Nature protection and biodiversity (Finland)
Why should we care about this issue
- Nature and biodiversity
Finland's geographical and climatic location in the northeastern corner of Europe may not favour high species diversity. Despite this, the country has a special role in protecting European biodiversity. Finland has a particular responsibility for protecting many nature types such as mires, boreal forests and inland waters and their related species. Compared to most other European countries, Finland still has large areas of relatively natural-like habitats. Furthermore, the country continues to rely heavily on ecosystem services; not only on provisioning services but also on regulating and cultural services.
Against this background, and taking into consideration the observed and predicted impacts of climate change on northern nature, biodiversity should be a high priority issue in Finland. Partly, it already is, but mostly from the viewpoint of natural resources. More work needs to be done to make sure all actors in the society understand the importance of halting the loss of biodiversity.
The state and impacts
A comprehensive assessment of the state and trends of biodiversity in Finland can be found in the Fourth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Finland, which was delivered to CBD in June 2009. The report is based on approximately 110 national biodiversity indicators that have been structured according to the DPSIR framework and cover most of the topics included in the indicator set developed by the Streamlining European Biodiversity Indicators 2010 project. The indicators are presented on the web site www.biodiversity.fi.
According to the indicator-based assessment, the overview of the state of biodiversity is contrasting. Several species, previously declining and at risk of extinction, are now recovering. These species have often been target to special conservation efforts. Lynx and brown bear as well as several birds of prey are examples of such species.
The quality of mire and farmland habitats for biodiversity has continued to deteriorate especially in southern and central Finland. Common mire and farmland birds have declined steeply and similar trends may also be seen for butterflies. More than half of all mire habitat types and over 90% of traditional rural biotopes have been evaluated as threatened. Positive progress has been made in relation to soil nutrient balances, which have declined in the case of both nitrogen and phosphorus.
Indicators on the state of forest biodiversity show both positive and negative trends. Generalist forest birds and common coniferous forest species have increased by 10–20% over the past 30 years. Wildlife richness index has also increased slightly, which is driven mainly by increasing large carnivore and small ungulate numbers. Mountain hares, in contrast, have declined.
Structural forest indicators tell of a greatly altered ecosystem. The present volume of dead wood is very low compared to natural circumstances, the forest age structure has shifted towards younger cohorts and the proportional volume of coniferous trees – especially that of Scots pine – has increased on the expense of other species. However, most of these trends have now stabilized, and there are first signs of increasing dead wood volumes, for example.
Positive trends include reductions in the eutrophication and pollution of inland waters. This is reflected in the improved ecological status of lakes. Just over 70% of the total lake area is considered to be in a good ecological state, and if the analysis is restricted to larger lakes, the percentage rises up to 86. However, the status of river systems is not as favourable. Nearly half of all rivers have been strongly altered e.g. by hydropower construction, river bed modification and pollution.
The physical quality of the Baltic Sea is concerning with algal blooms being more common and chlorophyll-a concentrations increasing especially in the southern sea areas. The visibility depth of seawater decreased steeply over the whole 20th century also in the northernmost part of the Baltic Sea. Benefitting from increased primary production and decreased hunting pressure, archipelago birds and Baltic grey seals have increased during the past decades. However, the populations of some of the most numerous bird species such as the common eider have started to decline recently.
The third evaluation of threatened species in Finland was completed in 2000 (see Summary of the Evaluation of Threatened Species in Finland 2000). Approximately one third of the estimated total of 45 000 species found in Finland were assessed, and some ten percent of the assessed species were found to be threatened. Nearly 40% of the threatened species live primarily in forest habitats and almost 30% can be found in traditional farmland habitats. Forestry and changes in farming practices are the main factors that threaten species or lead to extinctions. The fourth evaluation of threatened species in Finland will be published in late 2010.
The first Red List of habitat types was published in 2008. This internationally leading effort provided an extensive overview on the state and trends of altogether 400 different habitat types in Finland. Of the total number of habitat types, 51% are threatened in the whole country. The corresponding percentage is lower in terms of area as many of the threatened habitat types are restricted to out of the ordinary environmental circumstances. Almost one-third of habitat types are near threatened (NT) and one-fifth belong to the category least concern (LC).
The number of alien species continues to rise, and more species are able to escape to natural environments and become invasive. Particularly at risk are water habitats, shores and man-made habitats. The first signs of climate change may also be seen in Finnish nature. Several northern species and habitats, including palsa mires, are declining, for example. Climate change is also affecting more native bird species negatively than positively.
Finland’s nationwide protected area system forms a backbone for biodiversity conservation especially in relation to natural ecosystems and related ecosystem services. Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services (NHS), a government agency, is almost entirely responsible of the management of the whole system of protected areas. This arrangement facilitates good and effective management of protected areas. The state and impacts of NHS work and the PA system is documented and described in detail in the Annex III / B “Progress towards Targets of the Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA)” of Fourth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Finland.
- Natural resource indicators. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
- Sustainable development indicators. Finnish Environment Institute
- Results of the Evaluation of Threatened Species in Finland 2000 by species groups. Finnish Environmental Administration
- Threatened plants and fungi in Finland in 2000. Finnish Environmental Administration
- Threatened animals in Finland in 2000. Finnish Environmental Administration
- Threatened species in Finland. Finnish Environmental Administration
- Natural habitat types and species. Metsähallitus
- Pertti Rassi, Aulikki Alanen, Tiina Kanerva, Ilpo Mannerkoski (toim.) Suomen lajien uhanalaisuus 2000. Uhanalaisten lajien II seurantaryhmä.. (Available only in print, includes an English summary.)
- Protecting and monitoring natural habitats. Ministry of the Environment
- First assessment of threatened habitat types in Finland completed. Finnish Environmental Administration
- Assessment of threatened habitat types in Finland. Finnish Environmental Administration
- State of the Parks in Finland report (SOP). Metsähallitus
- Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE). Metsähallitus
The key drivers and pressures
Most key biodiversity related drivers in Finland relate to natural resource use. Population density is generally so low that direct impacts of population, infrastructure and urban sprawl remain mostly local. However, these may pose a threat to some habitat types that are more restricted in area. Shores and esker habitats, for example, have been preferred building sites for towns and cities, roads and railways as well as summer houses and have therefore been greatly altered.
Most important drivers and pressures pertain to forestry and agriculture. The total volume of forest resource use has been high and mostly growing. Total roundwood removals peaked in 2007. The use of intensive forestry measures, such as clear cuttings, soil preparation and artificial regeneration have all remained on a high level. However, some measures such as soil preparation practices have become less detrimental for biodiversity in recent years.
The number of active farms was nearly 130 000 in 1990 and only 64 000 in 2009. Simultaneously with this steep decline, the average size of farms has nearly doubled. The increase in the average farm size has generally lead to more intensive farming practices and to a decrease in the area of field margins and other extensively used agricultural areas. Both of these factors have had a negative effect on biodiversity. Another important threat to farmland biodiversity has been the cessation of traditional farming practices such as mowing of meadows or grazing in natural pastures. On the positive side, pressures related to fertilizer and pesticide use show decreasing trends.
Although first-time draining of mires was given up in early 2000s the impact of previous draining operations along with peat extraction and ditch clearing continue to compromise the functioning of mire ecosystems. Thus, although pressures on mire biodiversity do not continue on the same level as previously, there is no marked development in the opposite direction either. As a result, many mire species continue to decline.
The nutrient load carried by Finnish rivers into the Baltic Sea has decreased slightly since 1990 in the case of phosphorus, but for nitrogen the trend is less clear. Considering the state of especially the southern coastal waters the reductions in loading should be more pronounced. The pressures put on the marine environment by the release of harmful substances have clearly decreased in the case of organochlorines, but knowledge regarding hormonally active substances and several other "new" compounds is lacking. The volume of maritime traffic, especially that of oil shipping on the Gulf of Finland, continues to rise and increases the risk of oil spills.
One new issue requiring attention is the potential impacts of bio-energy crop cultivation and forest biofuel harvesting on biodiversity. Plans to sharply increase volume of tree stump and root collection from clear-cut areas or enhance reed canary grass cultivation need to be carefully evaluated from the point of view of biodiversity.
The 2020 outlook
Finland has no official assessment that could serve as an outlook for nature conservation and biodiversity. However, a summation of the national biodiversity indicator set yields the first signs of a potential slowing down of biodiversity loss in Finland. Most state and impact indicators show weak to moderate decreasing trends since 1990 whereas most showed moderate to strong decreasing trends before 1990. Therefore, in a business as usual scenario biodiversity is likely to continue decline until 2020, but at a slower pace than before. If the decline is to be stopped then the drivers of biodiversity change that relate mostly to forestry, agriculture and land-use need to be adjusted and the scale of conservation efforts (responses) needs to be stepped up.
Existing and planned responses
Finland became the first EU member state to renew its national biodiversity strategy in 2006 when the present National Strategy and Action Plan for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Finland 2006–2016 (NBSAP, also entitled as "Saving nature for people") was approved by The Council of State. Prior to its adoption, the results of the first NBSAP period 1997–2005 were evaluated in an interdisciplinary research project. The NBSAP process along with the fact that the present NBSAP includes the goal of halting biodiversity by 2010 has moved biodiversity higher up Finland's political agenda.
A cornerstone of Finland's NBSAP is sectoral integration. This means that conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is promoted as an integral part of planning and activities in all socio-economic sectors. Extensive co-operation is ensured between the ministries and other organisations working for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Finland. This also means that the objectives and actions largely are carried out within each sector, involving ministries, government agencies, local communities, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. An implementation and monitoring body chaired by the Ministry of the Environment has been set up and is to supervise and monitor the implementation of the NBSAP 2006–2016.
The Forest Biodiversity Programme METSO for the years 2008-2016 aims to halt the ongoing decline of forest biodiversity in Southern Finland. The programme is based on wide cooperation between the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Finnish Environment Institute and the Forest Development Centre Tapio.
On privately owned land all the conservation measures applied in the programme are based on voluntary participation by landowners. Landowners can propose their forests to be included in the METSO programme. If the sites fulfil the criteria set for inclusion into the programme and are selected, the landowners will receive compensation for the permanent or temporary protection of their land. Besides aiming to strengthen the network of protected areas in southern Finland, the programme includes measures to develop forestry methods used in commercially managed forests towards greater appreciation of biodiversity values.
The METSO Programme will also speed up the expansion of existing protected areas through protection of adjacent state-owned lands. The State owned Metsähallitus will also draft land use plans to prioritize the conservation of biodiversity in ecologically important areas. The first METSO programme was carried out in 2003 – 2007.
Good progress has been made in implementing the Natura 2000 network. Some 12% of Finland’s total surface area is now under protection, and if all Natura 2000 network sites are included, the total area under protection increases to 15%. The protected areas network is more representative in the north and east than elsewhere. There is still particularly a need to improve the ecological network in Southern Finland. Natura 2000 sites have notably enhanced the protection of marine habitats, which are still inadequately protected overall, however. In July 2006, the Kvarken Archipelago was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Finland’s Nature Conservation Act (1096/1996, latest amendment 591/2005) together with Nature Conservation Decree (160/1997, latest amendment 913/2005) were drawn up to meet the latest conservation needs and Finland’s obligations derived from EU legislation, especially from the EU Bird and Habitats Directives and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Act protects a number of natural habitats: herb-rich forests, hazel woods, black alder swamps, sandy shores, coastal meadows, dunes, juniper meadows, wooded meadows, and large trees in open landscapes. In addition to the Nature Conservation Act, seven key forest habitat types are protected by the Forest Act and four aquatic habitat types are protected under the Water Act.
Land use practices are still having a great impact on biodiversity, but their impact is slowly becoming lighter in many instances. New recommendations for forests management practices have been drafted for both private and state-owned forests. Natural resource plans and landscape ecological plans have been produced for all state-owned lands. The planning process has helped to identify and safeguard many valuable biotopes, and introduced new practices such as the maintenance of connectivity in commercially managed forests. New ambitious goals have been set for the amount of dead wood in both commercially managed and protected state-owned forests.
Although the total impact of agri-environment scheme is not yet sufficient in terms of safeguarding biodiversity, some agri-environment policy measures are having beneficial impacts. The management of traditional rural habitats is one of the most important measures. Management work is also carried out on state-owned land by Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services as well as many private individuals and societies on private land.
The Nature Conservation Decree obliges the Ministry of the Environment to organise the monitoring of native species and natural habitats. Some 60 national species monitoring schemes operating at various levels and scales are currently under way in Finland, with about a third of these schemes focusing on birds, and another third concerning mammals or insects.
Seven governmental research institutes together with regional authorities and NGOs are involved in species monitoring work in Finland. Monitoring schemes may be carried out by a single organisation, or jointly. Volunteer workers play a vital role in many schemes. According to some estimates, more than 70 % of the monitoring work is done by volunteers.
Data on the underwater biotopes and species are collected in The Finnish Inventory Programme for the Underwater Marine Environment (VELMU). The results will increase the knowledge of the underwater environment and its state thus facilitating and enabling the planning of nature protection measures and the exploitation of natural resources. VELMU is a cooperative programme that is coordinated by seven ministries and runs 2004 – 2014. Inventories cover the whole marine area surrounding Finland.
· National Forest Programme for 2015. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
· Metso 2003-2007. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of the Environment
· Nature conservation legislation. Ministry of the Environment
· Nature Conservation Act (1096/1996). FINLEX Data Bank of Finnish Legislation. Unofficial translation of the original Act.
· Booklet Everyman's rights (in English, German, French, and Russian) Finnish Environmental Administration
· Nature conservation, Ministry of the Environment
· Hunting Act. FINLEX Data Bank of Finnish Legislation. Unofficial translation of the original Act.
· Hunting Decree. FINLEX Data Bank of Finnish Legislation. Unofficial translation of the original Act.
· Nature Conservation Decree. FINLEX Data Bank of Finnish Legislation. Unofficial translation of the original Act.
· Protecting species. Ministry of the Environment
· Protected areas. Ministry of the Environment
· A Network of Protected Areas Conserves Finland’s Nature. Metsähallitus
· Species monitoring. Finnish Environment Institute