Forestry, Biodiversity & Conservation in Finland

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NET 5 Managing Our Natural & Cultural Heritage Assets – Forestry, Biodiversity and Conservation in Finland – 2nd to 9th September 2019

By John Reid – Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority

Map showing locations visited during course

I very much enjoyed my visit to Finland. It was a very interesting country to visit and we were well looked after by our hosts Wille, Kati and Jussi. It was a very valuable experience to be gain an insight into how attitudes, objectives and approaches to land management in Finland compare contrast to those in Scotland.

During the visit I kept a diary that I wrote in each day. For my report I have decided to type up my entries and then link them with the map showing were we visited. The full Google map can be accessed here. I also took a selection of photographs each day. The best photographs I took from each day can be accessed here.

Day 1: Monday 2nd September 2019 – Arriving in Finland

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As we flew into Stockholm on the first leg of our journey the first thing that struck me was tree cover, and Sweden is only 68% tree cover compared to Finland which is closer to 75%. We had a three-hour layover in the airport and I bought and ate a chicken salad costing me 170 Krona, around £14.The airport was very nice and gave an impression of the affluence of the country.

The flight to Tampere was on a smaller plane, with rows of two seats either side of the aisle. I filmed a lot of the flight as we passed over the Sea of Aland and the Archipelago we could see seemingly endless islands. This flight was much shorter and we arrived in Tampere at 8:05pm (2 hours ahead of UK time), into a small but modern and clean airport.

We met one of our three main hosts for the week, Wille. Wille is a 25 year old third year forestry student at Tampere University of Applied Sciences. We jumped into a modern 9 seater VW hire van and headed into Tampere. We stopped at supermarket to get supplies.

We then drove to our accommodation in darkness south and west of Tampere. Our accommodation was a traditional wooden built cottage on the lakefront at the edge of a peninsula. We had pizza that evening and met the owner of the cottage.

The owner told us he built the cottage himself in 2000. He hand selected the 100 Finnish (Norway) Spruce it took to build which were all felled within 15km.

The owner explained he is a hunter and told us white-tailed deer (introduced from North America) are the main deer in Finland, which surprised me. He also took pleasure in telling us a bear had been sighted recently 60km from here.

The scenery and infrastructure I have seen so far reminds me of what I saw when I visited my wife studying in update New York. I am sitting on the veranda outside our cottage writing this. It is a beautiful still morning and I feel very fortunate – even if I can spot some Himalayan Balsam out of the corner of my eye.

Day 2: Tuesday 3rd September 2019 – Visit to Viprikki Museum and ambling through a city Park

Wille picked us at 9am accompanied by Kati, also a third year Forestry student. We headed into Tampere and visited Vaprikki, a very large red brick building which historically was a factory, used to build cars, planes buses etc, using hydropower from the river, but had now been converted into a museum with a number of exhibits (it reminded me greatly of the Manchester Museum).

We had an English speaking guide who talked us through the Natural History exhibit. It was very interesting to see how similar the ecology of Finland was with Scotland (+ bears, wolves, lynx, glow worms, flying squirrels etc). We learned that moose are very big (700kg+) and bears are very important to Finnish mythology and culture. Finns believed that man in descended from bears. They can only be hunted under a special licence and are revered as ‘King of the Forest’. The first stool a bear passes after coming out of hibernation is prized by Finns and if it can be recovered, it is often worn in a locket necklace – this is thought to give the wearer the power of the bear.

We had a buffet lunch at the museum which included salad, pasta and chilli con carne. I poured myself a Finnish drink from a dispenser called kotilalja which tasted a bit like Dr Pepper but what I later discovered is a form of local beer.

After lunch we went to Pynnikki Public Park where we walked the paths and saw beaches on the lakeshore, lots of pine trees, rowan trees, ants’ nests and a wooden amphitheatre. To us the Scots pine appeared to have significant flaking of their bark. We wondered if these trees were diseased, but later learned that’s how scots pine look in Finland at this time of year. Scottish Scots pine does do this but at much lesser extent. This must happen due to slight variation in the species or due to the different climatic conditions.

We then went up Munkkiahvilla tower, located on the ‘highest gravel ridge in the world’. The tower gave great views over Tampere and afterwards we had a nice coffee and local form of doughnut in the café at the bottom of the tower.

After that we went to the supermarket again and got supplies for the rest of the week. Adam and Claire cooked a lovely vegetable pasta dish and we spent a bit of time prepping for our presentation tomorrow.

Day 3: Wednesday 4th September 2018 – University visit

We got picked up by Wille and Kati at 9am and went to Hatanpaanpusito arboretum. This was a lovely park which we walked around. We saw kindergarten groups playing (children don’t start school in Finland until 7 years old).

The grounds were well looked after by maintenance staff and robotic lawn mowers. There was impressive Georgian-looking buildings with substantial lead roofs. We saw a few different varieties of silver birch (Finland’s third main tree) one with distinctive shaped leaves and one that looked like it had been coppiced (a natural mutation, creating a very prized and expensive tree). The park was full of red squirrels which behaved like they were regularly hand fed, coming very close to us. We all took lots of pictures and I’m sure our hosts thought we were a bit odd. Other trees we saw included Macedonian pine (soft needles) and snake spruce (very long snake like needles).

After that we drove to a large cemetery where the famous Finnish singer Pauli Matti Juhani “Juice” Leskinen was buried. Again this was a very impressive and well looked after public park area. Wille walked us around the outside of the cemetery and showed us some pines that were perfectly healthy except for the fact they had been undercut by a landslide and a large portion of their route network was exposed.

We then headed to Tampere University and were met by one of Wille and Kati’s lecturer, who specialises in soil science. She took us to the staff cafeteria were we had lunch at 11:30. I had salad, pasta, beans and breaded pork.

We then went upstairs and gave our presentations to 12-15 students, as well as the rest of the group. Everyone did very well and I was interested in each one. There was a bit of a Q&A and we learned there are around 300,000+ Capercaillie in Finland, and around 25,000-30,000 are hunted each year. Tampere University of Applied Sciences is a very good university and the forestry degree courses here are oversubscribed each year with 3-4 applications per space available.

The university felt very modern and it was interesting to people watch lots of students in busy corridors, it felt very cosmopolitan.

Afterward we dropped off Wille at his home and drove back to the cottage. It was nice to get the presentations out of the way and I went out on the rowing boat with Adam. We rowed to an island just under 1km off shore. There was a cabin on this island and we could not tell if it was occupied so we did not explore further but turned back. I was then pressured into going swimming in the lake by Chris and Kat. I was conscious of jelly fish – Claire spotted what looked like one earlier take day. I dove in off the jetty. It was very cold but felt good, and the hot shower afterward felt amazing.

Wille, Kati and Jussi then arrived with Wille’s dog (a dachshund). We had a BBQ which included white-tail deer venison sausages (with haggis-like spicing) which were very nice. We then got the sauna going which was a great experience. I sauna’d and then jumped in the lake 3-4 times. The water was very still and the stars were very bright. Morale in the group was very high.

Day 4: Thursday 5th September 2019 – Visit to Helvetinjärvi National Park

We left the cottage at 9am and picked up Kati and Wille and headed to Helvetinjärvi National Park – around 1hr 30min away.

I navigated as Kat drove and we listened to 80s power ballads the whole way. It was unbroken forest almost the entire way to the National Park. The roads all had 80km/hr or 100km/hr speed limits which felt slow. About 10km from the National Park we turned off the main tarmac road onto a wide(ish) unsealed gravel forest road. We met our guide for the day called Raine. Our route from the day was a 7-8km walk to a cabin on a lake and back.

We were told the national park is around 50km2 and is virtually entirely state-owned. It was designated as a National Park in 1982 because of its landscapes and it is known for having high populations of woodpecker. I was told pretty much no human intervention takes place, the ecosystem is self-regulating. The forestry department of the government (our equivalent of Forestry and Land Scotland?) carry out path and sign maintenance, as well as look after the cabins (our equivalent of bothies). Prisoners are also conscripted to help with path maintenance. A lot of the walk was on raised board walks to protect the mossy undergrowth. Our guide pointed out dozens of different mushrooms along the path, which grew very densely. Our guide picked and let us try penny bun mushroom, which are apparently very desirable for high-end risottos – even raw, these mushrooms were very tasty. The name of the National Park ‘Helvetinjärvi’ translates to ‘Hell Lake’. Our guide guessed the National Park would receive 50,000-80,000 visitors per year, but in our 6-7 hours there we drove past 2 motorhomes and only walked past 2 sets of 2 walkers. Some of the views made me think of what Canada must be like.

Just before we got to the cabin were we would have lunch, we climbed down a large gorge/ crevasse. The cabin was built on the edge of a lake and was very picturesque. It was charmingly made and smelled sweetly of timber – our guide quickly got the fire going. After sitting and eating our lunches by the fire we all got a bit sleepy. The sun came out on the way back. Chris pointed out some red throated divers and we made good progress stopping at a camping area (one of the few areas in the National Park you would be allowed to light a fire). There was a log shelter here filled with firewood that was free for anyone to use – I asked if this was ever abused. I was told sometimes but not often.

We drove back to our accommodation getting back around 8pm I had a shower before tea – Molly and Chris cooked beans with jacket potatoes which we had with leftovers from the night before. I turned in for bed around 10pm.

Day 5: Friday 6th September 2019 – Visit to Seitseminen National Park

We hit the road at the slightly earlier time of 8.30am today. We picked up Jussi headed to Seitseminen National Park.

This National Park seemed much busier and had more infrastructure, but still required a long drive down a unsealed forest road to get to the car park. On the way I looked out for farms or farming activity – every once in a while we would come across a small clearing, maybe 5-10 hectares that would be an arable field in stubble or a silage fields with bales clad in white plastic wrap left for collection. These clearings would normally have a timber house and small shed with them. I have not seen any livestock grazing in the fields. None of the fields are fenced.

We met our guide Tulla, a shy, but sweet woman who was obviously a talented botanist/ ecologist. We started by going into the visitor centre, stopping to raid the leaflet display and looking at the taxidermy display.

Our first 2km circular walk took us through a pine and spruce forest with a mossy undergrowth and countless mushrooms. There were poems on carved information boards every couple of hundred meters. Jussi translated them and preformed them in English with such conviction and charisma it was actually quite moving.

We drove a short way to another short circular walk, this time around an ‘old growth’ forest. Tula spoke knowledgably about the different types of mosses, and the woodpeckers we could hear. I gathered from her it was her perspective not enough was spent on managing National Parks, and that there was not enough protected areas, but it generally getting better – some owners would pre-emptively fell their forests to prevent it becoming designated/ protected.

Like Helvetinjärvi, Seitseminen National Park was also designated in 1982. The first National Park in Finland was established in 1956 and the most recent in 2015 – there are 40 in total.

The final area we went to see was very interesting – there was a 1-2 ha area of pine that had been control burned to increase biodiversity in the undergrowth. The fire was controlled by removing trees around the perimeter of the area to be burned to create a 10-15m ring buffer. The fire only happened a couple months ago, the large pine trees looked like they were recovering and a few birch stems with big leaves were already appearing.

We then walked a short way to a mire/ raised bog with a pond. There was an excellent wooden walkway going over the mire. The mire had hundreds of stunted pine trees growing in it. We explained in Scotland these trees would be removed to protect the mire, but I am not sure our guide and hosts understood our explanation why.

We drove back to Tampere and had a meal in the city centre. That evening we had an impromptu Ceilidh led by Kat and sauna.

Day 6: Saturday 7th September 2019 – Visit to a Hunting Club

Today we left at 9am and drove 20-25km south west to visit a hunting group. On the way we past more expansive agricultural ground, again all stubble or cut silage ground – no livestock.

We arrived at the hunting facility, which included a larder, a shooting range, storage buildings, accommodation and village hall type building with internal timber cladding, a projector screen, kitchen facilities and a lot of taxidermied game, including a lynx, a capercallie, moose, various deer heads , a badger and a bear skin.

When we arrived we were greeted by a group of people with over excited but friendly pointer dogs. The group had met that day to practice ahead of a national completion in a few weeks’ time. We were given cake and coffee and met Tapio, a hunter representative who was put forward by the club to answer our questions about hunting in Finland.

He was a serious and stoic man but knowledgeable and generous with his time. He came from a long line of hunters and explained hunting is very important to Finnish people. The hunting group he is part of covers 10,000ha and the vast majority of this land is associated with the club.

Hunters pay £39 per year for a licence and clubs pay a yearly tax on a per hectare basis. This club has over 150 active members and hunt a wide range of game, including on the day released pheasant shooting (which we sensed tapio wasn’t the greatest fan of). Hunting clubs seem to be self-regulating in setting their own targets and limits on each species, with seemingly little influence from government. You need a licence for big game (deer, moose etc) but not for birds (even capercaillie). The club set a self-imposed ban on capercaillie hunting a few years ago due to concerns about a drop in the local population (this has since recovered).

The government use revenue from hunting licences to compensate landowners on any damage to productive tree crops by deer browsing – if this is indeed correct it is a very different system to what we have in Scotland.

Despite the presence of bears and wolves we learned that hunting is essential to managing a sustainable deer population, which was contrary to my perception at the start of the trip. Tapio said there are around 300 wolves in Finland, but 10,000 would be needed to meet equilibrium. It would not be possible for the number of wolves to coexist with the current human population of Finland – so hunting of deer by humans will always be required.

We also learned that in the Lapland area accounting for 36% of the country no bears, wolves or lynx were tolerated and were shot on sight to protect the reindeer. Unlike Scotland there are no ‘professional’ hunters, as hunting is too popular of an activity. However, Tapio foresees such jobs might exist in the future as the country continues to urbanise and less people live in rural areas.

After the discussion we all had a go shooting clay pigeons before heading further southwest to meet Wille’s dad, who hunted on a small parcel of forest he owned. Wille’s dad had built an impressive hide and shot deer lured by apples and oats. He told us he aims to cull 30 deer a year. This is his contribution to the cull targets of the hunting club. As a contributing member he gets to take part in the larger organised hunts with dogs. After this we headed back to the cottage. It was my turn to cook this night so I made a bean casserole.

Day 7 – Sunday 8th September 2019

Today we headed northeast to the town of Mänttä. Here we visited the Serlachius museums – firstly the Gustaf building and secondly the Gösta buildings.

The Gustaf building was built in 1934 and was originally the head office of the Serlachius Company. We met our English speaking guide who gave us a tour of the exhibits which included an immersive walk-through dramatism of how Gustaf Adolf Serlachius moved to Mänttä in 1868 and built a ground wood and paper mill capitalising on an immense global demand of paper products. G.A. Serlachius Ltd would go on to become one of the biggest paper milling companies in Finland.

In 1913, Gustaf passed on the company to his nephew Gösta who continued to grow the company until merging and finally getting absorbed by Metsä Board in the late 20th Century.

Gösta always had a great appreciation and talent for art and created the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation which now owns and manages the museums.

After this tour we took a short drive to the Gösta buildings, were we had our packed lunch sitting out by the lake in the beautiful parkland.

The Gösta buildings included a grand mansion built in 1935 which served as the private residence of Gösta Serlachius, and an incredibly impressive modern wooden and glass annexe/ pavilion built by the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation in 2014. There was no doubt the pavilion was tastefully designed and built but I do not think such an extension would be allowed on such a historically significant building in the UK.

These buildings mainly housed the fine art pieces owned by the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation which included Finnish golden-age works but also European masterpieces, including works by Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Camille Pissarro.

We got back to our cottage that evening and had a final meal with our hosts. It was clear we had all had a fantastic trip and none of us wanted it to end, so we stayed up socialising. However, it slowly dawned on us we would need to get up at 3am to make our flight home the next day so one by one we reluctantly said an emotional goodbye to our hosts and turned in.

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