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The Vega Archipelago

The Vega islands are situated off the Helgeland coast and the whole archipelago was entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004. It was the first Norwegian cultural landscape to be entered. The UNESCO committee explained their decision to include the Vega Archipelago in the following manner: ‘The Vega Archipelago demonstrates how generations of fishing and farming communities have, throughout the past 1,500 years, upheld a sustainable way of life in an inhospitable group of islands, close to the Arctic Circle. The now unique cottage industry, which utilises the collection and use of eider-duck down, has been a major source of income and the industry is run almost entirely by women. Therefore entry on the List is also something of a tribute to the women of Vega.

The Vega cultural landscape stretches over an area of some 1,037 square kilometres and contains around 6,500 islands, islets and skerries. Some 60 of the islands have at some time or another been inhabited. Fishing, trapping and snaring have been carried out in the Vega islands for the last ten thousand years. As people gradually moved to the islands and settled they helped to shape the characteristic landscape, which has been formed by the interplay between fishing, farming and the inhospitable but bountiful nature that surrounds the islands.

The traditions of the eiderdown industry are cited as an example of the interplay between man and nature. The eider duck industry has existed for more than a thousand years in Helgeland. The centre of the eiderdown gathering activity was on Vega Island itself comprising 17 protected nesting grounds supplying eggs and eiderdown. In the largest eiderdown collecting centres the islanders facilitated the making of nests for more than a 1,000 birds and looked after them through the nesting period. In return they could collect the down when the birds left the nests. The profit from the sale of down could at times be as lucrative as the profit from fishing off the Lofoten islands. Around the year 1900, about 1 ton of eiderdown was exported from Nordland County. Most of the down came from Vega Island. In 2009 there are 17 bird-minders working and it is expected that they will be able to collect the down from approximately 1,200 birds. (Eider duck = somateria mollisima)