Protected areas on state-owned lands and waters constitute a nationwide ecological network. Most of these areas are preserved as close to their natural state as possible. Statutory nature reserves, wilderness areas and areas reserved under various nature conservation programmes cover a total of almost 30 per cent, or 3,744,000 hectares, of state-owned land and water areas.
This network is expanding by hectares in multiple-use forests, as their most ecologically valuable habitats, such as old-growth forests, wooded heritage biotopes, fertile mires and the surroundings of small water bodies, are off limits to forestry measures or managed with utmost care. In 2016, these sites exceeded 187,000 hectares in area, or 5.4 per cent of the surface area of multiple-use forests.
In addition to securing biodiversity, multiple-use forests included 370,000 hectares of sites which are managed subject to restrictions - through selection cutting, for example - or which are fully excluded from all forest management measures in order to secure the preconditions for reindeer husbandry, the Sámi culture or recreational use.
In 2016, more than 560,000 hectares of sites in multiple-use forests were either partly or completely excluded from forestry activities. This is more than 16 per cent of the total area of multiple-use forests.
Biodiversity habitats in multiple-use forests tie in well with protected areas and therefore make a valuable contribution to the overall area. More than half of sites in multiple-use forests are in young forest heaths or include more nutrient-rich categories of vegetation, which, in turn, are least represented among the categories of vegetation in protected areas.
The interconnectedness of the ecological network measures the accessibility of an area from the perspective of its species. The closer a suitable habitat is located, the more likely it is that a species can successfully spread to that area. Adjacent patches of terrain with a similar habitat support the continuity of the species within them, providing the same resources and better interconnectedness for wildlife.
An analysis of interconnectedness conducted in Kainuu indicated that almost 70 per cent of species-rich, forest habitats are located within half a kilometre of the nearest nature conservation area. More than 96 per cent are located within two kilometres of nature conservation areas. For most species, half a kilometre is a sufficiently short distance to tie habitats together.
Four distances were used as criteria in the interconnectedness analysis: 200 m, 500 m, 2,000 m, and 5,000 m. Habitats are considered to be interconnected if they intersect each other at these distances.
Metsähallitus’ nature conservation professionals manage some of Finland’s most valuable natural environments and cultural attractions. Far-sighted conservation work has improved the integrity and effectiveness of the conservation network and helped to slow down the loss of biodiversity. Ecological management and restoration measures have created habitats for vulnerable species and promoted their survival. Nature conservation projects were carried out with a range of partners, based on funding from organisations such as the EU.
The Species-rich LIFE project, which ended in 2016, focussed on the management of 64 habitats containing valuable species, including herb-rich forests, deciduous forests, meadows and sunny grasslands. These are the most vulnerable habitats, with the richest variety of species, which would be at risk without management efforts. The project alleviated the pressure on species such as the near-threatened Clouded Apollo butterfly (Parnassius mnemosyne) and critically endangered flat bark beetle (Cucujus cinnaberinus). These two species are so-called umbrella species, whose conservation results in the protection of many other rare species and their habitats.
Long-term efforts to conserve the vulnerable white-backed woodpecker have borne fruit, slowly but surely, and the gradual growth of the population has begun. The mass migration of thousands of individuals from the east has boosted the local population. A record number of white-backed woodpeckers was observed in the 2016 surveys conducted by Metsähallitus, WWF Finland and BirdLife Finland: the territory of a pair was recorded at more than 250 observation sites, with 140 confirmed nests. The number of territories increased by almost 70 compared to previous years, and the previous record for nests, 125 in 2014, was clearly exceeded.
The nesting result for golden eagles was below average in 2016. Inspections of nests revealed around 360 territories inhabited by golden eagles. Of the total of 529 golden eagle territories identified in Finland, some 450 were occupied in the last five years. The main reason for the weak result was the poor nutritional situation, but bad weather conditions may also have played a part.
One of the aims of an extensive seven-year project, launched towards the end of the year for the management of the forest reindeer population, is to restore this native Finnish subspecies to its original habitats in the regions of Pirkanmaa and South Ostrobothnia. The entire population of this species, some 4,400 individuals, is only found in Finland and Russian Karelia. This EU-LIFE project is being implemented by Metsähallitus Game and Fisheries Services, alongside nine project partners.
Photo: Jari Salonen