Barbro Soller was Sweden’s first fulltime reporter on environmental care, first in the daily press and later as a reporter on TV.
Barbro Soller was born in Norra Åsum, Kristianstad in 1928. She was the elder of the two daughters of Nils Soller, a merchant, and Nanny Soller, née Rosendahl. Barbro Soller started working as a writer when young. During the summer of 1948, after her matriculation, she worked at Sölvesborgs-Tidningen and in 1949–1950 she was the radio critic at Göteborgs Morgonpost. In June 1951, Barbro Soller gained her B.A. at Gothenburg college (now the University of Gothenburg). She studied journalism, chemistry, ethology and zoology.
In 1951, Barbro Soller participated in a review-writing competition in the major daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN). She was appointed as a general reporter soon after that. During the 1950s, Barbro Soller acquired a more and more important role at the newspaper. Under the signature Barbara, she wrote reportage, articles and reviews among other things. Her reportage series in 1955 on the Swedish school system, Fröken för en vecka, received a great deal of attention and awoke a discussion on the teaching profession and its preconditions. Barbro Soller had taken upon herself the role of a teacher and wrote about her experiences. She continued to work mostly as a foreign correspondent. Among other things, she was appointed to attend the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1962. Barbro Soller also had a lifelong interest in classical music and opera, which also characterised her choice of articles. She described Jean Sibelius’ funeral procession in Helsinki, for example.
Barbro Soller wrote a great deal on the subject of animals and nature, in particular on birds. In interviews, she has recounted that the zoologist and ethologist Konrad Lorenz’ theories on animal behaviour had inspired her profoundly. In connection with the publication of Rachel Carsson’s Silent Spring in Swedish in 1963, the effects of environmental poisons began to be discussed in Sweden. The discussion mainly took up how whole strains of birds were being decimated as a consequence of the mercury used in preparing seed for sowing. It was an issue that immediately engaged Barbro Soller.
In 1964, Barbro Soller took contact with the scientist Nils Tejning who had discovered mercury in hen’s eggs, and she persuaded him to give her access to his research results before they became generally known. It became the top news story and fuelled the discussion that was already ongoing. The same year, she was offered the post of being the newspaper’s music reporter full time. She wanted instead to write about her other great interest, animals and nature. This contributed to her exclusively dedicating herself to environmental issues. She thus became the first ever fulltime environmental reporter in the Swedish press. In 1966, she was in India covering the famine that followed on drought in a series of reports. In that context she also made a film for SIDA and interviewed Indira Gandhi.
Barbro Soller is perhaps best known for her reportage series Nya Lort-Sverige, published in 1969. The title is a paraphrase of Ludvig “Lubbe” Nordström’s influential radio reportage series Lort-Sverige from 1938, that had drawn attention to the unhealthy environment in overcrowded homes in rural areas. Barbro Soller pointed out that while the social democrats’ reforms like for example the so-called million-homes project had reduced the social problems connected with bad housing, there was now a new “muck Sweden” out in nature. Working with the photographer Stig A Nilsson, she produced seven articles. Each of these was front-page news in Dagens Nyheter, providing a new perspective on how the modern life of the time had damaging effects on nature. The resulting book appeared in a second edition already in 1970 and has been seen as a key work during the early years of the environmental movement in Sweden.
Barbro Soller changed her workplace the same year and began writing for the medical journal Läkartidningen. The new appointment gave her more free time and during this period she wrote the reportage book Djurfabriken that appeared in 1971 and awoke much attention. In this book, the rationalisation of livestock care in Sweden and its effects on animal health was described. In yet another cooperative venture with Stig A Nilsson, Barbro Soller showed how pork, beef and egg producers kept their animals in poor living conditions and the harmful effects this had, like deaths and sickliness among the animals. The book also pointed to the increasing antibiotics resistance resulting from their presence in the animals’ foodstuffs, their exposure to hydrogen sulphide on account of the liquid manure system and so on. This awoke intense discussion and in connection with its publication, Barbro Soller participated in the TV debate programme Kvällsöppet, which attracted a lot of attention. During the following year, the animal question was brought up in several motions to parliament, with many references to Barbro Soller’s book. It was however to take ten more years before the issue was seriously taken up at government level. Barbro Soller corresponded during the 1980s with Astrid Lindgren. This correspondence possibly influenced the series of debate articles published by Astrid Lindgren in Expressen. These are considered to have contributed to the 1987 animal protection legislation.
In the autumn of 1972, Sveriges Television AB restructured its programme arrangement. One of the consequences was that issues concerning environmental care became a recurring element in the news programme Aktuellt. Barbro Soller was appointed as TV’s first fulltime reporter on environmental issues. Barbro Soller was to present many news items in that field and was at the same time, along with for example Pia Brandelius and Christina Jutterström, one of the women pioneers in the still male-dominated field of news journalism in the 1970s on TV. Barbro Soller’s expertise was even consulted at that time by the government. From 1979–1980 she was a member of the environmental care committee.
Barbro Soller remained at Aktuellt until 1987 when she became a member of SVT’s new science editorial group, first called Vetenskap and later becoming Vetenskapens värld. Barbro Soller was the producer and a reporter. She was responsible for many notable programmes on endangered species of animal life and nature. Ones that may be mentioned are “Vattnet som försvann” in 1988, on the leaf frog that was at that time threatened as a consequence of the cultivation of fish; “De sista vargarna?” in 1990, on how the myth about wolves being evil had led to their being persecuted by human beings and now risking extinction. Other notable reportages were “Jakarnas land” in 1990, in which Barbro Soller and her team became the first western reporters to be admitted to the village Hongyuan on the Tibetan plateau, a stay that was heavily monitored by the Chinese authorities but that resulted in nature footage that had never been shown before, and also “Så här dör skogen” in 1992, in which films of the collapse of coniferous forests were accompanied by Franz Schubert’s Döden och flickan, chosen by Barbro Soller. She continued working at Vetenskapens värld until her retirement in 1993.
After her retirement, Barbro Soller continued working as a freelance reporter. In 2000, her last book was published: Storken i vattenriket. In 2009, Barbro Soller was awarded an honorary doctorate at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science at Sweden’s agricultural university SLU.
Barbro Soller died in January 2020 in Täby, at 91 years of age. She is buried in the Eastern Cemetery in Kristianstad.