Safeguarding biodiversity

Metsähallitus is responsible for the protection, management and monitoring of valuable habitats and animal and plant species.

Biodiversity is safeguarded through long-term conservation work, collection of information and a broad range of active habitat management and restoration measures, which also include EU-funded partnership projects.

Nearly 39 per cent (3,523,000 hectares) of all land areas under the management of Metsähallitus and 7 per cent (238,000 hectares) of all water areas are statutory nature reserves and wilderness areas or areas reserved for the purpose in nature conservation programmes.

 

Metsähallitus must also give adequate consideration to the protection and appropriate strengthening of biodiversity as well as the other objectives set for the management, use and protection of forests, water bodies and other natural resources. Provisions on these general social obligations (in Finnish) are contained in the Act on Metsähallitus (234/2016).


Management and restoration work continued

The work to raise the protection level of species and habitats in multiple-use forests and nature reserves and to improve the status of the Natura 2000 and nature reserve network continued in 2017 in accordance with the objectives set for Metsähallitus. Measures were also taken to strengthen biodiversity in accordance with the general social obligations.


Most important habitat management and restoration measures



Multiple-use forests Nature reserves
Restored sites, ha 745 682

Mires 389 540

Heath forests 142

Game habitats 356
Management and restoration of valuable habitats, ha 2.5 351
Continuous management of heritage biotopes, ha 1 4,594
Species occurrence checks 6,409
Habitat inventories, ha 12,436
Controlled burning and burning of retention tree groups 19 12
Removal of alien species Giant hogweed Giant hogweed, Indian balsam, lupine and rugosa rose


General social obligations in multiple-use forests

Trees retained as part of forest management measures:

Rotten trees, number/ha 11.8

Mature aspen, m³/ ha 0.34
Preservation of nature sites as part of forest management measures, % 99
Updating of landscape ecological information Kainuu and Lapland
Total biodiversity inputs, EUR million 37.8

 


Ecological network helps to ensure biodiversity

The ecologically most important nature sites in multiple-use forests and the nature reserves located on state-owned land and water areas constitute a nationwide ecological network. A wide variety of natural habitats found in Finland are represented in the network and for this reason these sites and reserves are vital to preserving biodiversity in Finland, in terms of species and landscape.

In order to strengthen biodiversity, the information on the ecological network is continuously updated and reviewed. In 2017, the updating of the landscape ecological network covering multiple-use forests was launched in the regions of Kainuu and Lapland as a participatory planning process involving stakeholders. In the planning process, state-owned land is examined as a single entity comprising nature reserves and multiple-use forests.


Decaying wood and mature aspen crucial to preserving biodiversity

The amount of decaying wood (rotten trees) and the number of mature aspen trees are key to ensuring biodiversity in forests. About one quarter or nearly 4,000 of all species found in Finnish forests are directly or indirectly dependent on decaying wood. At the same time, mature aspen trees provide a habitat for a large number of endangered insects, fungi, mosses and lichens.

Changes in their key structural features are monitored in state-owned land on a yearly basis and qualitative indicators are used to describe their benefits.

Decaying wood
The long-term target is to have about 10 m3 of decaying wood on each hectare in multiple-use forests. This target can be achieved by leaving retention trees, by inducing gradual changes in the flora and fauna naturally occurring in the forests and by actively generating decaying wood.

State-owned land areas account for more than half of all decaying wood in Finnish forests (about 69 million cubic metres).

 


Amount of decaying wood in state-owned forest land, as listed in the 11th National Forest Inventory (NFI11)

 Amount of decaying wood

Most of the retention trees left standing at felling sites in multiple-use forests are living trees, which will gradually decay in a natural process. In 2017, the number of retention trees meeting the requirements laid out in forest certification schemes and the Metsähallitus’ Environmental Guidelines for Practical Forest Management was above targeted levels.


Number of retention trees left standing in felling areas in 2017



Number of trees left Target
Valuable retention trees (as defined in the Metsähallitus’ Environmental Guidelines for Practical Forest Management) per hectare 11.8 10
Retention trees (as defined in forest certification schemes) per hectare 18 10


Aspen
Mature aspen is relatively common at biodiversity sites of multiple-use forests and in nature reserves even though it occurs less frequently in state-owned land than in areas belonging to other forest owners. Aspen is less common in state-owned forests because they are located in areas that are, on average, poorer in nutrients than other sites.


Number of mature aspen trees, as listed in the 11th National Forest Inventory (NFI11)

Number of mature aspen trees

Few nature sites were affected by regeneration fellings
There are about 100,000 nature sites and about 30,000 habitats where endangered species occur. in the multiple-use forests of Metsähallitus. The nature sites are either completely excluded from fellings, or only selection cuttings or sites-specific forest management cuttings take place at them. Species occurring at the nature sites include critically endangered, vulnerable, regionally endangered and near threatened species.

The state of the nature sites and the species occurring in them are assessed each year by Metsähallitus Forestry Ltd in its environmental follow-up on timber harvesting. According to the 2017 environmental follow-up at regeneration sites, the characteristic features had been preserved in 99 per cent of the habitats at the sites.


Protection of endangered species

Metsähallitus is responsible for the protection of endangered species in state-owned land and water areas. It is also responsible for the nationwide protection of a number of endangered species. These are Saimaa ringed seal and Arctic fox (mammals) and golden eagle, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon and white-backed woodpecker (birds). Metsähallitus is also responsible for the monitoring of the white-tailed eagle populations in the former Provinces of Oulu and Lapland and the monitoring of the lesser white-fronted goose populations in Northern Lapland.


Saimaa ringed seal
Saimaa ringed seal is one the rarest seal species of the world. There are only between 370 and 380 of them in the world and the whole population lives in the Saimaa region. The aim in the Saimaa ringed seal conservation strategy is to increase the population to 400 by the year 2025.

Effective conservation measures have already brought results and the population continued to grow during 2017. According to the monitoring of dens by Metsähallitus, the winter population of Saimaa ringed seal has increased by between 10 and 20 and the total is now between 370 and 380. The number of seal pups born is estimated at 83.

An important factor contributing to the growth in the population are the artificial snow drifts, which were built as part of the Saimaa Seal LIFE project in a joint effort by the University of Eastern Finland, WWF Finland and volunteers. A total of 280 drifts were built in 2017 and 70 seal pups were born inside them.

A total of 38 Saimaa ringed seals were found dead in 2017. Of this number, 14 were seal pups found dead in the dens, seven were seal pups or young adults that had been caught in nets and fish traps, and 17 were adults found dead on the shores, in water or in the dens.

Arctic fox
A total of 227 dens of the critically endangered Arctic fox were checked in Northern Lapland in 2017. There were no signs of any litters even though one active den was found in Enontekiö. The most recent verified sighting of an Arctic fox litter in Finland is from 1996.

In addition to the active den, there were also several verified sightings of Arctic foxes and a number of unverified track sightings in Enontekiö and Utsjoki. Red fox competes with the Arctic fox for the same breeding places and food and for this reason red foxes were hunted in the Interreg project ‘Felles Fellrev Nord’ focusing on the protection of the Arctic fox.

Golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, gyrfalcon and peregrine falcon
A total of almost 700 nests of golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, gyrfalcon and peregrine falcon were checked during 2017. New nests were also sought.

Under a Government decree, the monitoring of the nesting of golden eagle is the responsibility of Metsähallitus and the purpose is to ensure that the damage caused by golden eagle to reindeer husbandry can be compensated.

The white-tailed eagle was the only species in this group with good nesting results, and the nesting results of the other bird species were weak or very weak. Peregrine falcons had fewer than 200 chicks for the first time since the year 2000 and none of the gyrfalcon nests checked were active. Weather and the poor food situation in the winter and in the spring were the main reasons for the poor nesting results.

Nest checks

Species Territories occupied Successful nestings Chicks at ringing age
White-tailed eagle (Northern Finland) 109 59 87
Golden eagle 373 94 98
Peregrine falcon 159 88 193
Gyrfalcon 14 0 0

 


Conservation work in cooperation with partners

In 2017, there were also EU-funded conservation projects carried out with partners.

The purpose of the nationwide Light & Fire LIFE project (2014–2020) was to manage light and fire habitats through restoration burning, clearing of trees, translocation of endangered species and removal of alien species. A total of 87 hectares were treated with restoration burning at ten Natura sites, environmental management measures were carried out at 13 light and fire sites and alien species were removed from a number of sandy beaches. Furthermore, pasqueflowers and sand pinks as well as examples of the critically endangered baton blue were moved to habitats that had undergone management measures. The five partners in the project also carried out environmental management measures in accordance with the project plan.

In the WildForestReindeerLIFE population management project (2016–2023), the first wild forest reindeers were moved to enclosures at Seitseminen and Lauhavuori. The purpose of the project is to reintroduce the wild forest reindeer to its original habitats in Pirkanmaa and South Ostrobothnia.

The first wild forest reindeers born in captivity will probably be released to the wild in 2019. This EU-LIFE project is carried out by Wildlife Service in cooperation with nine project partners.

Photo: Mikko Rautiainen