Forest Management in Finland

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An impressive 87% of the land area of Finland is forest, comprising 66% productive (over 20m ha) and 11% old growth (mostly, but not all, protected).  Approximately 24% of the forest belongs to the state, while the remainder is privately owned.  60% of the forests are family owned.

The reason for this high proportion of family ownership can be traced back to the independence years of Finland.  Prior to independence from Russia in 1917, land was largely owned by the nobility.  By 1922 the government conducted a land reform in which these large holdings were taken by the government, broken up and sold to tenant farmers and landless labourers.  Forests have been passing down the generations ever since, with owners comprising both the farmer/forester and city dwellers.  The average forest property is 30ha, but can be as small as 0.5ha.

However, in doing so the land was often divided in long strips to ensure the new owners had a roughly even mix of land quality.  The result, which survives to this day, is a largely linear arrangement of property boundaries, to the extent that some properties are ‘locked’ in by those properties surrounding it, isolated from access routes, and sometimes so long and narrow that they are impractical to work with.  As a result, some private forests are unmanaged original old-growth and will continue to be.

Figure X: Aerial photograph illustrating linear pattern of land ownership

Figure X: Aerial photograph illustrating linear pattern of land ownership

Interestingly there is no regulatory system in place for felling, as in the UK (felling licences).  Local government forestry offices are required to be notified of proposed forest operations, but permission is not required.  It is therefore possible for the use of the land to be changed, perhaps to agriculture or for development (although this will have its own controls).  If there is no change of land use, there is an obligation to restock.  It is however conceivable that a forest owner could fell their forest to make way for wind turbines or other infrastructure; the fact that this doesn’t occur as readily as it does in the UK is indicative of the value, both financially and culturally, of the forests to the Finns.  Perhaps it is because of this ingrained sense of stewardship that there is not the need to control felling in the same way as it is in the UK.

The main species are Scots pine, Norway spruce and silver birch, with spruce growing largely in the south of the country.  Restocking of forests is carried out in three ways: planting, direct seeding and natural regeneration.

Planting is reserved for Norway spruce, using two year old transplants, whereas Scots pine and birch are typically allowed to naturally regenerate, retaining 50 trees/ha following clear-fell to act as seed trees.  Scots pine is sometimes directly seeded if a change of species is desired or to bring forward the onset of establishment of the new crop.  While establishment of the new crop from seed is slower than achieved with transplants, the quality of the timber is superior.  Norway spruce seeds less easily, more slowly and quality is more variable; by using transplants grown from seed from seed orchards, timber quality and success of establishment can be better controlled.  Stocking densities are 2,500 trees/ha for pine and 1,800 tree/ha for spruce.

<img class="size-full wp-image-3354" src="" alt="planted v sown" width="604" height="445" srcset=" over at this website.jpg 604w,×221.jpg 300w” sizes=”(max-width: 604px) 100vw, 604px” />

Figure X: The pine on the left was planted, the pine on the right sown, both in 2009. Growth from seed is considerably slower, but emphasis is placed on timber quality, not quantity.

On some spruce restock sites, the natural regeneration of silver birch is tolerated to an extent as they protect the spruce from frost.  As with most nurse crops however, the birch must be removed before they begin to out-compete the main species.

No herbicides are used in establishment at all and rarely any pesticides.  Norway spruce transplants are pre-treated in the nursery for weevil but no top-up post-planting sprays are required.  Elk cause browsing damage to Scots pine and birch (which aren’t safe until they are about 1.5m tall).  The elk population is widely considered to have increased dramatically since the advent of the clear-fell / restock system in the 1970s, which provides a regular supply of tree shoots for the animals to feed on.  Fencing is not used due to the small scale of the restock sites (a reflection of the small average property size), so elk are controlled through shooting.  That they are able to control browsing levels however paints a stark contrast between the extent of browsing pressure in Finland and the UK.  Restocking costs are therefore relatively low, allowing the landowners to enjoy their hard-earned cash!  Heterobasidion annosum is responsible for the rot of approximately 30% of butts at harvesting, so all stumps are treated with urea or a solution of Plebia spp.

Many sites also undergo stump and brash harvesting following clear-fell, with both products being used for power generation.  The restock sites are therefore considerably easier to operate in than the typical UK restock site.  Although this is a well established part of the clear-fell operation, questions are now being asked about the potential release of carbon from the soils resulting from stump harvesting.

Small roundwood for pulp, harvested from the top of the tree, is cut to different lengths, maximising the use of the stem; a far cry from the UK system where a set length is required, resulting in large quantities of stem wood going to waste.  The lack of brash-mats was notable though due to drier ground conditions (southern Finland receives only 550mm rainfall annually) and small clear-fell sites; given the soil and climate conditions in the UK there is a much greater need for brash-mats and it may not therefore be possible in the interests of sustainable forest management to maximise timber yield at the expense of soil preservation.

The Finnish appear to have a very low waste approach to forest produce and this is something I will be trying to employ in my own work.  While I may not be able to influence the dimensions of timber that mills can take, I can use brash harvesting and potentially stump harvesting.  This will return a greater income to the client, leave a cleaner clear-fell site which will then be cheaper to restock as there will not be any brash (or stumps) to deal with.  UK restock sites typically have a ‘break’ in them every 20-30m where a line of brash lies, and on prominent hillsides this does little to enhance the landscape.  By removing the brash altogether the landscape of the restock site will be much improved.

One of the field visits was to a forest with a recent clear-fell site, where our host (Mauna?), a keen ornithologist, was studying the Capercaillie leks.  Mauna highlighted that the clear-fell system was not a welcome change for the birds, and that a much better approach would have been to undertake a heavy thinning, possibly leaving more than the 50 trees/ha mentioned above for natural regeneration.  This heavy thinning approach is one I intend to use on some of my future clear-fell sites, where conditions allow (thinned, stable stand) to try to maintain some degree of crown cover for biodiversity.  This is a half-way house between clear-fell and continuous cover forestry.  These retained trees will also inevitably act as seed trees; whether natural regeneration will be forthcoming will remain to be seen, and I believe dependent on the nature of soil ecosystem (i.e. whether it has lost its woodland characteristics).

The land ownership pattern in Finland caught my attention and has piqued my interest in Scottish land ownership, particularly community land ownership.  It has also highlighted the cultural connection between people and outdoor life in Finland, and the lack of this in Scotland.  I have historically not relished working with communities and the public in the likes tree planting events, but now have a much greater understanding of why this is so absolutely necessary and will be looking for opportunities to incorporate this into my work.  On a more personal level, the Finnish exchange taught me a great deal of positive things about people and myself, which will enable me to pursue and engage in community and public involvement.

I am regularly meeting clients and industry colleagues at industry events, and this is the first and foremost way of disseminating the lessons I have learned from the exchange and has been an extremely well used method to date.  However I will also be writing an article for the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICchartered-foresters-white-logoF) journal.

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