Ecological footprints of Bengt Berg

In 1938, the internationally famous author, zoologist and nature photographer Bengt Berg from Kalmar bought the farm. Despite not finishing school and failing Swedish and science, Bengt Berg became one of Sweden’s best-known authors and zoologists. Although Bengt Berg achieved world fame, many are still very reluctant to mention his name, and some prefer not to mention him at all. There were some less attractive sides to his complex personality.

He could be charming to those around him or completely disregard their feelings. People of a high or low standing – anyone could be subjected to a telling off by Bengt Berg in his coarsest Småland dialect. Bengt Berg had vision. He had seen enough proof of man’s reckless advances in nature, which is why he loved nature and animals more than people.

He knew an amazing amount about the wild. He saw the connections in nature in a way that few do.

Bengt Berg may be best known for having the sea eagle and golden eagle protected by law in 1924 and for introducing the Canada goose in the 1930s.

He pursued a lively debate on the status of the red deer, and wanted to breed a good strain of them. For his work, he needed a bigger property, and Eriksberg was for sale. Bengt’s wife Inger Illum wanted to move closer to her native country of Denmark, so he bought ‘the cairn’ for his wife in 1938 with the words ‘It is your funeral and your Siberia.’

At Eriksberg, the bedrock was rich, in places, in lime and phosphorus: important elements for the red deer’s antlers.

A quote by Bengt Berg: ‘They offered us a deforested property in one of Blekinge’s worst stone-cutting districts, but you could learn from viewing yet another impossibility, so I took the stone-cutters’ road here. Twisted houses from Blekinge’s Stone Age lined the road. On the farm between the old, reed-covered stone barns was a ramshackle house with a tower from one of the stone-cutting masters.

‘No able farmer could make a profit from these scattered fields, some of which were up to four km from the farm, across steep stony slopes in different directions. More than 20 families in their own tumbledown houses also remained from the time of the stone cutters. They were spread around the outlying lands. Some were crofters for whom there was no work on the farm and who had to be bought off so they could move to better places of work. The local papers complained that I had depopulated the property. What didn’t they moan about?

‘Good heavens – in less backward areas, these kinds of properties would have long since depopulated themselves.’

Bengt Berg has often been accused of throwing out the crofters from Eriksberg, but he bought off their houses, often at more than they were worth.

After he had bought off the crofters, most of the crofts also disappeared. He then began to build enclosures. The first one was ready in 1943. Since then, the wild animals have reigned at Eriksberg. All operations are based on the animals and the enclosures values.

Bengt Berg must have been aware of the weaknesses of his complex personality, as before his death he left this plea: ‘Don’t judge me for the way I have been but for what I have done.’

On 31 July 1967, Bengt Berg died at the age of 82. A long, competent, powerful and creative life came to an end. Bengt Berg was one of the few Swedes to have an obituary in The Times.

After Bengt Berg’s death, his son Iens Illum Berg took over the farm and the animals. He made sure that the large enclosure was completed in 1979. In 2015 the enclosure expanded further and now covers approx 915 hectares which is one of the largest game enclosures in Northern Europe and the biggest safari park in Scandinavia. One hectare is 10,000 square metres.

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