Researchers are flocking to South Greenland: It costs working hours and resources

Innovation South Greenland is working to prevent the local sheep farmers from becoming overwhelmed by assisting the many researchers visiting the area.


By Sara Kirstine Hald



In the Unesco area of Kujataa, which is visited by a large number of researchers every year, there are 21 sheep farms. Many of these have existed for generations and are passed down within families.


Research in the area is primarily focused on climate change, and the researchers aim to gain a better understanding of how the local population has experienced these changes.


The sheep farmers, who live and work here, possess unique insights into how climate change has affected the nature around them. Therefore, it is logical for researchers to turn to this community for knowledge. However, there is a caveat.



Would you like to answer a few questions – again?


With a limited number of sheep farmers and a large number of researchers interested in their knowledge, sheep farmers often end up answering the same questions multiple times. In the long run, this can lead to what is known as “research fatigue.”


Click here to watch Arctic Hub’s explainer video on “research fatigue.”



The concept essentially refers to when the population becomes tired of assisting researchers. This can happen if a group of people is repeatedly asked the same questions, as is often the case in the Unesco area of Kujataa.


“There are more and more researchers coming to the area, and they are almost all focused on climate change. The sheep farmers and others who use the land are the experts, and they want to help, but they are getting tired of answering the same questions again and again,” says Else Bjerge Petersen, a park ranger at Innovation South Greenland.



Researchers should be distributed


At Innovation South Greenland, efforts are made to counteract research fatigue so that researchers from around the world can continue to benefit from the knowledge of the local sheep farmers. One of their tasks is to “distribute” the researchers among the sheep farmers.


Many of the researchers contact Innovation South Greenland when they come to the area. This allows Else Bjerge Petersen and her colleagues to ensure that the same sheep farmers are not involved in all research projects. However, there can be a language barrier that complicates this distribution.


“There are limitations in how many of the sheep farmers speak English. The younger group is good at English, but the older group is not so proficient, and they are the ones who know a lot about climate change in the area,” says Else Bjerge Petersen.


If the researchers only speak English and do not have an interpreter, it is often the same people who are questioned. This can contribute to research fatigue in this group and, at the same time, lead to researchers missing out on the knowledge and experience of the older population.



Niels gave the black-headed gull its Greenlandic name


Niels Lund is a retired sheep farmer, but when he was still working, he was visited by many researchers.


“Before I moved to Qaqortoq, I had been a sheep farmer and lived in a settlement all my life. I have talked to researchers many times because, of course, I want to help when I have the opportunity,” he says.


Niels Lund has recently moved to Qaqortoq, but has otherwise lived at the sheep farm ’Qanisartuut’ all his life.
Photo: Sara Kirstine Hald

He believes that the local population benefits from the knowledge researchers contribute and usually has positive experiences with researchers. One of the best was when he was allowed to give the hooded gull its Greenlandic name.


“I had seen a new bird species in the area where I lived, so I contacted the ornithologist, Finn Salomonsen. Later, when I was in Denmark, I was invited to the Zoological Museum to identify the bird I had seen. From a selection of different birds, I pointed out the black-headed gull,” says Niels.


Later the same year, Finn Salomonsen came to South Greenland, so Niels could show him the new bird. The ornithologist confirmed that the black-headed gull had arrived in Greenland, and subsequently, Niels Lund and his family were involved in giving the bird its Greenlandic name, “naajaq nasaaralik.”



Researchers select information


Unfortunately, not all of Niels Lund’s experiences with researchers have been as good.


“Some researchers publish something that is unacceptable to us, even though we have helped them. For example, there were researchers who published something against the expansion of sheep farming while we were in the process. I was dissatisfied with that,” says Niels Lund.


He has also experienced that his own knowledge was omitted if it did not fit into the researchers’ agenda.


“Sometimes, the researchers publish stuff without considering the information we’ve given them. Or they pick out the information that aligns with their own agendas,” says Niels Lund.



Why don’t they just say no?


If people are tired of helping researchers, why don’t they simply say no? According to Else Bjerge Petersen, it’s not that simple.


Sheep farmers want to contribute and are happy that researchers are interested in the area they live in. The challenge lies in the number of researchers compared to the number of sheep farmers and the fact that many researchers investigate the same things.


“Sometimes several research teams from the same area, for example, the USA, come here at the same time. They ask the same people the same questions, sometimes on the same day,” says Else Bjerge Petersen.


In certain periods, sheep farmers can spend a lot of working hours assisting researchers. According to Else Bjerge Petersen, this can be alleviated through better collaboration among researchers.


“If the researchers who come here could communicate a bit with each other, we could avoid the sheep farmers having to answer the same questions many times,” she says.


“Sometimes several research teams from the same area, for example, the USA, come here at the same time. They ask the same people the same questions, sometimes on the same day.”
– Else Bjerge Petersen

Both parties should benefit from the collaboration


At Innovation South Greenland, they would like to see greater consideration for the sheep farmers’ time and resources, so they are not ultimately forced to say no to contributing.


“Many of the sheep farmers live in remote areas where you can’t just sail or drive to. Therefore, it requires something from them logistically if they are to participate in a project. They either have to go to the researchers, or, for example, pick up the researchers from the beach and transport them the rest of the way to the farm. So, both time and resources are used in participating, and that’s time taken away from their workday,” says Else Bjerge Petersen.


She also emphasizes that the local population should benefit more from the research conducted in the area.


“Where are the reports that the researchers write? Where can the general population find the knowledge that the researchers gather here? Knowledge should not only be extracted from Greenland but should also be something the population can benefit from,” says Else Bjerge Petersen. ■