Group report on the ARCH Finland trip September 2017
Introduction and Finnish Forestry Overview
Over two-thirds of Finland is forest cover. This expanse of forest cover may be one of the reasons most of the population seems to be well connected to nature, because most people live within reach of nature. Not only do people live near nature, but many are able to own a small piece of it as much of the forested area is owned by private persons. Accessibility is also important because many people are able to use the forest, even if they do not own any forests themselves. Subject to certain rules and regulations, people are able to use the forest and the wildlife within it as a renewable resource for wood products, hunting and foraging. Above all, most Finnish people strongly value the link between being in nature and good health.
Forests and People
Most forests in Finland are owned by private persons which means local people have an invested interest in looking after the forest. There is more than 20 million hectares of productive forest land in Finland and of this ownership can be broken down as follows:
State (including National Parks and other protected areas) 25%
Private individuals 62%
Commercial companies 9%
Forestry regulations allow only native tree species to be planted (this does not apply to urban planting in towns, cities and gardens). Permission is required from the Forestry and Park Service to carry out management within a forest. If felling, the landowner is required to ensure new growth through either planting or allowing natural regeneration. Further, forestry officials from the Forest and Park Service would ensure compliance by doing checks and ensuring management meets certain requirements. For example, ensuring that in a felled area that there is sufficient regeneration (i.e. there are a specified number of seedlings that are 50cm tall within 10 years). Regulations also apply to thinning operations including for example, specifying how may trees may be removed over certain periods, and size of forest buffer to be left around springs and burns to prevent erosion.
Most forests owned by private landowners are c. 30ha on average. The net income for a managed forest is c. €100 per annum and an owner would need an average 200ha for a forest to be profitable. There is also no obligation to manage your forest, and it can be left to natural processes. Some private landowners belong to a Forest Owners Association in which people can share expertise, but others will employ the services of a forestry consultant for advice.
In managing the forests in this way, there is less focus on managing for individual species which is sometimes done in Scotland. Managing the climax habitat sustainably ensures a mosaic of habitats within this ecosystem including the presence of transitional habitats such as grassland areas and glades. In Scotland we manage transitional habitats because these are typically isolated pockets and the natural ecosystem processes that would have allowed transitional habitats to continually develop and reach final stages of succession, have been lost. The Finnish approach is that if you look after the habitat and mange it carefully allowing natural ecosystem processes to continue, everything within the habitat will take care of itself.
People are not excluded from this process, but people must use the forest sustainably. There are some areas where forest is managed to mimic traditional practices such as forest grazing with cattle, but this is on a small localised scale and still working within the climax vegetation community. Therefore, much of the forest within Finland is secondary forest but old growth forests are present within National Parks and other protected areas.
In summary, planting of native species in forestry and a landscape scale approach ensures the preservation of natural forest ecosystems and processes. Allowing forests and wildlife to be used by people as a sustainable renewable resource, ensures people are connected with nature and have a vested interest in looking after the forest. This ensures the long-term protection, productivity and sustainability of forests and the wildlife within it.
The country lies within the boreal conifer forest zone, characterised by a short growing season and limited species diversity, although conditions in Finland are more favourable than those in other places at the same latitude, due to the presence of the Gulf Stream. Finland has around 24 native tree species and the vast majority of Finnish forests are composed of these, there are very few examples of introduced species being planted. There is in fact a ban on planting non-native tree species in Finnish forests.
Finland’s forests are composed of 48% Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), 33% Norway spruce (Picea abies), 16% birch (Betula pendula and Betula pubescens) and the remaining 3% consists of mixed broadleaves including aspen (Populus tremula), alder (Alnus glutinosa) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).
The vast majority of commercial, plantation forestry is composed of 3 main native species; Scots pine, Norway Spruce and Birch. Spruce and Pine are primarily used to produce saw logs, pulp and chip. The main uses of birch timber are the production of plywood and firewood.
The predominant method of harvesting in Finland is the clear-cutting system. The size of felling coupes rarely exceeds 50 hectares. The area of forest in Finland managed under continuous cover silvicultural systems is only around 1-2%. Continuous cover methods of management were banned in Finland in the post-war period when there were shortages of timber, in order to increase production. However, in 2014 the new Forest Act was created, which changed this and there is now an increasing drive to use Continuous Cover systems, particularly in ecologically sensitive areas. The ease with which new seedlings, particularly spruce and birch, regenerate suggests there are significant opportunities for Continuous Cover management methods in Finland’s forests.
The majority of harvesting done in Finland is carried out with specialised harvesting machinery, unless the terrain is too steep or the trees are too large to be cut by a machine, in which case hand-cutting is used.
Increasingly brash and other material are being harvested from sites to supply the biomass energy industry. Where this is the case the site is harvested accordingly and machines do not use the brash to construct brash mats. The material is left on site for a year after the trees are felled, to allow needle-drop. It is then collected and extracted to roadside where lorries can access it and is chipped directly into these lorries to be transported to biomass energy plants.
It is now standard practice to retain a proportion of an existing stand when the area is being clear cut, usually about 5 trees per hectare. These trees may be retained in one location or spread out across the site. This is intended to increase structural diversity and enhance the ecological value of subsequent stands.
Restocking and regeneration
Forest owners are obliged to restock an area within 10 years of felling a tree crop (this involves ensuring a sufficient density of seedlings at least 0.5m in height across a site). Currently 150, 000 – 200, 000 hectares of woodland are regenerated every year. Controlled light burning of brash is sometimes undertaken on sites in preparation for restocking and mounding is the most common form of ground preparation. Regeneration is achieved through planting seedlings, seeding or natural regeneration. Norway spruce and Birch stands are usually replanted with seedlings at a density of 2500 stems per hectare. Depending on ground conditions, vegetation and soils, Scots pine may be seeded or planted. Where seed is sown this often results in initial plant densities of around 4000 stems per hectare. Foresters then intervene to reduce this to around 2000 stems per hectare. A small but growing proportion of cleared areas are regenerated through natural regeneration using a seed-tree or shelterwood system.
Common pests and problems in commercial forestry in Finland
Herbivores – Fencing is not used to protect Finnish forests from deer and elk as numbers tend to be low enough to allow natural regeneration which is widespread and at times prolific. Browsing by elk can be an issue in young plantations and where this is the case a protective spray may be applied to prevent the growing shoots on young trees being browsed.
Conifer root and butt rot (Heterobasidion annosum) is a widespread problem in Finnish forests. The conifer species most commonly used in the forestry sector here are fairly susceptible to root and butt rot, particularly Norway spruce. Chemical agents are applied to cut stumps during harvesting operations to reduce the occurrence of rot in the following rotation. Where sites and crops are particularly badly affected a decision will sometimes be made to replace a conifer crop with birch in the following rotation, as this will not be affected.
Pine weevil (Hylobius abietus) are present and cause damage in Finland. The effects are managed in ways similar to those in the UK. Sites are sometimes left fallow to allow the insect to go through its life cycle prior to replanting and pesticide-treated seedlings can be used.
Damage caused by the spruce bark beetle has been increasing in recent years, linked to climate change among other factors. The main way this is being managed currently is by removal of infected and damaged trees from stands.
Much of our week was centred around TAMK (Tampere Institute of Applied Sciences), a university of 10,000 students specializing in practical courses- engineering, computing, social sciences, communications, nursing and health care and forestry and geoscience. We were introduced to Finland and its geography by Ari, the leader of the Forestry Degree Programme. He talked about the effects of climate change on the country, how weather was more unpredictable, and illustrated this by showing us images of Finland at Christmas bathed in sunshine and of snowdrifts on April 30th of this year. The Finnish Education system, we learned, has both vocational and academic strands.
The Forestry degree program is a 4 year program, taking in 30 students per year; forests cover much of the country and there are forests very near to Tampere, making it the ideal base to learn about matters arboreal. The course is structured around problem-based learning and the development of thinking skills is emphasised- this isn’t just a course based around theory.
We learned that Scots pine, Norway spruce, downy birch and silver birch make up the vast majority of Finland’s tree species- 97% in total. The other 3% includes black alder, aspen, elm, oak, elm and maple. We also saw the structure of the degree curriculum and its emphasis on practical as well as theoretical aspects of forestry- I was intrigued to see a module on Interpersonal Skills for Dealing with Forest Owners, for example. Forests in Finland, as in Scotland, are mostly privately owned. Approx 25% are owned by the state, 10% by companies, and 8% by others. The total forestry in the country is 20m hectares.
Later that morning, we had our first encounter with Manne, who was once a professional logger, but now teaches logging at TAMK. We were impressed with the John Deere-manufactured simulator that Manne used to teach students how to operate a logging machine. It simulated the cab of a Deere logging machine and its two joysticks accurately reproduced the controls of the grabbing and cutting tool. Estelle, one of our party, took the opportunity to sit in the “cab” and cut and stack a couple of computer-generated logs. The system cost 80,000 euros in 2009; now it costs about half that. It also has software to calculate the optimal way of cutting trees.
During our time in Finland, we immediately observed an obvious contrast between the Finnish and Scottish landscapes: the lack of physical barriers between different land uses and the way forest edges are graded or thinned to reduce the contrast between forests, roads and housing. During the week, we saw a few fields with livestock and these were fenced, but in the main, arable and forest seemed to weave in and around each other with no need for fences or hedges. Lower densities of herbivores will have an effect on this as discussed elsewhere in this report. Most houses are set back from the road and are often screened or semi-screened by, at most a thin shelter belt of trees – usually birch and pine but occasionally spruce. Travelling on the motorways or major roads it is possible to see that spruce, and to a lesser extent pine, had been thinned to leave broadleaved trees; primarily birch, but also alder and aspen close to the road side with pine further back and spruce further back still. This gives a much softer edge and, to me anyway, a more pleasing view than, for example the hard edge of Sitka spruce planted to within a few metres of road and then just rough grass up to the road edge that is prevalent in Galloway. Just in from the verges of these major roads is where you can find long sections of fencing; ironically this not to protect forests but the drivers. The fences are there to deter deer and primarily elk from coming out on to the roads. Road traffic collisions with elk often end badly for both driver and the elk alike.
When we visited the urban forest sites around Tampere on the Tuesday afternoon, aided by our guide Miia, this too highlighted the barrier-less boundary approach. We visited a new small scale housing development on the edge of Tampere (there had, apparently been a bit of controversy about it as it did eat into the woodland) but as can be seen from the two images below, the forest comes right up to the edge of the gardens. There are no two metre high fences “protecting” the gardens. It is possible however to see that the conifers (spruces) have been removed for some tens of metres from the garden edge leaving the mature birches in place. The forest at this point is much more open with a lot of light getting into the ground and the houses. These houses were built only a few hundred metres from a protect area of wet woodland and lake. Surprisingly enough it was the common (or black) alder that was the main reason for the designation – although they did not look very much like the alders we see in Scotland; they were very tall and very straight! Despite the preponderance of pine, spruce and birch in Finland, the city of Tampere is cultivating common alder within this forest. Lime trees had also been planted. The woods are also home to various flora and fauna, including some unusual-looking mushrooms. In fact, fungi were sighted regularly during the week, as were foragers with baskets gathering this natural bounty for personal use. We also saw evidence of bark beetles- a number of trees had fallen prey to these and were now lying on the forest floor.
Finally, a visit to an area of old forest that was bought from the owners, after they illegally clear felled it, by the local Tampere government – it is home to the rare (and protected) Siberian flying squirrel.
Flying squirrels – development & conservation
Tampere is the third largest city in Finland, with a population of approx. 220 000. The annual increase is roughly 2000 residents, which is reflected in not only the constant need for new housing but also in the increasing traffic. Tampere encourages energy and eco-sufficient housing and to increase the integrity and eco-efficiency of the city structure, whilst reducing traffic emission, a new modern city tram-line is built.
The depot of the latter is adjacent to an urban mature spruce-dominated mixed wood forest resident to Flying squirrels (Pteromys Volans). A species included the Habitat Directive and the destruction/weakening of their resting and reproduction is forbidden under Finnish Nature Conservation Act. This species occurs only in three EU countries (Finland, Estonia & Latvia) and is currently threatened by habitat destruction. The national guidelines put in place to safeguard Flying Squirrels against disturbance can sometimes result in permission being denied for forestry and development but apparently not in this instant. The depot area of Rusko became controversial when permission was searched in 2016, and granted, to deviate from the Nature Conservation Act. The Flying squirrels habitat would be fragmented and its network significance was evaluated to be minor. So compensatory actions were installed as mediator between developers and civil society. These consisted of implementing nest boxes for breeding and building artificial networks between new planting areas.
There doesn’t seem to be a large difference between Scotland and Finland when it comes to development and conservation priorities.
Although the urban wood has a hard edge due to the track running alongside it, next to it is a mixture of playpark, school playing fields, urban drainage scheme and paths leading to the forest from the apartments and new civic building. This all gives the feeling that the urban and rural merge gradually rather than sitting contiguously with each other.