EVO is a hiking centre and forestry college in Kanta-Häme. As well as teaching forestry skills from an economic, recreational and conservational point of view, EVO offers opportunities for members of the public to engage with nature. For example, the public can pay to spend time with animals- there are numerous cows that the public can see and tend, while there is also a meat and grain store.
We saw at first hand some of the measures put in place to trap predators. A wire cage in the middle of the forest is baited with a dead bird; when a raccoon dog (or pine marten, or badger) is attracted to the bait, it sets off a hair-trigger and causes the cage to descend, trapping the predator. Wireless technology alerts the centre (see the camouflaged transmitter attached to a tree, below), and staff can come and deal with the predator and reset the trap.
Capercaillie – forest management & conservation
Ilmari Häkkinen, a retired professor from EVO Forestry School showed the group one of their long-standing capercaillie lek sites. Being there outwith the lekking season (March/Aril) no capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) was sighted on the study tour although we had the privilege of hearing a hazel grouse (Tetrastes bonasia) in the early morning, later in the week. Capercaillie and Hazel grouse are two of Finland’s five forest grouse species (Black Grouse, Willow Grouse & Ptarmigan).
Finland banned hunting capercaillie on lek sites in 1950s, but their population density kept plummeting with a decrease of approx. 50% between the 1960s and the end of the 1980s. The most commonly suggested reasons for their decline are forest management, changes in forest structure (habitat loss, habitat degradation and forest fragmentation), increased predator populations, excessive hunting, and adverse changes in the climate. However in the 1990s that declining trend stopped, and this arrest has been in part due to better forest management.
Forest stands and landscape structure have changed considerably in Finland during the 20th Century. The earlier diameter-based selective felling was replaced in the 1950s with a standard practice of clear-cutting and artificial regeneration. During the 1950s and 1960s a high proportion of old forests were clear-cut and regenerated, primarily with Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) sowing large land areas. Since then, the size of clear-cuts and their annual proportion has decreased. The importance of old or mature forests for capercaillie has been shown in many studies in Finland but relatively young stands have also been considered to be of adequate quality for capercaillie.
The state-owned forestry commission has recently applied strict criteria with regards to their forest management; no clear-cutting is permitted in the centre of a lek site. That only applies to approx. 30% of forest area as the other 70% is either in private or big company ownership. So far, the advice, advisory rather than compulsory, given to forest owners is to apply selective thinning (continuous cover forestry) for the conservation of capercaillie. This requires future liaison with private landowners so the balance between capercaillie population and thinning stands becomes standard practice. The modified thinning methods – aiming to increase tree layer diversity – could lead to millions of hectares of improved habitats for capercaillie and other forest-dwelling species in the boreal forests.
Finland applies a Wildlife Triangle Scheme, started in the late 1980s, to obtain actual capercaillie numbers, steering their sustainable management and regulating hunting licences. The base unit is a permanent route of 12km length that forms a symmetrical triangle (each side is 4km). These triangle are traced out by local hunting clubs. Tetraonides (capercaillie, black grouse, hazel grouse & willow grouse) are censed in a strip of 60m width by a chain of three people in April before the hunting season. Finland holds 8,000 of those triangles and due to knowledge of long-standing monitoring it is recognised that those numbers are only half of the actual species numbers.
The desired Teraonides density in Finland is:
Hazel grouse – 2.5/km2
Black grouse – 4/km2
Capercaillie – 8/km2
Those counts regulate the hunting permits (within the hunting season) and the following recommendations are given: only 10% is allowed to be hunted when counts are low, when the numbers are high 20% can be hunted. The results will be distributed amongst the hunting clubs, which are largely made up of private land owners and equally participate in the monitoring.
This is unlike Scotland, where capercaillie is regarded as a conservation priority after being re-introduced in 1837 from Sweden. The Scottish population estimate, based on a repeat national survey in 2003/04, is approx. 1,980 compared to a population of approx. 300,000 in Finland. Radio-tagging capercaillie has shown that deer fence collisions account for 24% of first year bird’s mortality and 8% of adults annually. The abundance of natural regeneration and absence of fences in the forest during our study tour was very remarkable. Finnish Forestry considers fencing too expensive and not wholly necessary since browsing pressure is lower due to natural predation as well as hunting. Predation by non-native mammals of capercaillie is partially believed to be a problem in terms of hunting. Ilmari mentioned small predator control (Siberian racoon dog –Nyctereutes procyonoides) by applying life-trapping from beginning of August till start of April. But once again, hardly any trapping is done outwidth state ownership so there is currently little evidence of the difference trapping makes on breeding success of Tetraonides.
Beavers – Invasive & public awareness
Ilmari showed us some beaver habitats, and a beaver dam at the edge of a lake. Some insects and bats benefit from the presence of beaver, and other water birds like the wetlands. Finland hosts two beaver species, the European and American beaver (Castor canadensis) which differ in chromosome numbers so when hybridised, the offspring are unable to reproduce. The original beaver species in Finland was the European Beaver (Castor fiber), whilst the latter is classified as an invasive species in Finland’s National Strategy. Both became extinct in the mid-1800s. In 1930s, European Beavers were transported to Finland from Norway, and unfortunately a few beavers from the North American species were also reintroduced: two very similar species that are probably competitors and cannot, therefore, coexist for any length of time. This sounds very much like Scotland’s’ red/grey squirrel population whereby the grey become the main threat to the survival of the native red. Scotland’s European beaver became extinct in the 16th Century and Norwegian beavers were introduced in 2009. The current Finnish population size is estimated to be 10,000; however, it’s unfortunate from a conservation point of view that about 90% of the Finnish population are North American beavers.
Municipalities in Finland where citizens counted beaver winter lodges. Red is the North American and light blue the European beaver. Grey land area holds no beavers. Darker blue is sea (J. E. Brommer, 2017).
Many landowners consider beavers a nuisance and with landowners legally owning the wildlife on their land, the annual beaver harvest is approx. 20%. This is unlike Scotland although an increase in public awareness of the value of beavers is required in both countries. Beaver represent not only a game species, but are also important ecological engineers. Beavers, as semi-aquatic rodents and true herbivores, can rebuild dams overnight and cause substantial damage to forestry (e.g. washing out tracks and roads, trees in the flooded area die due to a lack of oxygen in the standing water, etc.) but equally they counteract for some of the negative effects of forestry activities on water quality (e.g. types of beaver dams are most effective at hindering or reducing the release of nutrients and hazardous substances to watercourses) and they can enrich the biodiversity. So the general approach in Estate forests is to only remove beavers that damage roads.
Beaver habitat & dam in Estate Forest
Finally Ilmari showed us some other noteworthy aspects of the forest. These tree stumps are from trees caught in a forest fire, and Ilmari pointed out the tar production in the base of the trees. The tar is produced by trees caught up in fires as a stress measure to try and protect themselves. Better forest management has led to fewer forest fires, which is generally a good thing- however it also means less tar is produced, and tar is a commercial product in Finland used as an additive for saunas, for example.
He also showed us some examples of controlled burning (above)- this improves the soil, aids forest management, benefits insects, benefits small mammals, and the new planting of spruce benefits deer and moose.
In the afternoon, we visited the Finnish Wildlife Agency, in Kangasala, where we listened to a presentation by Game Manager Jani Körhämö.
Game hunting is ingrained within Finnish culture. It is considered a highly sociable activity enjoyed by many people. Game hunting is made accessible to most people because it is more affordable than most other countries in terms of buying shooting rights and licences. In Scotland, hunting is primarily a sport for those with a higher income who can afford to pay the landowner for shooting rights on their property. For this reason, and the laws and regulations which ensure sustainable quotas and ethical hunting practices, hunting is more accepted in Finland than in other European countries where there can be a big divide between hunters and non-hunters.
Hunters and conservationists are often the same people in Finland, with the idea being that well managed land and conserved species will provide excess individuals for hunting, without causing the species to decline. The hunters are typically resident in the area and hunting on each other’s land, so it is in their interests to keep local populations of quarry strong for the future. The main quarry species are native grouse and elk, plus introduced white tailed deer. Control of other introduced invasive species e.g. American mink, racoon dogs, Canadian beaver, is also carried out
The main reasons for allowing hunting are to provide meat, to provide recreation, to reduce vehicle collisions, to reduce damage to crops and forestry and to reduce the number of carnivores attacking stock and beehives.
There are c.310,000 hunters in Finland which is comparatively higher than other European countries, and c.7000-8000 new hunters register every year. There is some concern the number of hunters will decline as older hunters retire from the activity. The number of women hunters is increasing from year to year and current figures show 18% of hunters are women. Young persons can also enjoy hunting and many young people go hunting with family and friends. Whilst a young person is not able to apply for a firearms licence until they are 18 years of age, many still go on hunts to enjoy the experience and spend time with family and friends – and they are able to use a firearm if with a qualified adult.
Hunting Law and Regulations
Game hunting is governed by the Finnish Wildlife Agency (FWA) which is an independent body regulated by public law. The Game Administration Act sets out roles and responsibilities for the FWA. Funding for the FWA comes from game management fees paid by all hunters. Hunters are required to pay game management fees to the state which is €33 per annum for a hunting permit and this includes hunter’s insurance. Further fees are required for special licences (e.g. €120 for elk).
The FWA are responsible for implementing wildlife and game policy including writing and implementing management plans for game species. They promote sustainable game husbandry and hunting including education, guidance and ensuring cooperation with hunting groups and other organisations. They process hunting licences and special licences (a special licence is required for elk and other large predators protected under the Habitats Directive (1992), and administrate insurance for hunting groups.
Any person wishing to hunt must have a hunting licence and they are required to pass an examination before a licence can be granted. A shooting assessment is also required for some species such as elk and bear. These assessments and courses ensure ethical hunting techniques. Game Management Associations (GMAs) are the body who administer and provide hunting courses, examinations and shooting competence assessments. There are 298 GMAs and their activities are supported by the FWA.
Any non-resident of Finland must obtain a hunting permit to be able to legally hunt in Finland and are required to pass the examination and shooting assessment (shooting assessment competency only applies to permits for elk, deer, wild boar or bear). If they can prove that they already hold a hunting permit in their permanent place of residence then they do not need to pass an exam or shooting assessment.
The FWA enforce regulations and policy in relation to hunting. It is forbidden to use vehicles and lights to hunt (with the exception for lamping for boar and racoon dogs). Hunting is done on foot with dogs to find the animal and hold it at bay for the hunters to locate.
All hunting is regulated by type of firearms that can be used, and bow hunting is only permitted for deer and wild boar requiring much more skill to hunt these animals. Game rangers check compliance with the law and any persons caught illegally taking an animal may be subject to a fine or imprisonment.
The game management fees paid by hunters, not only funds the FWA, but it also provides a compensation fund to any persons experiencing damage to forestry, livestock or agriculture from protected species such as elk and large carnivores. There is sufficient money in this fund to pay compensation and thus the state is not required to top-up this fund. The GMA staff along with a state official will conduct onsite checks for compensation claims to ensure the claim is legitimate.
Annual hunting quotas
Each year hunters and land owners carry out driven counts of game birds and animals in 8000 locations across Finland. The counts are carried out over a fixed triangular plot, known as ‘the wildlife triangle’. Game bird counts in southern Finnish woodland are on average: 2.5 Capercallie/sq/km, 4 black grouse/sq/km and 8 hazel grouse/sq/km, the driven count typically counts 50% of the individuals in the woodland. This data is fed back to the central agency by the club leader to decide on overall numbers (calculate actual numbers from sightings) to assess the numbers of game birds and animals. On a good year 20% of the population of the game bird can be shot, on a bad year 10% can be shot. This is only a recommendation, but compliance with quotas is good, as the hunting clubs exert peer pressure on their members. The state can exert some control on number taken by limiting the length of the hunting season.
Big game quotas are set by the Natural Resources Institute who conduct scientific research on fish, game, forestry and agriculture in Finland. They set game quotas based on population data and research to ensure sustainable management of all species, and maintain the favourable conservation status of strictly protected species.
Once a quota for an area is granted, the hunting club work out their own bag limit among their members. Records of what is shot and the location are verified and collated by the club leader. If you buy a hunting licence to hunt on land outside your club, you will be told what you are allowed to shoot of each species. The state forest limits the number of hunting permits issued depending on populations of quarry species in that year. There is an online GIS system which shows were wildlife sightings have been made, gives club and ownership boundaries. You submit information on your phone, which is checked and then submitted to online system by the group leader.
Most hunters belong to a local hunting group and there are 4500 hunting groups in Finland. Hunting rights belong to the landowner and most hunting groups will rent the hunting rights from several landowners to be able to hunt within larger areas. Landowners hold the hunting rights, but almost all landowners allow hunting on their land to protect their crops and forestry. Hunting clubs typically rent the rights from several landowners, so that they can hunt over a larger area. Many of the landowners are also hunters, so are happy to let hunting on their land. Hunting clubs typically cover 3-4000ha. The hunters pay for the administration of their own clubs.
Hunters are using modern technology including mobile phone apps to produce and use maps of hunting areas (a group must have a map of your hunting area to obtain a hunting licence), communicate with their hunting groups and to provide return information on number and species they have successfully taken (including species, sex). For example elk kills are reported on https://oma.riista.fi/ which is available on a mobile phone app. Reports include details on weather including snow depth, date, time, if hunting dogs were used, what they saw (e.g. one female with calf). TASSU is a web service which hunters can use to provide information on large carnivores including sightings of the animals, tracks and signs. Data from each hunting group’s area can be viewed by all hunters so the data is very transparent.
For safety reasons, hunters will put up warning signs to make people aware hunting is taking place within an area, but they cannot restrict access to an area. Fortunately, good practice means there are very few hunting accidents in Finland, considering the number of hunters (<1 per year). When elk hunting, a group leader takes responsibility for everyone’s safety.
Preventing elk and deer damage to crops and forestry
Forest owners consider 3-4 elk within 1000ha is high and likely to cause damage to forestry and agriculture. Comparatively, in Scotland deer densities (red, roe and Sitka) can be as high as 20 per km2 and conservation objectives aim for 3-4 deer per km2 to allow tree regeneration and for a more natural and balanced ecosystem.
A spray repellent is available which is 90% effective in preventing elk eating young trees, but it must be sprayed on annually for 5 years. Young Scots pine is particularly attractive food for overwintering elk. Whole stands can be decimated by an over-wintering mother and calf. Elk tend to gather in areas with good food resources and spend the winter in a small area; this is because continually moving on through deep snow reduces their chances of surviving.
Dense planting or sowing of trees reduces damage from deer and elk by producing thicket growth that they find difficult to walk through. Fencing is not used to keep out herbivore in Finland, as it is deemed too expensive. Forest owner can apply for compensation from the hunting licence fund for damaged crops and income forgone. The money from hunting licences is used to pay the compensation.
Preventing wildlife-vehicle collisions
Collisions are reduced on highways using fencing, smaller roads are not fenced. Collisions with elk pose a major risk to motorists, especially in autumn, when young disperse and the elk move around more in response to hunting. An adult male can be up to 700kg and they are tall, so they tend to end up going through the front windscreen. Motorists colliding with an elk typically write off their car and consider themselves lucky if they escape with their lives. The fencing is not high enough to stop deer or elk, but presumably slows them down or puts them off running into the road.
Game Management and Hunting
Capercallie Tetrao urogallus
As mentioned above, habitat management of capercaille is voluntary, but many forest owners co-operate as it is highly prized by hunters and wildlife watchers. There is no clear felling within 5km of the lek site in publically owned forest, some private owners also maintain unfelled areas around leks as well. The conservation agency trail various management measures, then pass advice onto owners. They are trying to find ways to combine productive forestry with Capercallie protection. The birds are very vulnerable to disturbance around March and April.
Elk Alces alces
There are 65000 – 90 000 elk in Finland. Of the 10 million kg of meat produced from hunting each year, 70% is from elk, which can weigh up to 700kg. The hunting quotas are dictated by the need to sustain the species and also the social question of how much elk damage foresters and farmers are prepared to tolerate. Hunting regulation also attempts to even out the gender ratio. Naturally there would be a 1:1 male to female ratio; however males were overhunted in the past and the current ratio is 1:1.5. During and after the war, elk were heavily hunted for food. There numbers were down to 20 000 in 1966, then rose to 160 000+ in 2000. This population was judged too high, based on the level of damage and the number of vehicle collisions. There are now 4-4.5/1000h in southern Finland.
Birds of prey
Reindeer herders receive compensation for loss due to eagles which is hoped to reduce illegal killing of eagles. In Sweden and Norway, farmers are rewarded by being paid for having successful nests on their land.
White-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus
White tailed deer were introduced in 1943 from US. They are now a pest of forest and crop land. The population is now estimated to be 83 000, or 50-70/1000ha. Crossbow hunting has just been permitted to encourage hunting of this species.
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus
Roe deer were native to Finland but were overhunted and became extant in the 17th Century. They were re-introduced in the 1980s and have spread quickly throughout southern Finland.
Wolf Canis Lupus
The wolf population is currently at 150-200 which is a significant reduction from 300 individuals estimated a few years ago. There are c. 15 large wold packs and 20 pairs and some young individual wolves. Wolves are a strictly protected species and a special licence is required to hunt them. In the north, these licences are more likely to be granted to protect reindeer stock. Again, quotas are based on a national management plan. In 2916 c.15-20 wolves were taken legally.
The opinion on wolves in Finland is very divided, as it is worldwide, and people either love or hate wolves. Many people fear wolves, despite there being no wolf attacks in Finland within the last 100 years and only a handful of attacks worldwide with few fatalities (mostly linked to rabid animals). Feeding this fear and hatred is that wolves kill livestock, domestic pets and hunting dogs. Many Laplanders also hate wolverines because like wolves, they kill reindeer.
Authorities suggest that people avoid hunting in wolf areas to avoid conflict with dogs, but this has not been successful. Legal wolf hunting quotas were introduced to reduce illegal hunting, but this was unsuccessful. A radio-tracking study of Finnish wolves found that a high percentage were being illegally killed. Wolves are killed illegally in Finland, probably more than any other animal due to this fear factor, and because the number of illegally killed wolves cannot be measured it makes it more challenging to set game quotas which ensure the requirements of the Habitats Directive to maintain the wolf at favourable conservation status can be met.
People can apply for a licence to hunt wolves if they are causing problems and killing livestock, but no licences have been issued this year. The government give compensation for stock killed by wolves and bears and also pay for fences to protect stock. They have wildlife crime staff to assess these cases. They are typically ex-police officers with ranger training.
Only hunting dogs are legally allowed off the lead in forests and this needs to be licensed. This law is in place to protect ground nesting birds from predation and disturbance.
Lynx Lynx lynx
The population of lynx is 3000-35000 animals. The lynx population did increase over the last 10 years but has now levelled off and hunting quotas are set to sustain this population. Lynx are a protected species and a special licence is required to hunt them. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry sets an annual quota for licences based on a national management plan. 400 lynx were hunted in 2016.
European Brown Bear Ursus arctos
The population of brown bear is 1900-2000. Brown bear is a very highly valued trophy game species. A special licence is required to hunt this strictly protected species and the quota is set at 200 bears per year to sustain this population. 180 bears were taken in 2016 (10% of total population). Licences can be issued to kill a bear, if a particular bear has been attacking livestock.
Control of non-native mammals
Finnish aim for control, rather than eradication of non-native species, given the large land borders and forest cover, this is a realistic approach.
Racoon dogs Nyctereutes procyonoides
Racoon dogs are indigenous to eastern Asia. The current Finnish population spread form fur farm escapees and overland spread after the species were introduced to Russia. Racoon dogs eat ground nesting birds and have spread as far north as Lapland. Badgers, which are native, are also culled because they eat bird’s eggs. Racoon dogs carry Echinococcus, a tapeworm that can cause life threatening cysts in humans, livestock and other carnivores. This disease is not yet present in Finland, but it is almost certain that it will spread there.
The local hunting club organise hunting of problem predators. When a potential predator control area is identified, duck eggs are placed in front of a camera trap to see what type of predators are present. Then control appropriate to the species is set up. Mink can be controlled by finding their holes with dogs, then aiming a leaf blower into to flush them out for shooting! This has been done on islands where nesting eagles and eider ducks have been affected by non-native American mink. We were shown a trap for small predators, including racoon dogs PHOTO. It has a movement sensitive camera that triggers and then sends a picture to the phone to alert the trapper that there is something in the trap. This reduces the staff time required to manage traps. Trapping is carried out from autumn through to spring. Trapping is not a popular method in Finland and is seen as inhumane compared with shooting. Hunting dogs can also be used to track down racoon dogs, which are then killed by lamping.
Beaver Castor fiber
European beavers were hunted to extinction primarily for castorine from their scent glands, which was used in medicine. The US/Canadian beaver was once thought to be the same species as the EU beaver and was introduced in the 1940s. There are now 6-7000 in southern Finland, compared with 2000 European beavers. The population is estimated by the number of lodges recorded. They are hard to hunt as they are clever, active at night-time and regularly move onto new territories. Wildlife managers are focussing on reducing numbers of these in order to favour the European beaver, but it will not be possible to eradicate them.
Wild Boar Sus scrofa
Wild boar arrived in Finland more recently within the last few years. They have spread from Russia to the eastern and southern parts of Finland. There are concerns about the spread of African Swine Flu which is carried by the boar and is a risk to domestic livestock, so hunting this species is strongly encouraged.
Hunting is a very sociable activity and most people hunt for this reason. Hunters obtain more than 10million kilograms of game meat from their hunts; game meat is highly valued and the pride of Finnish cuisine. Hunters therefore want to conserve the animals they want to hunt.
There are no laws to ensure meat or fur is not wasted (i.e. left in the field or allowed to spoil) but it is instilled within the hunting culture that meat is highly valued and is not wasted. Animal fur and skins are also valued and people ensure it will be used.
It is not just meat that the forest provides for local people, foraging for fungi and berries is also very popular. On this trip, it was common to see many local people visiting the forest to collect are the governing berries and mushrooms, and also market stalls would sell local berries and mushrooms. The Finnish example demonstrates that when people benefit from the land and its wildlife, they are more invested and actively take care of the land and the species within it.