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State of Finland's Forests 2012: Criterion 4 Biological diversity

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Spring pascue flower (Pulsatilla vernalis) is a rare vascular plant in Finland, and protected by the nature conservation decree.

Safeguarding and protecting biodiversity of forests (B.6)

The biological diversity of forest ecosystems encompasses 1) the abundance and diversity of different forest habitats, communities of organisms, and ecosystems; 2) the abundance and diversity of forest organisms; and 3) the diversity within the genotype of each organism.

The principal instruments for safeguarding biodiversity are protection of the most valuable forest ecosystems through the establishment of protected areas, and the management of forests at stand and regional level in a way that takes biological diversity into account.

International and national agreements and programmes

Finland has ratified several international conventions whose signatories are committed to promoting the protection of biological diversity and sustainable management. These conventions include the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern convention 1979), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD 1992), the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy of the co-operation process between European environmental ministries (PEBLDS 1995), and the resolutions of the Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe from 1993 to 2011 (FOREST EUROPE).

The first extensive national programme addressing biological diversity was the National Action Plan for Biodiversity in Finland 1997–2005. The National Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Finland 2006–2016 was adopted by the Government in 2006. One of the aims of this strategy is to halt the decline of biodiversity in Finland and establish a favourable development of biodiversity in the long term. The strategy was updated in 2011.

Since the 1970s, the Government of Finland has adopted seven programmes for the conservation of nature covering national parks and strict nature reserves, mires, waterfowl habitats, eskers, herb-rich forests, shorelines and old-growth forests. The programmes set out the objectives for the establishment of conservation areas. The degree of implementation of the programmes varies: the programme for national parks and strict nature reserves is almost completed, while there is still work to be done on, for example, the old-growth forest conservation programme. Compensation issues concerning private lands and conservation programmes have been almost fully resolved. In the next decade, programme sites in State ownership and earmarked for protection will be converted into statutory conservation areas totalling about 0.7 million hectares, or 16% of the overall area target for conservation programmes.

The Natura 2000 network safeguards the biotopes and habitats of species defined in the Habitats and Birds Directives of the EU. The European Commission has accepted the Natura 2000 areas of Finland: the alpine zone areas in 2003 and those of the boreal zone in 2005. With the exception of the northernmost parts of Lapland, the majority of areas in Finland belong to the boreal zone. The majority of the Natura areas – 97% – are nature conservation areas established under national decisions, or they are part of national conservation programmes or areas protected in some other way.

The Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland 2008–2016 (METSO programme) is implemented along with Finland’s National Forest Programme, and its objective is to es tablish the positive trend of forest biodiversity by conservation methods voluntary for forest owners. The total target for areas voluntarily offered for conservation by the landowners is 96,000 hectares by 2016. Moreover, the total area of sites safeguarding biodiversity in private forests will be increased by 82,000 to 173,000 hectares, including 400 to 800 nature management projects.

Legislation

The administrative and executive powers in safeguarding biological diversity belong to the Ministry of the Environment and in part also to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The practical execution is the responsibility of the Regional Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, as well as the Finnish Forestry Centre. In matters pertaining to biodiversity, all these centres are under the performance guidance of the two ministries mentioned above.

According to the forest law the natural characteristics of habitats of special importance, such as this small waterway in forests, must be preserved during silvicultural works and fellings.

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The central legal instruments safeguarding forest biodiversity are the Nature Conservation Act, the Act on Wilderness Reserves and the Forest Act. The Nature Conservation Act aims to achieve and maintain a favourable level of protection for habitats and wild species. To achieve this aim, nature conservation areas can be established to conserve protected habitats, three of which are forests: wild woods rich in noble broadleaves, hazel woods and common alder woods. The act also includes provisions on threatened species, their protection and international trade in them.

Under the Act on Wilderness Reserves, 12 wilderness areas have been established in northern Finland. Some of the areas are completely protected from harvesting, while limited forestry is allowed in others.

The Forest Act defines habitats of special importance to forest biodiversity – areas whose natural features must be conserved. These habitats are clearly delimited and generally fairly small areas in natural or semi-natural state, including the following: 1) the immediate surroundings of springs, brooks, rivulets constituting a permanent water flow channel, and small ponds; 2) herb-rich and grassy hardwood-spruce swamps, ferny hardwood-spruce swamps, eutrophic paludal hardwood-spruce swamps, and eutrophic fens located to the south of the Province of Lapland; 3) fertile patches of herb-rich forest; 4) heathland forest islets in undrained peatlands; 5) gorges and ravines; 6) steep bluffs and the underlying forest; and 7) sandy soils, exposed bedrock, boulder fields, peatlands with sparse tree stand and flood meadows which are less productive than nutrientpoor heathland forests.

According to the national land use guidelines (VAT 2000) adopted by the Government under the Land Use and Building Act, land use planning is used to promote the conservation of the biodiversity in areas which are important for nature and susceptible to damage. Another aim is to preserve ecological corridors between conservation areas. One particular aim is to prevent the fragmentation of large forest areas by other land use without a special reason.

Under the Act on Environmental Impact Assessment Procedure and the Act on the Assessment of the Impacts of the Authorities’ Plans, Programmes and Policies on the Environment, the impacts of certain plans, programmes and policies on biological diversity must be assessed.

The Act on Metsähallitus defines the tasks of Metsähallitus as including the sustainable and profitable management, use and conservation of natural resources and other property under its care. There are various possible uses for State land, including nature conservation, forestry, recreational use, nature tourism, property development and land extraction. The use of land and water areas under the care of Metsähallitus is planned in regional natural resources planning (see the fact box on Forest planning).

Financial instruments

The Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland 2008–2016 (METSO) offers voluntary measures for forest owners to protect their forests or to enhance natural values of the forests by management and receive compensation for these activities. The options the METSO programme offer are permanent protection, temporary protection and management of forest habitats. Permanent protection can be implemented by establishing a private conservation area, by selling the area to the State or by exchanging the area with the State. If protection is agreed on a temporary basis, an environmental support agreement is made for the area in accordance with the Act on the Financing of Sustainable Forestry for a period of ten years at a time. Typical sites covered by environmental support include valuable habitats protected under the Forest Act. With the help of the support, the area protected can form a more extensive entity than what is protected by the law. Temporary protection can also be implemented under the Nature Conservation Act, in which case the maximum term of the protection agreement is 20 years. Management of forest habitat can be maintaining or enhancing natural values, or restoring the forest to a more natural state. The management work is planned in cooperation with the forest owner, and the management will not cause costs to the forest owner.

The Act on the Financing of Sustainable Forestry promotes sustainable forest management by granting government support for private forestry measures which aim at the maintenance of forest biodiversity and ecosystems. Financing is also used to support projects for the management of forest ecosystems. These include ecosystem surveys, management and restoration of habitats extending over the area of several forest holdings, and landscape management projects.

Special support under the agri-environmental support system for sites other than agricultural land is available for farmers who undertake to maintain traditional biotopes, wetlands, or forest edges bordering on fields.

Under the Nature Conservation Act, landowners are compensated for the establishment of conservation areas on their lands. A conservation area can be established in three ways: 1) by establishing a private conservation area under the Nature Conservation Act, in which case the area remains property of the landowner, who receives compensation which corresponds to the economic loss caused by conservation; 2) by purchasing the area for the State; or 3) by exchanging the area for an area owned by the State.

Active information services

Safeguarding forest biodiversity receives special emphasis in all forest management recommendations and guidelines prepared for the various actors in forestry. Along with promoting wood production, safeguarding biodiversity is an integral part of forest planning undertaken on different levels and in different ways. The requirements regarding voluntary forest certification also contain several measures designed to safeguard biodiversity, such as increasing the number of prescribed burnings, leaving retention trees in forests and safeguarding the characteristic features of valuable habitats.

A National evaluation of threatened species has been conducted four times by the Ministry of the Environment, in 1983– 85, 1987–91, 1997–2000 and 2007-2010. The last two evaluations are based on the IUCN criteria by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and therefore the results from these evaluations are comparable. The evaluations produce information about the number of threatened species, the causes of decline, risks, and proposals for improving their protection.

One key way of safeguarding forest biodiversity outside conservation areas is to maintain the natural characteristics of valuable habitats. Habitats protected under the Nature Conservation Act have been mapped by the regional Environment Centres. Surveys of habitats of special importance mentioned in the Forest Act and of other forest habitats are conducted by Forestry Development Centre Tapio, the Finnish Forestry Centre, Metsähallitus and the forest industry companies. A nationwide report was completed in 2005.

Finland’s first assessment of natural habitat types was conducted by the Finnish Environment Institute in 2008. The purpose of this assessment was to find out how habitat types had changed due to human action or other reasons over the past 50 years. Two thirds of the 76 forest habitat types were considered to be threatened on the basis of qualitative or quantitative changes. These habitat types are typically small in size. The Nature Conservation Act and the Forest Act specifically list the habitat types and habitats identified as having special importance that must be left untouched in forest management. The expert groups also compiled the first list of the habitat types for which Finland has a particular international responsibility.

The preservation of biological diversity in private forests, forests owned by corporations and those administered by Metsähallitus has been monitored regularly since 1995 in conjunction with the monitoring of the quality of nature management in commercial forests by Forestry Development Centre Tapio. The National Forest Inventories conducted by the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) also produce data on forest biodiversity.

Forest tree breeding and the management of the genetic resources of forest trees are the responsibility of the Finnish Forest Research Institute. The Institute maintains a register on forest genetics which covers information about selected trees and plus trees, experimental plantations, gene reserve forests and gene resource archives. The purpose of long-term forest tree breeding programmes is to identify and enrich genes that influence desirable properties in tree species, and also to maintain a sufficient level of genetic diversity in the material being bred. Compliance with the Act on Trade in Forest Reproductive Material is monitored by the subsection for forest reproductive material of the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira to ensure that the basic genetic material used to produce reproductive material for forests is of a high quality.

In addition to universities, forest biodiversity is studied in research institutes operating under the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The principal research organisations are the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).

Steered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Biodiversity and Monitoring Programme MOSSE was implemented in 2003–2006, and it contributed to the informational needs during the preliminary phase of the METSO programme (2002–2007). The research programme of deficiently known and threatened forest species (PUTTE) was coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment, and it was implemented during 2003–2007. The second stage of this programme started in 2009, and it includes 10 research projects. A large research programme of the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla), Safeguarding forest biodiversity – policy instruments and socio-economic impacts (TUK, 2005–2010), was completed in 2010, but the Institute continues to monitor the METSO programme and related research with help of separate funding.

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  Updated: 21.03.2012 /MLier |  Photo: Erkki Oksanen, Metla, unless otherwise stated | Copyright Metla | Feedback