A Series of Finnish Forestry Blogs

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​ By Claire Glaister, Institute of Chartered Foresters

61 degrees latitude: A house of 100 trees

An intrepid group of seven left Scotland to head to the land of lakes and trees; a country with a scale of forestry which, to a forester, comes close to Utopia.

The week-long Erasmus+ study tour, hosted by Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and promoted by ARCH, was to cover forests, birds and environmental education.

On arrival at our accommodation for the week however, it became clear that we would also be treated to spectacular skies and sunrises, landscapes and culture and great hospitality too.

The final turn of our journey that night took us down an avenue of Silver birch which, even accounting for the car’s headlights, seemed to shine brightly in front of us.  The bark looked much brighter than we see on birch at home and certainly lived up to the tree’s silver title.

Sitting around the kitchen table that first evening, our neighbour, Tapio Rautaneva, the owner of the house, explained to us how he had built it using 100 trees from his own woodland – just along the road – individually selected for their physical and quality characteristics.  The pride in which he spoke of his endeavours and in the sustainable use of his own land was evident for all to see and 2 years of construction later, a lakeside lodge had been built.

Our first impressions were good and we looked forward to the next day…


​61 degrees latitude: The King of the Forest

With a spectacular sunrise, our second day began.

A guided tour of the natural history section at the Vapriiki Museum took us through spring, summer, autumn and winter in Finland, each being described in terms of the wildlife and landscapes you could expect to see.

There were games to encourage children to explore and hunt for animals and birds from each of the four seasons, together with impressive displays of key species, including a bear – considered as The King of the Forest in Finnish mythology.

A key message throughout the museum, and a recurring theme for the day, was the importance of respecting the environment.  An autumnal display presented this in a very impactive way and showed the destruction that can be caused to both nature and humans from not doing so.

Our afternoon was spent walking through the urban forest in the Pyynikin nature conservation area.  Located on the Pyynikinharju Esker, the largest esker in the world, the message of respecting the environment was highlighted again and clear to see.

As the day drew to a close, we prepared for the next day when we were to be meeting forestry students at TAMK and talk with them about our industries and roles within them.

And also enjoyed some water-based relaxation too…

61 degrees latitude: Roots and stone

​Day 3. 

H​atanpaan puisto Arboretum 

​Walking through the arboretum, we were greeted by a plethora of plants and trees including Snake spruce (Picea abies “virgata” Kaanrmekuusi) and a Silver birch with an unusually shaped leaf​ (Betula pendula f. crispa loimaankoivu)​, neither of which I’ve ever seen before.  It’s true what they say about every day being a learning opportunity!

We also saw numerous (and, as we learnt, very common) red squirrels – some almost tame – which caused us great delight and our hosts, great amusement.

Whilst walking through the urban oasis, we couldn’t help but hear a group of school children enjoying a break from lessons.  Kati, one of our student hosts, explained that the school curriculum has recently changed so that lessons are more child-centred rather than a more traditional format which reminded me of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence approach.  As well as taking breaks in the arboretum, some schools are also now running Forest Schools but Kati wasn’t aware of this extending to Forest Kindergartens.

From the relative peace and tranquility of the arboretum, we then entered the frenetic world of Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK).  At lunchtime!

After meeting one of the forestry lecturers, Pirjo ​Puustjarvi, we refuelled in the canteen and then became students ourselves as we sat in a classroom to hear more about education in Finland in general and the university​ in particular.

The Finnish education system has consistently been ranked as one of the highest in the world, teachers are well respected and children are encouraged to learn, informally initially, from an early age.

​Finnish children start school at the age of 7 (it is considered important for them to experience life and enjoy their childhood before formal education begins) and follow 9 years of compulsory education.  After 6 years in “primary” school, they then attend a further 3 years in the equivalent of secondary school and can then continue secondary education via either an academic or vocational route, usually for a further 3 years.

Tertiary education takes place at either a university or polytechnic (also known as a University of Applied Sciences).  Tampere University of Applied Sciences hosts 10,000 students and offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes ​as well as vocational teaching education. Forestry programmes are also delivered at the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland at Joensuu.

The Degree Programme in Forestry at TAMK is a 4 year bachelor-level professional higher education degree at EQF Level 6 (equivalent to SCQF Levels 9 (BSc (Ord), Technical Apprenticeships) and 10 (BSc (Hons), Professional Apprenticeships)). Student places tend to be oversubscribed at TAMK and in terms of their classes, our student hosts calculated that around 30% of the students are women.

After completion of their bachelor degree, graduates may then apply to study for a master’s degree at a university or university of applied science; for the latter, at least 3 years of work in a related field are required.

The Scottish visitors then gave our presentations to some of the forestry students and the Head of the degree programme, Ari Vanamo; mine being entitled “From legends to lorries via lifelong learning”.

Summarising my career – starting out with the then Forestry Commission Survey Branch in the New Forest (the legend was the questionably accidental death of King William II from a stray arrow at the place now marked by The Rufus Stone) through to my current work with timber transport – I also showed photos of the new entrants and apprentices I’ve been privileged to work with as they start out in the industry and also assured the students that I’ve undertaken lifelong learning too, not least by becoming a member of the ICF in 2001 and a Fellow in 2016.

Our hosts weren’t aware of an equivalent of the ICF in Finland but advised that those forestry graduates who progress into the industry carry out job-specific training as required, rather than following a professional route after several years in post-qualification practice.

Presentations given and questions asked – a few by the Finnish students and some from the rest of the study tour delegates – we went back to our accommodation with our three student hosts for a BBQ, sauna and socialising.

But not before visiting some rather strangely growing pine on a slope behind the city cemetery.  Their form, growth and stability were questions we discussed further during the evening, albeit rather briefly as other, potentially more pressing, ones emerged – like how on earth are you supposed to breathe when you’ve plunged into the lake straight from the sauna!

Minds and bodies refreshed, we prepared for our forest hiking adventure the next day…

61 degrees latitude: A cabin in the canyon

The majesty and splendour of the Helvetinjärvi National Park was mind blowing and the first rain of the trip didn’t dampen our spirits one bit; if ever a description of a land of lakes and forests were warranted, it’s for places like this.

Raine Kallio, our very experienced wilderness guide, took us on a 14km hike through the glorious scenery, helping us identify the numerous species of flora we discovered and to listen out for birds as we went.

We again learnt of the respect in which the Finnish people hold the environment and their sense of peace with their surroundings.  There seems to be an undeniable connection between people and forests which surely must, in part at least, be born out of the sheer extent of the forestry resource.

Our destination for lunch was a cabin in a canyon, accessible either by steps and boardwalks or by climbing down one of the channels leading into the canyon; we went the latter route on the way in.

Attempting to dry out by the heat of a freshly lit fire and enjoying much needed food, we discussed how the cabin had been constructed by a group of young folk who used to come to the canyon to dance and can now be used as a refuge for walkers and hikers.

The scenic location reminded me of a dilemma often posed on FaceBook; could you live here without Wi-Fi for a year for £1,000,000?

I’d have to say yes!

61 degrees latitude: Space to breathe

As if Helvetinjarvi National Park wasn’t enough, we were treated to another, Seitseminen, on our fifth day.

Our expert guide, Tuula Puranen, gave us some background on the three locations we would be visiting but said of the second – an old growth forest – that no introductions were needed as it would speak to us all on its own.

And she was absolutely right.

The sense of age, character and history were simply amazing and, almost in deference to our environment, it seemed like a quietness descended on the group. As one of our student hosts, Jussi, explained, forests can give you space to breathe; it was a description that fitted this forest perfectly.

As we walked along paths and boardwalks on the circular route, we passed several granite-carved poems written by members of the public in celebration of their natural environment which were heartfelt and atmospheric.

And beautifully recited by Jussi, the last one in Finnish.

From the old growth forest, we then visited the Soljastensuo wetland, once more admiring the beauty of our environment. En route, we were shown an area of pine which had recently been burnt to encourage natural regeneration. Even in the short time since the fire, birch was already beginning to establish and we discussed how, with the relatively low browsing pressure from deer, natural regeneration is abundant and a common way of restocking cleared areas.

Reasons for the generally low level of grazing pressure were to become clearer the next day…

61 degrees latitude: The Lady Killers

Hunting was the focus of our last-but-one day and we were hosted in the morning by Tapio Vaha-Kaakkola from Metsastysseura Haukka Ry (Hunting Club Haukka).

Tapio gave us some background to hunting in Finland and the hunting club, the species shot (particularly white tailed deer), public perception (apparently, 80% of people have a positive view of hunting), the role of the government, the Welfare Guaranteed by Game scheme, how hunting clubs operate (Hunting Club Haukka currently has 150 members and all clubs are set up for the common good so cannot make a profit), the scale of activity (8% of the Finnish population hunt) and meat consumption, the different types of licences/permissions required for different species, the impact of climate change on survival rates and geographic ranges and the challenges of urbanisation (hunting is in decline as people are moving into cities and the growth in the human population is slowing) and trying to balance population numbers to meet the, often conflicting, objectives of both hunters (higher populations) and industry (lower populations).

There appears to be a clear incentive for landowners/hunters to manage populations as Tapio advised that some figures suggest that the cost of damage to forests by moose, were numbers not to be controlled, could be high as 100,000,000 Euros. A big surprise to the group was that the government pay compensation to landowners if moose damage their crops and also supply farmers with fencing materials for them to use. Less of a surprise perhaps was Tapio’s comment that EU rules can be really unhelpful some of the time!

After a wide-ranging discussion, we were all invited to go clay pigeon shooting. Whilst only a few clays were actually hit, a great time was had and bruises on shoulders quickly forgotten.

The afternoon saw us travel to meet Juhani Soininen – father of Wille, one of our student hosts – at his 7 Ha forest. Juhani explained that he encourages the deer to come and feed on apples and other food that he puts out so that he can shoot them cleanly from a purpose-built hide. He uses various IT equipment to alert him when deer are within the feeding area and then is able to dispatch them – usually white tailed deer – efficiently with copper bullets (using lead would render any meat inedible).

Following this more theoretical session, Juhani served up a plateful of venison, shot the week before, and, as tradition dictates (apparently), a shot of brandy for everyone to enjoy. I can honestly say that the venison was the tenderest and leanest I have ever eaten. And the brandy wasn’t too bad either!

Sufficiently feed and watered, we headed home to look forward to another day.

61 degrees latitude: A question of independence

Visiting a paper mill on a Finnish forestry trip I could have expected. Visiting an award-wining art museum established by the family of the founder of the Finnish paper mill – and one containing an original Monet – I could not!

Our guide, Lauri Vuohelainen, first took us around Gustaf, a museum housed in the former head office of G.A. Serlachius Ltd., the paper mill founded by Gustaf Adolf Serlachius in 1881. Both Lauri and an audio tour relayed the history of the founding of the then, fourth, paper mill in Finland and how, under the charismatic but sometimes troubled Serlachius, it survived remoteness and initial inaccessibility, fire and near bankruptcy.

The forest industry today – in both Finland and Scotland – is technologically advanced but even in 1934, Gustaf ensured that through clever architectural design and ingenuity, his company’s head office building used the most modern technology of that time too – not least a district heating-type system which brought heat into the building through the light fittings and back out into the mill.

Lauri explained that the mill was the main employer in Mantta and those working within its walls would have privileges not open to those without. At least Serlachius’ employees were able to benefit from a school, factory grocery store and workers’ library…

The original Monet, A haystack in the evening sun (1891), is housed in the Art Museum Gosta, named after Gustaf’s nephew, which also contains collections of fine Finnish art and old European masters and more contemporary pieces too.

A theme depicted in a number of the older artworks is one of Finland’s history, from its time as being part of Sweden, then Russia and, finally, an independent nation. Lauri explained that whilst some of the artwork from the period would have been intended to portray the fight and passion for independence, it couldn’t be presented as such for fear of political ramifications. The same was the case too with some of the music from that time, including Finlandia, composed by Jean Sibelius; he takes pride of place in one of the pictures on display in the museum.

Surrounded by such valuable cultural heritage, our visit to Mantta to the Serlachius Museums was as enjoyable as it was unexpected and hearing some of Finland’s history, its struggles, perseverance and, finally, independence, left us feeling uplifted.

Without doubt, the same could be said for the whole of our time in Finland; a land of lakes and forests.

And SO much more.

61 degrees latitude: The youth of today

A footnote to my week’s blog…

One of the reasons I applied to go on this study tour to Finland – other than Finland being a bit of a dream location for a forester to visit – was because there was an element of education on the programme; a subject in which I’ve always had a great interest.

When accepting a place on the trip, delegates agree to write a report on their experience, particularly regarding any lessons they may have learnt which are relevant to their job/organisation/industry.

Well, from my point of view, I’d expected the trip to help me gain a better understanding of forestry education in Finland.  And in this regard, I wasn’t disappointed.

Although I’ve realised that there were questions I didn’t ask at the time and that there are more I’ve now thought of; basically, that I can learn so much more. Which gives me a reason to go back, clearly!

What I hadn’t quite expected however was for the visit to teach me something about life more generally.  Or perhaps more accurately, to remind me of things that, in the busyness of life and work, I had forgotten.

  • The sheer beauty and wonder of the environment;
  • That a passion for nature is good to be shared;
  • There is great enjoyment to be found in having a thirst for knowledge;
  • That the enthusiasm of the young (as the oldest delegate, I feel I can justifiably describe my compatriots as such) can be so infectious

It’s on that last point that I particularly want to expand a little further.

Our three student hosts, Wille Soininen, Jussi Hakala and Kati Hautala, are 20-something university students; younger than most of us on the tour. So very much (in my opinion) the youth of today.

Their planning of our itinerary, eagerness to ensure we were having a good time and encouragement to try something new when we may have been a bit hesitant, the numerous and wide-ranging questions they translated, considered and answered, the support they gave to the expert guides we saw during our visit, the good humour in which they responded to our jokes and our occasional gentle teasing and their overall hospitality and friendliness were exemplary and so very much appreciated.

So thank you, sincerely, to all three of you; you were absolute STARS.

And thanks too to my 6 Scottish colleagues; for your company, cooking, WhatsApp chatting, boat rowing, wrap composing and producing, video taking, driving, jokes followed by stomach-aching laughter, DJ-ing, fire-lighting…

Long may the locations we visited and sights we saw stay in our memories.

But longer still may the new contacts made and friendships forged remain.

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