The next day we visited Helvetinjärvi National Park, located in Ruovesi, about 45 minutes outside Tampere. Before trying to compare Scottish to Finnish National Parks it is worth taking a step back and looking at where they fit into worldwide protected areas.
Both Scotland’s National Parks, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs and The Cairngorms are placed in Category V, Protected Landscapes whilst Helvetinjävi and Nuuksio National Parks (which we visited later in the week) are in Category II, National Park – see definitions below. Therefore, direct comparisons are problematic, but there are general comparisons that can be looked at.
IUCN Protected Areas Categories System
Ia Strict Nature Reserve: Category Ia are strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphical features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. Such protected areas can serve as indispensable reference areas for scientific research and monitoring more…
Ib Wilderness Area: Category Ib protected areas are usually large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition. more…
II National Park: Category II protected areas are large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible, spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational, and visitor opportunities. more…
III Natural Monument or Feature: Category III protected areas are set aside to protect a specific natural monument, which can be a landform, sea mount, submarine cavern, geological feature such as a cave or even a living feature such as an ancient grove. They are generally quite small protected areas and often have high visitor value. more…
IV Habitat/Species Management Area: Category IV protected areas aim to protect particular species or habitats and management reflects this priority. Many Category IV protected areas will need regular, active interventions to address the requirements of particular species or to maintain habitats, but this is not a requirement of the category. more…
V Protected Landscape/ Seascape: A protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant, ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values. more…
VI Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources: Category VI protected areas conserve ecosystems and habitats together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems. They are generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of the area more…
The above is from the International union for the Conservation of Nature’s web site on protected areas: https://www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/about/protected-areas-categories
Our guide for the morning in Helvetinjärvi was Tiina, an upbeat and enthusiastic Finn, who ably answered all our questions and gave an excellent overview of some of the differences between Scottish and Finnish National Parks.
We learned that Finland has forty two National Parks and we were told that in total they receive around 4 million visitors per year. By contrast Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park (LLTTNP) has over 4.5 million visitors. Other major differences are:
- In Finland the state owns the land classed as National Park unlike Scotland where there is only a tiny state land holding comprised of mainly buildings and car parks!
- 15,600 people live within LLTTNP, whereas the two Finnish parks visited have no permanent population.
- With land ownership comes the ability to control what happens within the Park’s boundaries. Most of the Everyman’s Rights (see Sunday section) apply, but restrictions are placed on where you can camp, have fires and in the case of Helvetinjävi National Park, where you can rock climb.
Although there are big differences in how national parks operate in both countries there are similarities in the aims and methods of visitor management operations.
We learned at Helvetinjävi that although there is freedom of access, there are subtle ways for protecting the fragile areas from visitor pressure; for example by putting in a path network in the less sensitive areas – most people prefer to stick to the path; this is a tried and tested method in many parts of the world for steering the public away from sensitive sites.
There is a push in Finland to encourage people to get out and enjoy the national parks for health purposes. The aim is to persuade Finns that getting out and walking in their national parks will be good for their health and wellbeing; walking in general and in forests in particular is supposed to reduce stress levels, along the lines of the Japanese “forest bathing” concept. There are similar initiatives in this country, for example LLTTNP host a Health Walks Co-ordinator post and have volunteers who lead on health walks in and around the national park. These aim to gradually improve people’s fitness by making it easy to take part in walks and boost confidence enough so hopefully the participants will take walks on their own and explore new areas.
There were a couple of items discussed that we could certainly learn from. The use of walks on the uneven path surfaces to improve the co-ordination of children and the older population with dementia. I have read about the former or at least the move towards providing uneven surfaces (including steps) in children’s play areas to allow children to develop necessary motor skills rather than engineering out risk. So, it’s a great idea just to use what you have already got i.e. the path network plus there are associated benefits of being out in the forest. The idea around path systems being used to stimulate older peoples’ brain to help prevent or slow dementia is interesting, as with children, it revolves around the need to think about where you place your feet – it is something that should be considered in this country too.
Helvetinjävi National Park has an innovative scheme working in conjunction with the prison service. A group of prisoners work a five day week in the park under leadership of a Park Ranger. They do such tasks as chopping fire wood for the fire sites, emptying the long drop toilets and other maintenance tasks. Many of the prisoners come from difficult back grounds and have not had a proper working life before, so to be able to be outdoors and have a structured and productive working environment proves useful to them on release. The prisoners have to apply for the jobs and they are much sought after. Again it is something that should be looked into here for making a contribution to rehabilitating offenders in our prisons and being more inclusive in general.
In the afternoon we visited Seitseminen national park where Tiina introduced our group to Metsähallitus. Metsähallitus (Finnish), Forststyrelsen (Swedish), “Administration of Forests,” is a state-owned enterprise in Finland. It is responsible for the management of one third of Finland’s land area. Its objectives are to use and develop these state-owned land and water areas responsibly, in a way that maximises their benefits to society as a whole. The reconciliation of various functions and ecological, financial, social and cultural sustainability lies at the core of its operating principles.
Metsähallitus is accountable to both The Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture and the Ministry for the Environment. It is structured into four main operational groups (Fig 2):
- Forestry Ltd
- National Parks Ltd
- Wildlife Service
- Property Development
It contributes € 96 M to the Finnish state, through a turnover of € 330 M and employs around 1 400 person/year. It is a significant employer in northern and eastern Finland.
Metsähallitus manages 9,121,000 hectares of land and 3,417,000 hectares of waters, totalling 12,538,000 hectares. The different management is shown in Figure 3.
Fig 3 Land and water ownership by Metsähallitus
Metsähallitus Forestry Ltd
- Manages state-owned multiple-use forests and sells wood
- Fosters the biological and cultural diversity of multiple-use forests
- Creates conditions for recreational use and employment
- Generates most of Metsähallitus’ revenue.
Metsähallitus Property Development
- Develops state-owned land and waters in a customer-oriented manner to meet various needs
- Is responsible for real estate activities related to holiday plots, forest properties and rock material on state-owned land
- Sells buildings owned by Metsähallitus and purchases forest properties for various government activities
- Develops the wind power business.
Parks & Wildlife Finland Business Unit
- Is responsible for protecting the natural and cultural heritage of areas under its management
- Offers hiking services to everyone, free of charge
- Ensures the sustainability of game and fish populations and sells hunting and fishing licenses.
Park and Wildlife manage a Protected Areas system consisting of 1.7 million hectares of statutory areas and roughly 1.5 million hectares of wilderness areas under management.
Nature reserves, wilderness areas and hiking areas established on state-owned lands are the central parts of the protected area system in Finland. Almost all of these are included in the European Union’s network of Natura 2000 areas. Privately-owned protected lands further expand on the state-owned network of protected areas.
- Nature reserves are established on state-owned lands by law or by a government regulation or on privately-owned lands by the decision of Finland’s environmental administration
- Wilderness areas are established in accordance to the Wilderness Act on state lands in Lapland
- National hiking areas are established in accordance to the “Outdoor Recreation Act” (ulkoilulaki) on state land in different parts of Finland.
Most protected areas are situated on state-owned land. State-owned protected areas are managed by Metsähallitus, Parks & Wildlife Finland.
Timber is harvested on 2.5 % of the total forest area. State-owned multiple-use forests are
certified under the PEFC certification scheme. Most multiple-use forests are located in
Eastern and Northern Finland. Domestic timber is a sustainable solution; it is produced locally and its use increases employment opportunities. Wood is an ecological, renewable and healthy material. It acts as a carbon sink throughout its life cycle. Wood sold every year amounts to 6 000 000 m3/year. At the same time multiple-use forests grow by 11 000 000 m3/year
Management and supervision ensure sustainable hunting and fishing. To do this 56 000 hunting licences are sold, 81 000 fishing licences sold and 380 hectares of restored game habitats.
State-owned forests and waters across Finland offer good opportunities for recreation and a wide range of activities. The ““Everyman’s rights” in Finland are extensive. However, some activities require a permit or permission.
Comparisons with Scotland
In many ways the structures and objectives of Metsähallitus are similar to those of the Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage and National Park Authorities. Metsähallitus offers a more unified approach, a single organisation with four operational groups. Its relationship with Government and Parliament is similar to that operated in Scotland.
What is clearly different is the funding. Metsähallitus are able to operate to provide a significant income (€96M in 2016) to the Finnish state, this compare to Scottish Government grant in aid of some £120M for FCS, SNH and NP bodies. Significantly Metsähallitus is able to general significant revenue from timber production on state land. Scale is a significant factor, Metsähallitus manage ca 3 400 00 ha of productive woodland, whereas in Scotland Forest Enterprise manage ca 450 000 ha. In Finland timber production on private land is also achieved without significant les state-intervention than in Scotland. A more detailed analysis behind these revenue differences is beyond the scope of this report.
Metsähallitus is able to fund its Wildlife Service (Suomen Riistakeskus) which employs ca 70 staff, through a game management fee (33 €/year). Hunting is part of Finnish culture and large numbers of individuals hunt, 330 000 in 2016, Foreign hunters must also get a Finnish hunting card and pay the game management fee before hunting. Hunter must also pay fees for animals killed, but also collect the basic fieldwork which allow the Wildlife Service to undertake scientific research about game and fish, annual estimations about the quantity and quality of the game species, which leads to basic information for hunting plans and licences.
Later in the afternoon, after our introduction to the activities of Metsähallitus, we explored Seitseminen National Park under the guidance of Tiina. The visitors’ centre offered artistic interpretations of the nature and wildlife found in the forest.
We also experienced how crofters used to make their living in these remote backwoods at the heritage farm at Kovero. This featured a costumed actor and recreations of artisan life, including weaving and food preparation.