Finnish Forest Research Institute  Metla
Press release 07.09.2006

Maintaining biodiversity creates positive social impact at local level

Policies prepared for maintaining biodiversity create a positive impact if the benefits are locally focused. The policy instruments can have this effect if, for example, they consolidate and diversify the local business activities.

The social impacts of maintaining biodiversity will also include local communities, such as the local inhabitants and entrepreneurs in tourism. The key question is what kind of possibilities the biodiversity sites could offer for local communities. Do they create an attractive environment with beautiful sceneries and reviving capercaillie populations, bringing new tourism jobs and inhabitants to the village? When the resources and benefits are focused on local players, they have better chances to act and build social wellbeing.

Local communities (villages, for example) interact with wider entities. Preliminary results gained from the Mosse - Biodiversity and Monitoring Programme indicate that this interaction does not always occur without problems, because the regional conservation authority and the local forest owner may have different opinions about, for example, the characteristics of nature that need to be preserved. Forest owners may desire protection for cultural landscapes rather than identifying with the Metso programme’s conservation criteria emphasizing biology and ecology. However, since the economic incentives are based on criteria created by specialists, the views of the administrative bodies and the forest owners’ local knowledge must still be addressed to reach consensual understanding.

A case study performed by Metla and the University of Tampere showed that a disturbance caused to the forest economy, in the form of omitted management of young forests, may turn out to be a resource instead of a problem: forest owners’ heating enterprises utilized the excessive wood material in their energy production. This change had a positive social impact, because the forest owners were able to increase their decision-making capacity on the use of natural resources.

Social sustainability can be investigated by studying the stability of the socio-ecological system of, for instance, a village and forest areas around it. The basis for social sustainability lies on how well the socio-ecological system can adapt to changes (such as conservation decisions) and create ways to develop new operational possibilities. The facilitator (the regional Forestry Centres or the regional Environmental Agency) should be able to allocate the benefits and resources gained from conservation of biodiversity at the local level. If only secondary benefits are left at the local level, the situation will not arouse much permanent, new business activity.

The results were published in the METSO Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland research report.

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