A visit to Nuuksio National Park was a chance to see an area where the parameters are similar to those of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park in Scotland. Nuuksio is within easy reach of Finland’s largest city (and capital) Helsinki and is therefore very popular with city dwellers. It has a visitor centre, as does LLTTNP. We first visited one of the trails through the woods (where else!) that took us to a rocky high point where you could see out over the forest. The demography of the public out and about enjoying a sunny Sunday after a dreich week was very similar to that which can be seen around Balmaha (east Loch Lomond) in similar weather conditions. It was made up of those out for active exercise (brisk walking), individuals and families taking more gentle walks, walking the dog and (the only big difference to Scotland) those out (again families and individuals) picking berries and fungi.
Access was by back roads to small car parks which, by the time we returned to our vehicle, were full with people parked along the road side – again very similar to popular areas of both Scottish national parks. At the car park there was interpretation stating the National Park regulations; it was pleasing to see proper interpretation with the use of funny cartoons to get across important points in a non-preaching, finger waving way. This is something that we, in Scotland, used to do quite well but now seem to have forgotten. In LLTTNP there are issues around signs and what they should and should not say, how they should or should not say it and where they should or should not go. All the signs seen throughout the two Finnish National Parks and elsewhere were blunt in the underlying message, but the method of conveyance was humorous and clear. None of the signs appeared to have been vandalised – unlike signs in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, many of which in the past have been defaced, broken or removed completely – perhaps we can learn from Finland?
Next was a visit to Haltia Visitor Centre on the edge of Nuuksio National Park and just off one of the motorways out of Helsinki. Here too interesting comparisons can be drawn with visitor centre provision in LLTTNP. Haltia was built in 2012 and its design is inspired by a Finnish epic poem about the creation of the world. It combines various displays (both electronic and artistic as well as the more traditional stuffed animals) with a café and a viewing platform. We turned up on the busiest day of the year so far; the car park was full and there were again (same demography stated above) people out walking the trails, eating in the café and taking in the views. The role of the centre seems to be to inspire visitors to go outside and enjoy their countryside. It is not hung up on facts and scientific jargon, but uses art, myth, legend and artefacts to promote wild places and a sense of place. The ethos of the café is “nature on a plate” with food being fresh and seasonal again as if to inspire visitors to go out and explore nature.
The centre has over 200,000 visitors per year. The original concept was to act as a gateway to the rest of Finland’s national parks, promoting them to the large urban population on its doorstep and to overseas visitors, many of whom arrive in Finland via Helsinki. It has, however, become a day trip destination for Helsinki residents; this is similar in the way in which the Gateway Centre at Balloch (south Loch Lomond) was supposed to inspire people to visit other areas of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. The visitors to the Gateway Centre however did not use it for this purpose and it has now been through two different incarnations and is at present about to open as a wedding venue! One difference in how the centres are run is that of selling things; whether it is food or gifts. We appear to have the view that the private sector is best suited at providing these services and that the public sector shouldn’t be in competition with the private sector. I think there is a lot that can be learned from looking at the Haltia model.
Finland calls their access rights The Everyman’s Rights and when you ask Finns how long they have had them they usually shrug and say “forever”. On the other hand access rights in Scotland were enshrined in law only in 2003 as part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. There has however been a long tradition or custom (often disputed) of a “right to roam” in the Scottish countryside.
Below are the introductory paragraphs to both Finnish and Scottish access rights web pages from government organisations.
Finland’s legal concept of everyman’s right gives everyone the chance to enjoy outdoor pursuits, and the freedom of the country’s vast forests and fells, and many lakes and rivers, with few restrictions. Public access to private land is much wider in Finland, and the other Nordic countries, than in most other countries.
Nature is often fragile, however, and especially here in the North can be slow to recover from damage. With the freedom to enjoy the countryside comes the obligation to leave the environment undisturbed and preserve Finland’s rich natural heritage for future generations to enjoy.
This booklet explains everyman´s right in detail, with reference to the relevant legislation, and describes the responsibilities that come with these rights.
Taken from the Finnish Ministry of the Environments web pages on Everyman’s Rights: http://www.ym.fi/en-US/Latest_news/Publications/Brochures/Everymans_right(4484)
The booklet referred to can be found through that web link too. It is equivalent to the SOAC booklet produced by SNH.
Scotland’s outdoors provides great opportunities for open-air recreation and education, with great benefits for people’s enjoyment, and their health and well-being. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 ensures everyone has statutory access rights to most of Scotland’s outdoors, if these rights are exercised responsibly, with respect for people’s privacy, safety and livelihoods, and for Scotland’s environment. Equally, land managers have to manage their land and water responsibly in relation to access rights.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides detailed guidance on these responsibilities. The Code provides a practical guide to help everyone make informed decisions about what best to do in everyday situations, and provides the starting point for short promotional codes and more detailed advice about land and inland water.
Principles – the Code is based on three key principles:
• Respect the interests of other people.
Acting with courtesy, consideration and awareness is very important. If you are exercising access rights, make sure that you respect the privacy, safety and livelihoods of those living or working in the outdoors, and the needs of other people enjoying the outdoors. If you are a land manager, respect people’s use of the outdoors and their need for a safe and enjoyable visit.
• Care for the environment.
If you are exercising access rights, look after the places you visit and enjoy, and leave the land as you find it. If you are a land manager, help maintain the natural and cultural features which make the outdoors attractive to visit and enjoy.
• Take responsibility for your own actions.
If you are exercising access rights, remember that the outdoors cannot be made risk-free and act with care at all times for your own safety and that of others. If you are a land manager, act with care at all times for people’s safety.
Taken from the Outdoor Access Scotland web site: http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/the-act-and-the-code/introduction
Comparing the two introductions it can be seen that the rights and responsibilities are broadly similar. Specific differences include the fact that snow mobile use on frozen lakes is permitted under Finnish access rights whereas Scottish rights apply only to non-motorised access. More broadly, there doesn’t appear to be the same emphasis on land owners’ responsibilities under the Finnish system. There is a general caveat that you must have good reason to prevent access to your land, but there is not the same emphasis on describing what land owners should or shouldn’t do. Why? Of course it is very difficult to say exactly why from a short visit to just one area of Finland, but from observation, contributing factors could be:
- Time: Finnish access rights have been in place for a long time – the “forever” mentioned above. Issues that occur will have been resolved many times before in different places so solutions can be applied quickly and also the dos and don’ts will be in peoples’ psyche.
- Land ownership: Finland has one of the highest proportions of people owning land (in contrast to Scotland where the opposite is true) anywhere in Europe. This stretches way back into history. As most Finnish families own land (approximately 30 Ha per family) they will already have an understanding of how to behave when taking access to someone else’s land. In Scotland, according to Jim Hunter, fewer than five hundred people own more than half of Scotland therefore Scots are more likely to have a disconnection from the land. If you take into consideration also that a large proportion of the Scots’ population live in the urban Central Belt this means they are another step removed from a working, living landscape. Even in some rural villages and towns (particularly those within commuting distance of the larger towns and cities) you find an urban mind set where the countryside is little more than a playground. This can obviously lead to conflict and is perhaps why the SOAC booklet spells out in more detail the dos and don’ts of access to the countryside. Part of that closer relationship that Finnish people have is that, for example hunting is enjoyed by people from all strata of life (this is covered in more detail elsewhere in this report) also rural and city dwellers go out and forage for fruit and fungi as part of their everyday life.
- Transparent landownership: a final consideration is just how easy it is to find out who owns which parcels of land. The most practical demonstration of this seen during our visit was when out looking for wildlife. Our guide was using a sat nav app on his phone; when asked about the lilac lines overlaid on the map we were informed that they are the land ownership boundaries. Knowing ‘who owns what’ must make for better communications; giving one the ability to contact a land owner easily if you were looking to do anything unusual – it’s just a thought.
There are many ways in which the different cultures, histories, population and topography have produced different as well as similar solutions to those same issues which crop up in both countries. This why it is extremely useful and enlightening to make the time to visit and talk to other countries because, as the Glaswegians would say, “We’re aw Jock Tamson’s bairns!”