By Adam Rose (Scottish Natural Heritage)
Finnish forestry – Nature conservation and access
Forestry accounts for over 75% or roughly 23 million hectares of the total land surface area of Finland. Or 4.3 hectares for every Finn which is 16 times the European average! It’s not hard to see why forestry is an important socio-economic and cultural perspective throughout Finland. However, with it covering such a large proportion of Finland’s land area it is also important from an environmental perspective as well.
The arboretum in Tampere has an extensive collection of tree species including the unusual but spectacular snake spruce and a silver birch with an unusually shaped leaf (Betula pendula f. crispa loimaankoivu). Outside the confines of the arboretum there are essentially four main tree species within Finland’s timber industry – Norway spruce (Picea abies) (or Finnish spruce as we were corrected by our accommodation owner!), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), silver birch (Betula pendula) and aspen (Populus tremula). In comparison to Scotland, where fast growing Sitka spruce is considered the most common commercial species and accounts for the majority of Scotland production largely due to our wetter climate. Most broadleaf woodland in Scotland is not managed as productive forestry only approximately three percent is considered productive.
Although the Latin names are the same there is likely to be some genetic differences in the species found in Finland. Initially mistaken for a strange disease, the Scots pine, for example have thinner paler bark on the top two thirds of the trunk.
There are 40 national parks in Finland all of which are managed by Metsähallitus, a state owned enterprise similar to Forest and Land Scotland. Finnish National Parks cover an extensive area of just over 10,000 square kilometres compared to Scotland’s national parks area of just under 6400 square kilometres. Unlike the national parks in Scotland, Finnish national parks primary role is to safeguard the natural biodiversity of the areas and there is no development within the national parks.
During our trip we visited two national parks – Helventinjarvi National Park and Seitseminen National Park both are designated under Natura 2000.
Helventinjarvi National Park
Helventinjarvi or Hell Lake in English is around 50km2 and was established in 1982 due to its stunning landscapes and its high populations of woodpecker species – three toed and black woodpecker. Unfortunately, neither of the species were spotted but plenty signs on the Scots pine.
National Park receives over 50,000 visitors per year, but in the seven hours we spent in the park only met two other groups. The majority of the park was what we would consider ‘classic’ Scots pine woodland and there were similarities between Scottish and Finnish Scot’s pine woodland ground flora with one notable exception – Labrador tea was prevalent.
Metsähallitus carry out path and sign maintenance, as well as look after the cabins (our equivalent of bothies) although prisoners are also conscripted to help with path maintenance, in a similar way community service. Our walk out to our destination, an impressive log cabin on the edge of a large lake was on narrow raised board walks to protect the mossy undergrowth. Interestingly there was very little evidence of people straying from the boardwalk into the rest of the forest and no sign of any litter, rubbish or dog mess that you would expect to find in most nature reserves in Scotland.
Access to the cabin was down through a steep narrow gorge and the site was well equipped with a composting toilet and obligatory well stocked wood store. A group of five red-throated divers was spotted on the loch in front of the hut was the birding highlight of the day.
Seitseminen National Park
Seitseminen National Park is the old-growth forest of Multiharju region which has been protected already in 1910, although was designated as a national park in 1982. There are remnants of an ancient spruce forest. The oldest pines are nearly 400 years old, and there are still marks of the past forest fires on their stems. The amount of standing deadwood was incredible and clearly an important habitat for the three toed woodpecker and black woodpecker. Even more incredible was the amount standing deadwood next to or that could fall on the network of the path. In Scotland, dead wood would be managed to be kept away from paths for public safety. When we asked why deadwood was not cleared from the path for public safety the response we got was why would you it’s important for nature!
Seitseminen is also one of the national parks where forest reindeer, an EU Annex II rare and threatened sub-species of reindeer, have been reintroduced as part of another EU Life project. The project will gradually breed and release forest reindeer into the national park with the aim of eventually being able to expand the population to other parts of Finland.
A small area 1-2ha of this park had been burnt to improve biodiversity and burning is considered a natural part of forest management in Finland. It is clear the burn had been meticulously managed and despite having only been burnt a couple of months before birch and blaeberry seedlings were coming through already. Burning within forestry is something that is very unusual in Scotland, although occasionally brash may be burnt.
From the burnt area, we headed out along an excellent boardwalk to see open bog habitat. The bog had hundreds of stunted pine trees growing in it, although some work had been done to remove trees from certain sections.
A note on Natura
Both Finland’s Natura 2000 areas measures 50,000 sq. km or 15% of Finland’s land area. Almost of Natura areas circa 80% are owned and maintained by Metsähallitus compared to Scotland where the majority of Natura and other protected areas are in private ownership.
Hunting and Wildlife Management
Hunting is a big part of Finnish culture and a huge variety of species are hunted within Finland. There are over 4500 hunting clubs or associations in Finland ranging from 2000ha to 10,000ha. There are just over 300,000 registered hunters in Finland. The hunting club we visited had 10,000ha and 150 members. Each hunter has to pass an examination in order to get a hunting permit which is renewed annually for a fee of €39 and the clubs pay a tax per year on an annual basis. For bigger game, such as elk and wolves, a further test must be passed. Unlike Scotland, however, there are no full time paid stalkers in the country, however, such jobs might exist in the future as the country continues to urbanise and less people live in rural areas.
Non-native white-tailed deer are the main deer species in Finland and were introduced in the 1930s. The owner of our accommodation’s father was one of the men who introduced the five white-tailed deer into Finland. The population now exceeds 100,000.
Although wolves and lynx were in the Tampere region they were not considered a significant threat largely due to the high numbers of their favoured prey white-tailed deer. There are around 300 wolves in Finland, but 10,000 would be needed to meet equilibrium, so it would not be possible for the number of wolves to co-exist with the current human population of Finland. Wolves and lynx were present in the area, but they existed without affecting most people or farms largely due to abundance of their preferred prey – white-tailed deer.
Hunting clubs seem to be self-regulating with apparently little influence from government in setting their own cull targets and limits on which species they intend to hunt. The hunting club we visited had decided collaboratively to not shoot capercaille as they considered the numbers were too low. Whereas the cull on white tailed deer that year had increased from 700 to 1000 in recognition that they were becoming a road safety issue – over 5200 traffic accidents were related to white-tailed deer in 2017 – and their numbers had increased too much.
Natural regeneration was abundant nearly everywhere we visited, something which is comparatively unusual in Scotland unless it is enclosed within a deer fence. Regeneration was so prevalent in some locations that it was encroaching into previously open habitats, such as small fields of abandoned farms. A strong hunting culture and associated herbivore management within Finland appears to the main cause for natural regeneration within Finnish forests.
‘Everyman’s right’ is a traditional Finnish legal concept that gives people the right to access just about any of the country’s land and waterways. Everyman’s right applies to 85 percent of Finland’s land and water areas and is very similar to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
According to everyman’s right, the landowner’s permission is not required if you are only passing across the land. Access to land and water access is free, but those exercising everyman rights are obliged not to cause any damage or disturbance.
Roaming is permitted in national parks, state hiking areas and other special areas, although access and camping may be partly restricted for nature conservation reasons. Access to strict nature reserves is closely managed and public access is forbidden unless you have a permit, which are only granted for research purposes
In both national parks, regulations remain quite strict; for example boating during the bird breeding season on Lake Haukkajarvi within Helventinjarvi, walk off the defined routes in Seitseminen National Park and no lighting fires during if fire warning signs are out. These rules appear to be accepted quite readily by the Finns, although the respect for and connection with their environment appears to be far greater in Finland than in Scotland.
Thank you especially to our three student hosts from TAMK University Wille, Kati and Jussi who put in a huge amount of effort and work into making this such a memorable and wonderful trip, as well as Erasmus+ for funding and ArchNetwork for organising our visit to Finland.