best time to visit would be without a doubt the spring: early June or late May. This is the time that most of the spring flowers are in full bloom and the island is at its best. The deciduous trees which dominate the island are oak, ash, maple and birch. The coniferous forest covers a third of the area of the park. In the photos you can see several views from this island taken mid June.
The purpose of protecting Ängsö was to protect and display the traditional cultivated archipelago landscape and show how the old Swedish countryside used to be like. Strangely enough the creation of the National Park did just the opposite with Ängsö of what the protectors tried to achieve! So how did this all happen?
In the past the island of Ängsö belonged to a tiny village on a nearby island called Väringsö. The farmers of Väringsö used the island to gather hay. After the hay was hung on racks to dry, farm animals were left on the island to graze. In 1909 Ängsö became a National Park, and the initial thought of protecting the unique nature of the island was to forbid people to farm here. This way the cows wouldn't trample the soil to a pulp and the farmers couldn't make hay of the rare plants. That sounded good, but this theory turned slowly into a disaster for the island. Without any human activities the meadows didn't thrive, and the areas that had been kept open for centuries were quickly overgrown with shrubs and trees. The unique landscape of the island was on it way to be destroyed within no time.....
Luckily at the end of the 1930s people started to realize their mistake and new plans were made to protect the island, but now in the way as it should have been done in the beginning. A large operation was carried out, and the island was cleared from the unwanted shrubs and trees, and the meadows were restored back into their old glory. The cows are back on the island and so is the farmer, just the way it used to be in the old days. The fragile balance between old style farming, hay making and grazing of the cows, is what keeps the meadows open and causes the unique flora to thrive on Ängsö. The old way of farming has continued and will continue on this picturesque little island hopefully for years and decades to come, giving back and maintaining its unique beauty and nature.
While walking around the island you can't really miss noticing the very typical and traditional Swedish fence called "gärdsgård" (which is pronounced something like yeahsgoard). You can see this type of fence mainly in the area where the ferry arrives; around the farmhouse and a bit beyond. The gärdsgård hasn't completely disappeared from the Swedish landscape, and you can still spot them on numerous places if you keep your eyes open. Nowadays the gärdsgård in mainly used around summerhouses, giving these little houses a bit of extra charm.
The gärdsgård is made from young thin trees. As you can see in the picture, the thicker side of the stem is mostly used upwards, while the thinner part is directed towards the ground. No nails are used, just wood. The "ropes" that hold the trees together is made from the bark of the trees.
Another old-day tradition is visible in the trees close to the meadows, like the tree on the photo. These trees are being pollarded. And a tree that has been pollarded is also known as a "pollard".
The animals on the farm mainly lived on hay during the winter months, but in addition they were fed leaves. The technique of pollarding was to cut down the new branches from a tree every 3 to 5 years. This would increase growth and increase the numbers of shoots produced by a tree and thus branches. More branches means more leaves, more leaves means more food for the animals. You can easily recognize a pollard tree by its form. The tree has an expanded (or swollen) node, which is topping the tree trunk. From here multiple new side and top shoots grow. On Ängsö they used the technique of pollarding on all type of trees, although mainly on Ash, Willow and Elm. A nice side-effect from the pollarding is that the trees created less shade over the sun-loving meadows. And as the old traditions and old style farming continues here on Ängsö, the trees are still pollarded, giving an even better view how the traditional Swedish country side looked like.
And then there are of course the meadows; which probably will be the highlight of your visit to Ängsö. They look amazing on a sunny spring day! I visited in mid June, which is almost too late in the season to enjoy the meadow in their full glory. Visiting a week or two earlier probably would have been better. But they still looked amazing!
Only one-sixth of Ängsö is meadow. The largest one is Stormaren in the middle of the island. This is a damp meadow that used to be a channel of water between two smaller islands. The islands have now grown together, creating this damp meadow in the middle. The flowers that thrive on this meadow Stormaren are the bird's-eye primrose and the dwarf milkwort.
Around the damp meadow of Stormaren are several drier meadows. Here you can feast your eyes over carpets of cowslips and wood anemones. Although the flowers are wonderful and it is tempting, please don't enter the fragile meadows, as this will slowly destroy them.