Erasmus+ Forestry in Finland trip, 2-9th May 2015
Sarah Atkinson, Stuart Holm, Anna Jemmett, Kevin Lafferty, Pete Lowe and David Venables.
With around 75% Forest cover and 12% water, Finland is very wild place, when compared to Scotland’s 17% forest cover. Of the forest area in Finland, c.16% in Northern Finland is protected, with only c.3% in Southern Finland protected. But unlike the UK, the majority (well, all) of conservation work and management of designated sites is carried out by a state run forestry organisation – Metsähallitus – with conservation integrated into forestry. Metsähallitus gained land that was “left-over” from private ownership, and thus there may be more biodiverse areas outside of protected areas that are not known of to the state. Metsähallitus own or manage 12million hectares of state-owned land or water and 85% of their revenue comes from commercial forestry, include the sale of forest plots and ‘real estate’ and subsidiary companies which provide seeds, seedling and soil extraction for a cost to other forestry enterprises. There is only one Finnish conservation charity, Natural Heritage Foundation, who own a tiny area of land (c.1000ha) and have been going for 20 years. International NGO, WWF, has had input into the conservation of the White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) since the 1970s and 1980s but this is as far as it goes. This implies that the state do a very good job of managing the land for conservation, and the people of Finland are happy with this. This may change in future as the amount of state money available for conservation is not likely to rise, but most likely to decline, and the need for NGOs may increase with this.
Our first day saw us travel 50km north of our base in Tampere to Seitseminen National Park. Founded in 1982 and covering an area of 45.5km², the National Park is managed by the state owned enterprise Metsähallitus. Seitseminen National Park frames a mosaic of landscapes with a diverse mix of habitats which include; ancient forests, esker ridges & open bogs.
The management of recreation areas, such as National Parks, hiking trails, campsites and camp-fire sites are also within Metsähallitus’ remit. These services provide the people and tourists of Finland with a greater sense of use of the natural environment. From the time we were in Finland it was apparent that the natural world, particularly forests, are a part of Finnish culture – including tales of fairies and forest folk
The 40 national parks in Finland provide recreation sites for camping they generally have fire pits for cooking, basic wooden shelters and simple composting toilets. Entry to parks is free and there is no charge for parking vehicles or cost to use firewood or wooden shelters. People are trusted to act responsibly in the outdoors and care for the environment. During the field trip we observed extremely low levels of vandalism, littering and anti-social behaviour in the forests we visited. The culture is for people to pick up and remove any rubbish they see while walking in the outdoors and it’s frowned upon to act irresponsibly or litter.
The day started with a trip to the visitors centre at the northern end of the park, where we met Eveliina Asikainen, a lecturer at Tampere University of Applied Sciences and who would be our host for the day.
A presentation was given by the centre’s staff, setting out the parks history and objectives. In Finland they have a legal concept known as Everyman’s Right, which allows people of all nationalities to enjoy the Finnish countryside, through respecting nature, people and property. “Everyman’s Right” allows people to access and enjoy the outdoors including public and private forests. People can visit forests at any time of the year for walking and hiking, picking wild berries, mushrooms and herbs or to bathe & swim in lakes and rivers. Lighting fires is allowed with the land owner’s permission and people are expected to act responsibly, remove all rubbish and any trace of camp fires.
Everyman’s Right was established in 1917 in Finland and children are taught from an early age about people’s rights and responsibilities in the home and at primary and secondary school. It’s common for families in and around Tampere to spend time in a forest cabin or cottage at weekends or during the holidays. There is a strong woodland culture in the country with over four hectares of forest for every Finn, so people are generally more connected to nature.
However, the current trend is for young people to move from the countryside into towns and cities and Finns are worried this pattern is starting to disconnect young people from the outdoors. A good example of this trend is the growing debate in Finland over how to manage wolves and large predators. Wolves sometimes take domestic dogs from farms or villages as prey. The older generation mostly accepted this as part of the natural cycle, but people living in towns and cities nowadays have safety concerns for children and domestic pets. It remains to be seen how this debate will evolve and Finns are quick to point out that not everything is perfect in the country.
In contrast, legislation establishing statutory public rights of access to most land and inland water for recreational and other purposes was only introduced under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in 2003 and responsibilities for those exercising access rights set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) published in 2005. The ground breaking legislation was partly informed by policy and practice from Finland, Norway and Sweden.
The public opinion in Scotland is that SOAC has been a great success and a shining light compared to the restrictive access rights under CROW Act in England and Wales. Land Reform is still being debated in Scotland today with the land reform review group consultation calling for further legislative changes in patterns of land ownership and more community involvement.
This is very similar to what happened in Finland during the 1920’s when private land ownership by the gentry was broken up by the government and land redistributed to the common people. This resulted in the current situation when the average size of forest ownership is 30-40ha with over a million private forest owners.
In comparison, half of Scotland’s land is owned by less than 500 people and patterns of land ownership have not changed much for 300 years. The wealthy establishment still control much of the land in Scotland and have done so for generations through primogeniture. The pattern of private hunting and shooting estates in Scotland controlled by a wealthy minority is the exact opposite of the Finnish model of land ownership which is shared by many with lots of people having a stake.
Finland, a country of tree-huggers!
On leaving the visitors centre we travelled south into what was affectionately known as the heart of Seitseminen National Park, to one such area the old growth forests of Multiharju. Formed by 400+ year old Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees, these tall monoliths are interspersed with younger freely regenerating Norway spruce (Picea abies) and silver birch (Betula pendula).
Remnant scars on the trunks hinted towards past forest fires, however the old pines are able to withstand the intense heat protected by its thick back, which forms a dense shield. Forest fires are no longer naturally occurring, however they do form an important natural process encouraging regeneration and therefore prescriptive burning is now being used annually on small 1-2ha compartments, ensuring that the park retains that close to natural feel.
Due to the inclement weather and harsh growing conditions, trees with a DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) of 30cm could be well over 150 years old. In fact, a cross section of the newly felled tree cleared from the path gave us the opportunity to count the rings; however the rings were that tight it became impossible to accurately predict the age.
The esker ridges formed at the end of the last ice age, form wooded islands in the parks extensive bogs. These host and support a variety of wildlife including, on the day of our visit, fresh evidence of beavers and elk (moose), unfortunately they remained elusive and we didn’t manage to catch sight of them.
The inaccessible nature of the National Park is what actually protected the old growth stands as many of the waterways were widened in the early part of the 20th century where a means of transporting timber, often causing severe damage. However, it was evident that the beavers were starting to re-naturalise those areas. It is generally accepted that forest furthest away from water courses is most likely to be “pristine” old growth, due to the limited likelihood of timber extraction, given that the main means of transport in the past was floating logs down-river.
Our walk brought us to a fire site and our day finished cooking sausages on a camp fire overlooking a small lake – this became quite a regular feature of the trip!
The biodiversity in Finland is quite profound. During our week we saw fresh signs of Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber); moose (Eurasian elk – Alces alces); a kill made by possibly gray wolf (Canis lupus) or Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx); introduced white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus); European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus); European hare (Lepus europeaus) and Eurasian red squirrel (known as grey squirrel in Finland – Sciurus vulgaris). The red squirrel in Finland is not threatened by habitat loss or the non-native North American grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) or the parapox virus, but displays a darker pelage during winter months than those in the UK/Scotland, and like all mammal species in
Finland, live at a lower density due to the boreal woodland habitat’s lower food availability. A full list of the bird species seen is included at the end as an appendix.
Anna kindly brought a camera-trap and set this up without bait, near our cottage which caught images of a roe deer, a white-tailed deer and a red squirrel, as well as an unknown species of passerine bird, which we christened “Eagle tit”!
The difference between Finland and Scotland was very apparent when it was explained to us that capercaille (Tetrao urogallus) numbered around 350,000 with some being shot and eaten – legally – each year. Evidently, such a practice would create outrage in Scotland! There are a number of protected and endangered species however, some of which are on the global IUCN Red List. These include garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus); European river otter (Lutra lutra) and red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus) among others.
In protected areas, staff do assist in the removal of non-native species such as American mink (Neovison vison). However outside of these areas, there is no concerted effort to control and little information on the impacts of introduced mink, other than the regional extinction of the native European mink (Mustela lutreola) locally known as vesikko. Racoon dogs (Nyctereute procyonoides), native to the far-east were also introduced to Finland and eastern and northern Europe for fur farming and are now quite widespread. However, in Finland it is surprising to find that female Racoon dogs with pups are protected in May-July. Few non-native plant species are able to survive in the harsh winter climate, shorter growing season and lower soil fertility of Finland so there is little done in this regards.
Hunting is permitted on land owned/leased by regional hunting clubs, with members able to shoot a quota of animals (moose, deer) each year. This is not a cull or a way of managing the populations of these species, per se, but forms a part of the culture in Finland. In this sense, the natural environment seems quite fundamental to everyone in Finland, with a healthy respect for it and with children learning from a young age a range of skills relating to the forest.
A very dark coloured red squirrel
During our week we also visited Juhani Lunden who runs Lundenin Hunaja, a family beekeeping business located in Ruovesi 90 km north from Tampere in central Finland.
They produce three types of honey: Most of the honey is typical Finnish mixed honey from raspberry, various clovers, oilseed rape and fireweed. Smaller amounts comes from forest apiaries, this honey is darker and with stronger taste. Buckwheat -honey is a one-flower honey they have been harvesting small amounts of this recently as well. As bee breeders they have concentrated in breeding the Varroa resistance in the Buckfast bee. The latitude is the same as that of Alaska and so keeping bees all year round due to the extremes in weather can also have its own issues and problems; they had recently had a bear attack on some of the hives.
The Lundén Resistant queens are the end result of a long development and breeding efforts; as Juhani explains “It all started 1996, when we found the first Varroa mites. After cutting down the treatment little by little in 2001-2008, we stopped treating the bees, and when I say “stopped treating”, it also means, that there are no other measures taken against Varroa: No broodless periods, no small size cells, no drone brood removal, no broodless nucs etc. The bees just have to stay alive and if they don’t, I don’t need that kind of bees”.
This was really interesting as in Britain and in most of Europe we regularly medicate against the Varroa mite and the prospect of a resistance towards this is very interesting and appealing as it is would have a massive impact on hive mortality and productivity.
Juhani showing us through some hives
The usual thing that has happened in this Varroa-resistance breeding is that the proclaimed results have not been verified elsewhere. That is why Lundenin Hunaja sent in 2009 some 50 queens to MTT Research Centre and 8 different beekeepers in Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and Finland. The queens were free of charge and there was only one request: that the hives should not be treated. “There was of course huge difference in the conditions of hives and environmental circumstances, but our goal is to breed a bee, which is capable coping all over the world, so this was only an advantage for us’. The most valuable feedback came from two top bee breeders in Europe: Paul Jungels and Jürgen Brausse. When they told me, after evaluating the queens for two years, that some of my queens did not need any Varroa treatment (in 2009 I purposely sent “good and less good” queens and of course big variations exist anyway) I was sure, that I had achieved something. My own results were confirmed”.
Lundenin Hunaja use breeding stock which is a mixture of Buckfast (from Sweden and Luxembourg), Finnish local bee, Primorsky (from Josef Koller in Germany), Elgon bees (trademark from Sweden) and South American bees from Colombia. The change from original Buckfast bees has been dramatic “At the moment when working my bees it’s sometimes impossible to do it without gloves. Sometimes you can open a hive without a veil, but for sure the bees will ‘buzz’ around very lively. They land on your hand and may pull your hairs or just ‘snoop around’. They gather on the hive entrance and search incoming bees carefully and sometimes violently. They groom other bees on the combs (glass hive observations) and the groomed bee folds her wings to help the grooming bee. The brood areas are full of holes, at least if there is a mite pressure from outside. The winter clusters are relatively small and the bees consume very little winterfeed (less than 10 kg)” says Juhani.
Wooden hives (18 mm) with no isolation are used and the frames have no wires and the size is 140 x 448 mm. Juhani uses 6 mm bee-space, the boxes are 146 mm high and 500 x 500 mm in other dimensions. There are 12 frames in each box, the normal wintering size is either 2 or 3 boxes. The hive bottoms are made of plywood, the hive cover is a 50 mm polyurethane sheet.
A view inside the hives
The three main things Juhani suggests for successful beekeeping are: The bees need a good queen, enough food and room for the stores. Looking for the best sites is one of the most
important works, too. In the Finnish weather, it’s important to make sure that enough air is circulating in the hive in the winter to keep it dry.
If all the above mentioned is done, its best to leave the bees themselves. Swarming is nothing to worry about, it happens so rarely, that there is no point doing anything. If American Foulbrood is found, shake the bees to empty combs or foundations and give them a new queen. Juhani was a truly fascinating individual and his vision with regard to beekeeping was pretty inspirational as well “Beekeeping and honey production can only survive in the future if our products are of top quality and without any residues and if we take care of the diversity, disease resistance and strength of the honeybee. Therefore we have dedicated our breeding efforts totally to Varroa resistance”.
We had a truly fascinating visit which culminated in looking around some of the Forestry areas that Juhani manages on the estate. We then set of towards Helvetinjärvi National park with a stopover for a fantastic lunch of Moose casserole and an assortment of other local delicacies including some Rye bread and fruit beer.
The entrance to ‘Hell’s Mouth’ National Park
Helvetinjärvi National Park or “Hell’s Lake national park” is a national park in the Pirkanmaa region in Finland. It is located in the municipality of Ruovesi and has an area of 49.8 square kilometers (19.2 sq mi). The park was founded in 1982 and is managed by the Metsähallitus.
The park represents the wild forests of the Tavastia region. The area includes deep gorges and rugged scenery formed by faults running through the bedrock. The most impressive attraction is the cleft Helvetinkolu at the south-eastern end of Lake Helvetinjärvi
The walking trails in Helvetinjärvi National Park take you through the ancient landscape with majestic cliffs and glimmering lakes that have inspired many an artist over the centuries. The faint scent of smoke drifting up from the rock wall chimney we’re climbing down gives away an early picnic party at Helvetinkolu campfire site with its log cabin shelter, this cove is a secret little hideaway.
Helvetinjärvi National Park is above all a place of breathtaking views, deep gorges, steep-walled lakes and small ponds hidden in the woods. The park’s two gorges were formed between 150 and 200 million years ago by faults in the bedrock. The area’s best known views are from the top of Helvetinkolu (pictured above), down into the gorge and across Lake Iso Helvetinjärvi. Helvetinkolu Gorge, where we stopped later. This has been a popular tourist destination since the 19th century.
The fault line to the north of Helvetinkolu has created a succession of narrow and steep-walled lakes with vertical rock faces rising up dozens of meters in places. The landscape turns flatter towards the south of the park where the vast expanses of Lake Haukkajärvi offer a serene sight for sore eyes from the sandy beach of Haukanhieta, where we finished our walk off with a campfire, cooking sausages on the edge of the lake with a beautiful view.
The deep gorge which gives the park its name ‘Hells mouth’
The forest education day took us to a local primary school in the suburbs of Tampere where we shadowed forest leaders from a third sector organisation set up to work with state forest manager Metla and industry and trade bodies such as UPM Tillhill. The leaders took small groups of school children aged between 8 and 9 out to woodland behind the school. Children and teachers met a range of forest workers including rangers, trade representatives and an employee of the state forestry group Metla.
Children played a number of interactive games designed to educate them about forests and Everyman’s Right. This included tree dominoes matching pictures of trees and plants with the species names and descriptions, measuring height of trees using poles, planting whips and estimating the age of trees by taking a core sample and counting the number of rings. It was structured learning compared to forest education and forest school back in the UK.
What was noticeable was the children’s literacy and ability to identify tree and plant species at a very young age. The leader commented that he was worried about children’s ability to identify trees and plants stating that only 60-70% of children could do this accurately nowadays. I was amazed at the comment and said we would be over the moon in the UK if 60% of children could identify main tree types!
Back in the UK Forest School is used as an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adult’s regular opportunities to achieve, and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands on learning experiences in a woodland environment. In Finland this activity seems to take place in family settings during hiking and camping trips to the outdoors. Contact with nature seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
The Forest School ethos in the UK focuses on learning styles that maximise the emotional, social and developmental benefits of education. Participants work outdoors with qualified practitioners and teachers. Learning and teaching strategies are used to foster independence and develop language and communication skills.
Several elements differentiate Forest School in the UK from forest education in Finland where outdoor education and contact with nature seem to be built into family life and woven into the culture. Whilst there are differences, both approaches provide an experience for the child that is essential and we can learn from Finland and try to make forest education mainstream in our education system rather than the exception for the lucky few!
The team attempting to learn the Finnish way of measuring height and crop basal area in an area, as taught to Primary aged children during the Forest Schools session.
The British concept of ancient woodland has no meaning in Finland, as almost all forest is derived from post glacial woodlands, so by our definition; most of Finland is covered by ancient woodland. Although much of Finnish forests are fairly heavily worked commercially, there are still by UK standards some very large areas of what are defined as old growth forests. In contrast to the UK, which has 18 different National Vegetation Classes to define native woodland, and these are all split up into two or three sub categories, the Finns only have 8 major types. These are mostly defined by soil type and moisture as you would expect but with the tree species secondary as it is thought that the spruce/pine/birch composition is prey to random events and factors such as large herbivore damage. They range from the very wet, sphagnum dominated woodland through various heath and acidic herb communities to dry lichen forest. Due to glacial history, poor climate and latitude, there are very few richer forest types existing. The tree species found are almost always Scots pine birch (silver and downy), Norway spruce with occasional alder, aspen and willows.
The mapping of ownership and forest development stage is very efficiently mapped by the Forest Service using up to date aerial photography and developing systems of remote sensing of volume/species data from advanced radar systems. This forms the basis of Finnish forest management planning.
Most Finnish forests grow very slowly due to the climate with an average of just yield class (YC) 4. To put this into perspective this is roughly what the slowest grown oak in Britain achieves whilst poor UK scots pine achieves around YC6-8 and commercial Sitka spruce and Douglas fir can often reach over YC20. The trees are harvested relatively small after a rotation of 80-100 years.
During forestry works certain “biotypes” and features are protected by forest legislation i.e. wide stream-sides, older trees, swamps and wet peaty areas. Most people involved in forestry that we met seem to take the preservation of biodiversity within the forest very seriously.
Juho Aalto at the Hyytiälä Research Station, showing how the respiration chambers work (right) and a working chamber on a pine tree (left).
We spent a morning at the SMEAR 2 “Hyytiälän metasaasema” site at Markku Kulmala/ Korkeakoskiis. The SMEAR II (Station for measuring Ecosystem- Atmospheric Relations) site was opened in 1995 in a (now) 55 year old Scots pine forest.
The Forest Station is owned by the University of Helsinki and is an active field centre for research into the interactions between forests, peatlands and the atmosphere. Originally set up as part of network of stations in the early 1980’s to monitor pollution issues arising from nearby industrial parts of the old Soviet Union and the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear incident: the main research field is now the role of forests and peatlands in climate change. This is a very complex issue as the forests and peatlands act both as a source and a sink of greenhouse-gases. The forests of Finland are becoming gradually more intensively managed and many areas exist on or next to peatland or peat soils so the issues need to be understood. Many wooded areas also have to rely on the winter cold to allow the extraction of timber when the ground is hard and icy, so if winters started warming that would pose a significant threat to commercial forestry and takes an extensive range of measurements of forest/atmospheric relations. The station has three towers which are used to measure flux measurements, tree physiology (respiration) and aerosol movements, one is 18 meters tall, one is 35 meters tall and one is 124 meters tall. We were able to climb to the top of the 18 meter tower. This was both was very interesting and also very exciting. It was interesting to hear about the measurements and to see the pods used on living trees to measure photosynthesis and respiration. It was exciting in that the tower was made from material very similar to scaffolding, you needed to have a head for heights! To stand above the canopy of forests we had spent the week inside was great.
These Finnish research stations form part of a wider European network of research stations; the European Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network. It has also recently been visited by Chinese scientists who are developing their own similar network of forest and climate change research stations: using technology developed here. Alongside the climatic research the research station has almost 250 long-term experimental sites which represent different tree species compositions, developmental classes, site conditions and management histories, together with long term weather measurements.
The work also has technological spin offs in other fields. For example the devices used to measure the release of organic compounds from trees are now being developed to remotely sense the presence of plastic explosives and drugs for obvious security uses.
It was really interesting to learn about the huge amounts of volatile organic compounds given off by trees. Mainly in the autumn and spring to regulate energy within leaves/needles when photosynthesis is out of balance with energy production or respiration due to changing sunlight through the seasons. These clouds of monoturpenes and turpenes (scots pine/spruce) and isopropenes (birches) directly affect the weather as the chemicals act as “seeds” for cloud droplet formation and produce rain. An important climatic effect as Finland has a tree cover approaching 80%.
The station is surrounded by state-owned forests, which are managed in cooperation with the station in order to ensure a constant long-term resource for scientific and educational use.
On top of the tower with Juho
After the fascinating morning at SMEAR II, we went to Pirjatanneva National Park. Finland has over 30% Peatlands and this National Park is one of the largest areas of pristine peatland left. Much of the Finnish Peatlands were drained in the 1930s for commercial forestry. Since the 1960s there have been subsequent protection and restoration works. As peatlands are of International importance Finland has been part EU Life natura 2000 project for restoring damaged peatlands.
We had a lovely 3 kilometre hike across an area of natural Peatland. Unlike the peatland in Scotland, Finnish peatlands are naturally forested. There are areas of very wet sphagnum mires and also areas of small stunted trees. Liisa and Kaisla pointed out areas of very old growth forest that had individual trees that were over 500 years old and yet were narrow in diameter and small in comparison to trees of a similar age in better habitat. In the very wet areas the footpath was built using log path ways. One of the interesting parts of the day was that the footpath wound between areas of differing underlying geology. There were islands of very old growth forest in the dryer areas of shallow peat. We would walk to one island of trees to another across areas of very wet sphagnum peat. At the end of the walk was a rocky outcrop which gave height so we could see wonderful views of a natural pool system. There was of course a fire pit at this point so we could enjoy roasting sausages over the fire (again!) before the walk back.
A walkway across the peatland towards one of the many forested “hillocks”
During out time in Finland we also embraced the culture, sampling local cuisine (cloudberry jam and moose stew being the favourites!), as well as the ritual sauna and lake swim!:
Back row; Sarah, Stuart, Anna-Kaisla, Peter, Kevin and Dave. Front; Liisa and Anna. Aino was at an exam this day
Taking a post-sauna dip in the lake – Dave, Stuart, Peter, Anna and Kevin (Sarah was photographer!)
We would like to thank Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) for the provision of the course and in-country support they provided; the ARCH Network and Erasmus+ for the funding, organisation and support provided throughout this fantastic experience.
Appendix 1: bird list
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus);
Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus);
Goshawk (Eurasian or Northern goshawk – Accipiter gentilis);
Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum);
Great-crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus);
Common pochard (Aythya farina);
Common crane (Grus grus);
Black woodpecker (Dryocopius martius),
Eurasian three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactlyus),
Grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus);
Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Curlew (Numenius arquata)
Dunlin (Calidris alpine)
Whooper swan (Cygnas cygnas)
Hooded crow (Corvus cornix)
Willow tit (Poecile montanus)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Chiff chaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Teal (Anas crecca)
Little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
Black headed gull (Chroicephalus ridibundus)
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)
Redwing (Turdus iliacus)
Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula)
Canada goose (Branta canadensis)
Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis)
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
Crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus)
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Mallard (Anas platyrhychos)