Nature Exchange to Finland 9th – 16th May 2010
The itinerary for our visit was researched and organised by two students from Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) as part of their forestry degree studies where they also acted as guides, a source of information, interpreters and looked after the group on a daily basis during our stay. A group of six professionals from Scotland with mixed specialism’s within conservation from Government bodies, consultants, volunteers and ranger naturalists visited Finland where a dissemination of information was exchanged and discussions took place. The itinerary was as such that allowed for both lectures from specialists in their field and a follow up visit to sites to see some of the scientific work being carried out. The program was mixed and as such most elements appealed to the interests and disciplines of the group. This allowed for the group to discuss some issues as a group and where comparisons were drawn from a Scottish conservation perspective.
The varied program was well constructed where on day one we began with a visit to Tampere University where several lectures took place in the morning which set the basis of our visit and the interlink with the university. The group found the lectures informative where an outline structure was given on teaching students where the approach was based on problem solving. Students are also separated into working groups and encouraged to learn to work together and liaise with other people and organisations helping them develop social skills as well as skills in research. This structure is new on the university curriculum and began in 2008 and the degree program in ‘Bachelor of Natural Resources’ takes four years to complete.
On the remaining successive days we visited a cross section of field stations carrying out a variety of scientific research based around forestry. Projects were varied and related to peat formation and others on habitat and species research. There was also a visit to the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment which gave a regional municipal perspective on conservation whose strategies in management of landscape and habitat follow closely that of the UK with similar inherent problems.
Scientific research on Peat formation
The structure of the itinerary was as such that gave the group time to be in a lecture theatre and benefit from the knowledge of a lecturer and time to ask many questions and take notes. This information was extremely valuable in giving the group good background information before going into to field. This also allowed breaks for coffee and on most days we did not need to organise our lunch packs which allowed us more freedom of time to rest between days and enjoy our facilities within our accommodation and surrounding area. It has to be said that this particular group worked well together and were well organised which contributed to a very good and informative exchange where discussions took place while we sipped wine and beer on the terrace.
The arrangement of travel from Arch Network Nature Exchange was excellent and no problems were incurred during our travel given that many flights were grounded at that time due to the ash cloud. The staff based in the Arch Network office in Comrie were also very supportive, helpful and kept us all up-to-date via email during the lead up to our departure. All who were travelling on this exchange were called to attend a meeting before we left for Finland where we had a chance to raise concerns, problems, general questions and importantly, to meet the group which helps one recognise some faces in a crowded airport terminal. We were entrusted with a budget to buy our food since we lived remotely from any shop and did not have transport. This budget also paid for lunches within some of the academic establishments while out each day. A treasurer was elected to look after the money and it has to be said did an excellent job.
The accommodation was excellent where we lived beside a lake in a log cabin. We had ample space, cooking facilities and sleeping arrangements. We were also very lucky to have a sauna beside the lake where some of us enjoyed the sauna and like the Finish, a swim in the rather cool lake afterwards. There was a barbeque which we used on several occasions while enjoying very warm weather watching the sun set over the lake and a boat to glide over the still water as the sun set – very memorable.
In Finland we were all treated with kindness and respect and without doubt some of us would like to return to explore more of this fascinating country and wonderful people.
On behalf of the group we are all grateful for the opportunity that the Leonardo da Vinci funding has provided for us to travel and meet our other European colleagues. We have all gained a lot of knowledge and seen many parallels between Finland’s approach to conservation with Scotland’s. This has not just enriched our working professions, but also enriched our lives.
Below are personal reports from some of the group members.
Finland exchange trip 2010 – Dan Spinks
The trip was a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable experience for me; the combination of classroom based presentations, lectures and discussions with field trips worked really well.
During the trip we had presentations from many leading conservation and wildlife experts from Finland including Marjukka Dyer’s excellent work on developing dry toilet projects in Finland and around the world; Petri Keto-Tokoi on forest ecology; Martti Kolkka on the forest biodiversity and game management within the forests of Finland; a background on the work of the governmental organisation at the Centre for Economic, Transport and the Environment by Marja-Liisa Pitkanen; and a presentation on the Metsahallitus organisation (Finland’s equivalent of the forestry commission and natural heritage rolled into one). The organisation of the week was taken care of by our wonderful and very patient hosts Anne and Mira, both students of forestry dept at Tampere University of Applied Sciences.
Coupled with the power point presentations and discussions we had excellent opportunities to see the conservation management and habitats in our field trips.
The forests and mires of Finland provide great habitats for many species which we consider rarities in Scotland and on our excursions we observed and found signs of many birds and mammals of the woodland. Moose were especially evident by the browsing marks left on willow and saplings, and by their droppings.
The most memorable experience for me was our insight into Finland’s Capercaillie (Metso in Finnish) populations and habitat. The Capercaillie (or ‘horse of the wood’ (capull coille) as they were known in Gaelic) is the largest member of the grouse family, reaching over 100cm in height and 6Kg in weight. Capercaillie are particularly rare in Scotland after becoming extinct somewhere between 1770-85 and several reintroduction programmes during the 20th century have met with limited success and the species is still in decline and are confined to a few strongholds particularly in the Strathspey region. In contrast to this, Finland supports a population of between 200,000 (late winter/ early spring) and 400,000 (after the chicks fledge in summer). Numbers are so good that hunting of these birds is allowed, and this has no significant impact on the numbers. There are threats to Capercaillie by human activities such as draining land by dykes and ditches – an activity which has been very prevalent in Finland since the 1960’s to improve the production of forestry. Even on small scale privately owned plots, draining is being carried out. We saw evidence of such drainage work on our field trip with Manne Viljamaa as he took us to a lek site which 7+ males have used for many years.
Capercaillie (© M Viljamaa)
Unfortunately draining has the knock on effect of changing the habitat of the forest floor, especially making conditions less favourable for plants, such as blueberries and lowering the density of insects: both important food sources for the Capercaillie chicks during the spring and summer. Whilst out we had a glimpse of Capercaillie cocks taking flight from the lekking grounds into nearby trees, which they subsequently flew from and out of sight. To see such an impressive and large bird sitting in the tree-tops and to spend the time with Manne, who has worked to study these birds in more detail and educate others about the impacts of habitat change, was a great privilege. In the classroom at Evo we learnt more about the Capercaillie and black grouse populations from Martti Kolkka, including studies on the recent population declines seen in Finland (from the work of Gilbert Ludvig 2007). In particular we learnt how improving breeding success is essential: by control of mesopredators by intensive trapping and hunting – and the role of increasing numbers of Lynx play a positive role coupled with forest management, as discussed with Manne, for blueberry and insect numbers. Also very important for the conservation of these grouse species is the protection of pine bogs and woodland mires as the pine and aspen are required by the grouse during the winter months and finally introduction of sustainable hunting based on annual grouse numbers is needed. Studies at Evo on Capercaillie survival (conducted between 2005-9) by ringing and radio transmitter studies of adults and chicks expanded more on this.
Finland report. Sandra Hutchinson
Our visit was one full of information and revelation seeing the forests, habitats and meeting people.
On Monday when we arrived at the University of Tampere, we had several lectures where we were given a summary of the structure of the university and about Finish forestry and management. Throughout the week I learned a lot about forest management and I was particularly interested in how they tackled replanting their forests and also their areas of conservation concern within their management structure.
I have personally gained so much information through the seminars where these were all supported by extremely good and practical field trips to relevant sites. These all illustrated how the Finnish people are managing their forests for both timber production and the conservation of habitat and species. From my professional prospective, I was keen to see how they managed their more mature and protected forests. It was interesting to see how they had created pathways through these protected areas and how people, who came to visit them, respected their conservation value and adhered to the paths and acted in a responsible way. Rarely did I notice any other ‘unofficial’ paths spreading out from the official paths.
These forested areas we were informed held a variety of iconic wildlife such as bears and moose although there were no positive identified sightings of these species, or the vast number of different types of woodpecker, there were certainly indications of the latter where some trees were destroyed, therefore most of the week we spent looking for signs.
In areas where moose were known to occur we found footprints in the wet mud and the distinctive droppings. Areas where they had previously grazed were identified by the broken and chewed ends of young trees. It was also interesting to note that there is an orange fungi which is only found growing on their urine.
Orange fungi which is specific to Moose urine
We visited two capercaillie lek sites in different parts of the country. At one site where there were few birds we noticed the lack to droppings. However, at the second site we visited, which was a well known and popular lek site, the evidence of their presence was overwhelming. We visited this site in the early morning where many capercaillie droppings were located within 1 hectare site and some of us wished we had camped overnight to hopefully help us get better views of the birds.
From a botanical viewpoint it was interesting to see the similarities between the flora of our pinewoods in Scotland to those of Finland. Also interesting to note that our rare flowers are also their rare flowers and are also indicators of continuous ancient natural woodland which was Illustrated so well by the Twinflower and the Single Flower Wintergreen.
Our visit was not limited to forests and we also visited a few wetland sites. Some in National parks and others managed under the European funded Life project. It was also interesting to see that people did not venture from the official paths into sensitive habitat but stayed to the recognised footpaths.
In essence the total trip was very informative and inspiring. Since returning I have shared some of information I obtained with other professionals at work. I have also shared the Forest practises of the Finnish foresters with many of the people I meet during my work as a Countryside ranger in the National Park.
Arch Network Finland Exchange May 2010 report by Phil James
On all days after Monday we saw a variety of unidentified blues, small tortoiseshells, Camberwell beauty, black-veined white, green-veined white and an unidentified fritillary (possibly Frigga’s Fritillary) in a wide range of habitats. Of these, only small tortoiseshell and green-veined white are familiar from Scotland, although none of the others are uncommon in much of Europe. A glance at a butterfly guide for Finland shows that there are many more species present, but on our visit we were just a few weeks too early for the majority.
The extent of woodland in Finland is astonishing to anyone used to the British landscape. Britain has a scattering of woodland in a background of farmland, urban sprawl and small amounts of semi-natural habitats in the upland fringes; Finland has a scattering of small agricultural holdings, a few larger farms and urban areas, and many lakes, but all in a forest context.
We saw a small part of the southern-central part of Finland, and here much of the semi-natural woodland seems to be dominated by Norway Spruce and Scots Pine, with the former being the climax species. In Scotland we have a rather limited view of semi-natural coniferous woodland, but Finland has a range which covers wooded mires to woodland on very thin soils over bedrock, a range of soil nutrient status from very poor to very high, and a climatic range from mild and wet in coastal areas to very continental (ie seasonal extremes of temperature). This is reflected in the classification system for woodlands at Lakkasuo, a research site we visited: there are about 20 different woodland types described for this site alone, and only two of these have obvious Scottish counterparts.
Tree and shrub species
Norway Spruce (NS) and Scots pine (SP) are the dominant species in most woodlands and are managed for timber and pulp. NS will regenerate under canopy whereas SP will not. We visited protected and research areas where these species have grown to greater heights (and straighter) than is often seen in Scotland.
Downy and dwarf birch are common in Finland, although silver birch was seen rather less often. Dwarf birch was seen in similar habitats as it is in Scotland (generally restricted to blanket bogs) although further north towards Lapland it grows more happily on drier soils. We were told about hybridization between the species; this also occurs in the Scottish Highlands between downy and dwarf, although presumably on a much smaller scale.
Juniper is locally abundant, always Juniperus communis ssp. communis, usually with a columnar growth form that is unusual in Scotland apart from parts of Speyside.
Aspen is widespread and abundant everywhere apart from in mire forests and managed coniferous plantations. Regeneration (from seedlings to pole stage) was seen in many places, contrasting with the situation in Scotland, where regeneration is restricted by browsing and almost always vegetative. (Aspen is scarce enough in Scotland for it is not used as fuel; we used it on the barbecue at the chalet but were disappointed to find it burns far too quickly!)
Grey and black alders are both widespread in Finland; grey alder is only seen as an introduced species in Britain.
Goat, grey and eared willows were all seen to be widespread in Finland as they are in Scotland.
We were shown a few small woodland sites (<5ha) where burning has been carried out to maintain habitat for fire-dependant species, especially invertebrates. Fire is clearly a very labour-intensive activity and is not carried out widely, although there is not the stigma attached to it as there is in Britain. Because fire has long been suppressed in Britain, it is likely that if we did have fire-dependant species, we have possibly already lost them. It was claimed that aspen regeneration is encouraged by burning. It would be interesting and useful to investigate the use of fire as a management tool in Scotland.
Burned out forest left to regenerate
Inevitably for a country with such a huge area of forestry, much of the harvesting is carried out in a similar manner to in Britain, with harvesters and forwarders working in tandem. However we saw relatively few timber lorries so we assumed that much travels by rail.
Possibly the greatest contrast with British forests is the pattern of ownership. Due to inheritance laws, most of the private forests are divided into tiny ownership areas of just a few hectares, making management of these parts extremely difficult. The development of cheap, portable and accurate GPS has been of great significance!
Finland has a range of large mammals that are absent from Britain. These include elk (common), reindeer (farmed in the north only), beavers (only very recently re-introduced to Scotland), wolves (scarce and only in very sparsely populated areas), brown bears (very scarce as they have vast territories) and lynx and wolverine about which I learned very little except that the latter should be avoided at all costs. There was a very good exhibition about bears at the museum in Tampere.
Notable absentees (or at least they are very scarce) from Finland are red and roe deer, hence the lack of difficulty in establishing tree regeneration (and the puzzled looks I got when trying to explain the difference in amounts of regeneration between the two countries). Typical signs of browsing by elk are removal of leading shoots at between 1m and 1.5m above ground level, but only from occasional trees.