Lene Liebe Delsett, Paleontologist

Biodiversity needs both time and space. As a result, the most important solution is that we use land in a smarter way and do not continually consume previously untouched natural areas. This requires awareness and a desire to do things differently.

My motivation

Vestre Habitats is a concrete project with ambitious goals. It’s time for everyone to do their bit to help nature, and this is a good example from industry. The urban furniture brings together land use and natural, time-consuming processes in an excellent way which can also help to raise awareness.

My best tips


Try to understand the nature around you, including what we don’t normally think of as being beautiful.


Learn the names of animals and plants. Start by feeding birds in the winter and watching plants and insects in the summer.

Let the bumblebees buzz

Let gardens and ditch verges grow wild. Leave dead wood in place.

Take responsibility!

Become involved in local environmental issues.


In my back yard

By Lene Liebe Delsett.

A commonly used expression in the environmental debate is NIMBY, short for Not in My Back Yard. It encapsulates the idea that we want new things to be built, just not where we live ourselves. It is often used to poke fun at those who are all for the construction of new infrastructure, as long as they don’t actually have to see it. In some cases, the ridicule is deserved, but not always.

In my view, the topic of our own back yards can be discussed in at least three ways, all of them much more interesting. In fact, if everyone looked after their own back yards, also in the non-literal sense, it would be a good thing, on the whole. The greatest threat to biodiversity comes from changes in land use, e.g. for construction purposes. We absolutely have to stop taking more and more cultivated and uncultivated land to build roads, warehouses and holiday homes. If everyone chose nature and food production instead of roads and holiday homes in the countryside they love, it would send a powerful signal to the politicians.
But what should we have in our own back yards? Something that is good for the planet. And given the situation we’re in at the moment, some of us will also have to SEE the green solutions. Sometimes, they just have to be visible. Maybe the best place for a wind turbine is at the top of your favourite ski slope. Maybe solar panels will mar the smart, tiled roof of your neighbour’s house. Maybe your manicured lawn will turn into a riotous wildflower meadow for the sake of the insects.

Because our own back yard can also be seen as a symbol of something bigger. The world must cut its greenhouse gas emissions and take better care of biodiversity. And it must do so very fast. It’s easy to point to China’s coal-fired power plants or accuse Brazil of failing to protect its rainforests, but it doesn’t change the fact that we in Norway have a considerable responsibility and great opportunities to contribute to the collective international effort. This applies equally to the climate and the environment, but is perhaps easiest to see when it comes to biodiversity. Only Norwegian decision-makers can decide to protect Norwegian nature, because this is where the Norwegian nature is.

It is over our own back yards that we have most power. When we decide how we are going to use an area, we are deciding what happens to nature. This is true for my own back yard (choosing to plant a lawn, create flowerbeds or lay paving) and when politicians draw up various kinds of zoning regulations and area plans. In fact, it is the people who sit on municipal councils who have the most power, because they are closest to the nature where they live. Almost nine out of ten decisions regarding the use of space in Norway are taken by municipal councils. And as Spiderman and Pippi Longstocking say: With great power comes great responsibility – and if you’re very strong you must also be very kind. A great deal will be resting on the shoulders of Norway’s municipal councillors in the next few years.

All this can seem depressing, or you can view it as the huge opportunity it is. There are thousands of municipal councillors across the country who will be making decisions about the use of land in their districts, and they can make a huge difference there. They will have to say no to a lot of things because of the precarious situation we are in. I don’t think Norwegian nature or emission levels can stand more high-speed, multi-lane highways. Municipal councils will also have to choose nature and farming instead of allowing land to be used for warehouses and shopping centres. At the same time, this means saying yes to a lot of other things! Municipal councils can choose to be places that are rich in nature, and that’s no small thing. Municipal councils are responsible for parks, playgrounds, kindergartens and schools, and they can choose more nature and solutions that don’t lead to high levels of consumption – when it comes to space or other resources.

Happy Christmas to everyone large and small!

By Lene Liebe Delsett.

Some places have snow, others not. Everywhere you look there are decorations and fairy lights, sweets and secrets. Because Christmas is just round the corner. Christmas is a time for enjoying yourself and looking after each other; for good food and loved ones. Here in Norway, it’s dark for most of the day and much of the country is blanketed in snow. Where is the bustling hive of nature all winter long?

Brother Bear has retreated into his den and the migratory birds have gone south, you may reply. But what about the rest? Life must be lived continuously, which means that all plants, animals and fungi that live in Norway must have a strategy to get through the coldest and darkest time of the year. The more I think about it, the more magical it seems. Butterflies, adders, bluebells, crayfish and trout. They are still here. You just can’t see them.

Some have adapted to keep going through the winter, while others put their lives completely or partly on hold. Deciduous trees draw important nutrients into their trunks and lose this year’s leaves, while conifers stay just as green. The elk steps through the snow and eats bark and twigs, while the adder hibernates – its bodily functions turned down as far as they will go. Insects and other creepy-crawlies can also get through the winter by hibernating, or lay eggs that overwinter while the adult generation dies off every autumn. There is life in ice-cold rivers and streams, more or less asleep under the ice, while under the snow and down in the ground, millions of seeds are waiting ready to burst forth when the spring comes and the ground thaws.

It’s time we expanded our Christmas charity, to more people and to more of nature. Maybe there won’t just be the family sitting down to Christmas dinner this year, maybe we will have invited a friend or someone who would otherwise have been alone. Maybe we won’t just hang up a wheat sheaf for the birds, but will think about what we can do for the living creatures we can’t see.

To make a nice Christmas for nature, could mean:

- Not getting rid of dead leaves, twigs and trees in gardens and outdoor areas. They provide an ideal place for many creatures to spend the winter! Not to mention the fact that it makes gardening more relaxing.

- Letting large stones and old trees remain undisturbed for as long as possible.

- Actively advocating for policies that cut emissions, don’t build on the last remaining areas of wild nature and don’t sever vital wildlife corridors.

- Choosing ways to travel carefully through nature in the winter.

- Choosing Christmas gifts that are recycled, locally produced, home-made or edible. Or what about membership of an environmental organisation?

- Spending the Christmas holiday doing something other than applying for permission to extend your holiday home or turn a rocky cove into a sandy beach. Read a good book instead, or go skiing and see if you can spot some interesting birds.


Insects – what are they, actually?

By Lene Liebe Delsett.

This summer, I received a message from some friends who were on holiday. They had found an insect and wondered what it was called. I couldn’t tell them. I may be a biologist, but I’m no expert on insects. And even though I know more about insects than the average person in the street, I don’t keep an inventory of Norway’s 18,000 insect species in my head. With the help of the image recognition apps Seek and Artsorakel, I found out what the insect was (a wasp beetle, Clytus arietis to be precise, photo), and everyone was happy.

Me, most of all. Because I believe the query reflects a welcome trend: people are noticing insects more and more. Am I right, or am I living in an echo chamber? Hard to say. But a tremendous focus on pollinating insects as the epitome of the wider environmental crisis, combined with the amazing books by entomologist Anne Sverdrup-Thyseson, must have had an impact on people’s attitudes to these tiny creatures.

I’m convinced that we all need to know a bit more about nature and, along with birds, insects are a good place to start. Since it’s autumn, we see them less and less frequently – but they are still around. And it’s not hard to think back to a summer’s day, with beautiful insects like butterflies, cute ones like ladybirds, and bothersome ones like mosquitoes. Other insects to be found in Norway include beetles; wasps, bees and other members of the Hymenoptera family; bugs; lice; and dragonflies.

The majority of animals are insects. There are around 1 million species of insects in the world (compared to less than 5,000 species of mammals), and they live in all kinds of habitats. People tend to call any creepy-crawly an insect, but that is far from the truth. To qualify as an insect, it must have six legs and two pairs of wings. In addition, insects generally have two antennae on their heads. They have an external skeleton, unlike us mammals, and most of them lay eggs. Flies and butterflies are insects. Spiders, earthworms and centipedes are not.

Those of us who are worried about the state of the natural world have talked a lot about insects in recent years. There are three reasons for that: Firstly, we must expand our focus beyond the cute, large animals, like seals and pandas, and seek to preserve the entire ecosystem. Insects play a vital role in many processes, such as pollination and decomposition, and as a source of food for many others. Secondly, there is a huge amount of ignorance about insects and other small, low-profile parts of nature. If we are to take better care of the environment in the years to come, these gaps must be plugged. Thirdly, a number of alarming reports have been published on the status of the insect world. Not all are equally dramatic, but several long-term studies show a huge decline in insect numbers. This is mainly due to the destruction of the insects’ natural habitats, the use of insecticides and the conversion of land to agricultural and forest monocultures.

To fill the role in nature that we have become dependent on, insects need the same as other animals: food, space and a healthy environment. This means flower meadows, but also sandbanks, rotten trees and leaf litter to lay their eggs in and spend the winter. It also means that the natural environment is not broken up into isolated patches, but forms large continuous areas. If you are just a few centimetres long, there are limits to how far you can go to find a partner, the next meal or a safe hiding place.

Foto: Artdatabanken/Hallvard Elven | Vepsebukk Clytus arietis (Linnaeus, 1758)


A question of time and space

Most people have read that much of the natural environment is under threat as a result of human activity. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is responsible for summarising our knowledge about how nature is doing, and their reports concerning recent years have made for frightening reading. Around a million species are threatened by extinction on a global basis, and humans are already impacting on three quarters of the world's land surface.

What I keep repeating in lectures, in my book and in meetings with Vestre is that this is a question of time and space. Nature needs time for its processes to work and for evolution to take place, as well as space to do it in. That is why land use by mankind, our utilisation of natural areas, poses the greatest threat to biodiversity. That is the conclusion of the reports from the IPBES and in the international and Norwegian red lists of threatened species. Land use involves the construction of urban areas, industry and infrastructure, as well as agriculture and forestry. Climate change is interacting with the harmful use of natural areas, and the two problems are exacerbating each other.

This means that the key solutions for looking after the natural environment are about giving it room. We humans must stop taking over new natural areas, and start using less land, reuse land and restore nature instead.

In addition to land and climate change, overexploitation, pollution and the introduction of alien species have a harmful impact on biodiversity. Overexploitation is about the species that humans eat or use for materials, such as fish and timber. Alien species, introduced species or “blacklist species” are animals, plants and fungi which have ended up in new places because humans travel round, moving materials and goods at the same time. When a species ends up in a place with favourable conditions, it can spread rapidly, which can have major consequences for species which already live there. An example of this is that many of the world’s seabird species are under threat from introduced cats and rats, which eat their eggs.

I am aware that these are depressing issues and that many people are very concerned. For my part, I have found that the best approach is to do something about the problem. Because when many people are doing something together to save nature, we can get the arrows pointing in the right direction. In addition, going for a walk in nature is perhaps the best comfort of all.


How can we learn about nature?

Life is more fun when we look at nature. However, this might sound like an ambitious project where you have to travel a long way, know lots of facts or buy expensive equipment. This does not need to be the case, because nature is not somewhere else. It’s all around you!

I have two tips for how you can get started on learning about nature:

- Take notice of nature, whether you are on your way to work or walking in the mountains. What is so neat, is that the more you look, the more you see. You start to see different types of trees with different shapes, bugs and perhaps eventually some interrelationships. Birds that eat insects, bees on flowers and squirrels playing in the trees. Life in new places: bugs in a dead tree, a spider in the shower, or a bird of prey nesting on an office building.

- Use a bird book or a similar resource on the internet. It’s no surprise that birds are loved so much—they are of course a part of nature which you can easily experience! Bird books give people pleasure, no matter whether they are left on the windowsill or placed in the rucksack. In Norway, we do not have that many birds, so it is entirely possible to find out what you have seen without already knowing the underlying systematics or lots of bird names. Have a look at the birds in the nearest tree and try to make a note of what they look like. Are they large or small? What colours do they have on their head, breast and tail? Is there anything unusual about their beak, feet or tail? Browse through your bird book until you find something that is similar. There, you've already made a start.

As you probably realise, I strongly believe you will end up in a virtuous circle when you start taking notice of nature. The more you see, the more you wonder, and the more you learn. And once you know a bit about something, the more fun and easier it becomes to see, learn and understand even more.

Hello – a brief presentation

My name is Lene Liebe Delsett. I am one of the biologists in the project group behind Vestre Habitats. We will be dropping by the website from time to time and this is my first blog post. I thought I would introduce myself and explain my contribution to the project.

Most of what I do revolves around nature. My academic background is in biology and palaeontology, which means that I study animals which lived a long time ago, based on fossils. I have a PhD on ichthyosaurs from Svalbard and am currently working on a number of research projects concerning marine reptiles and mammals. I also work for the University of Oslo as centre coordinator for the Centre for Biogeochemistry in the Anthropocene, where the researchers are working to understand the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles and the impact of humans on them. My work at the centre is both internally and externally oriented.
Ever since I was young, I have been interested in environmental issues and I have held posts and worked for numerous environmental organisations. Within these organisations, I have worked on a variety of issues and have always been particularly interested in biodiversity. This led me to publish a book earlier this year entitled "Brennmaneteffekten – hvordan går det med den norske naturen?" (The lion’s mane jellyfish effect: What is happening to Norwegian nature?) The book is the reason why I was contacted by Vestre, who were wondering whether I would like to be a small part of their new project.

I decided to accept their offer in order to learn something new, to work with biodiversity in industry, and because I liked the aims behind the project. At the project group's meetings, I contribute my knowledge of the threats to biodiversity, offer a research perspective on how the positive effects of outdoor furniture can actually be measured, and give my thoughts regarding how wide-ranging and difficult topics can be communicated. I’m looking forward to following the project as it progresses!


Want to learn more?

I have chosen some useful resources and books for you to read: