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Nature win? Gov't protects 3k new hectares of forest

The Environment Ministry's centennial conservation programme made vast areas of Finland's natural environment protected by law. The move is at odds with the government's wide-scale felling schemes.

suolampare metsässä
Leväsenlampi, Pieksämäki. Nine hectares of forest were preserved here. Image: Mari Oja

The Ministry of the Environment conserved a total of 3,064 hectares of Finnish nature last year as part of Finland's centennial programme.

The original target of the "Nature gift" campaign was 1,800 hectares, a hundred per each of the country's 18 regions.

Forest-owners throughout the country created 170 new nature reserves as part of the national operation, either by donating or selling their parcels off to the government. Most of the completely new areas are in Northern Karelia (17 locations) and Northern Ostrobothnia (16 locations).

The Environment Ministry will match the volume of personal donations as part of its centennial pledge, doubling the amount of protected habitat.

All in all, the newly preserved land represents about a hundredth of a percent of Finland's more than 20 million hectares of natural forests and swamps. Only about 3 percent of Southern Finland's forests are protected. The European natural habitat mean is about 1.3 million hectares, making Finland the most heavily forested country in Europe.

Personal donations up, species endangered

While the preservation campaign was a success, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's government continues to actively reduce nature conservation funds and increase the commercial felling of natural forests. In the face of such politics, private forest-owners are rising up to save more and more precious natural areas.

The Luontolahjani campaign spurred many owners to protect places that had been respected and appreciated by locals for years or even generations.

The preserved areas include forests, swamps, archipelagic islands and two waterways newly dedicated to birdlife. Municipalities, companies, foundations and associations also took part in the preservation scheme.

Records were also broken during the campaign. The Finnish Nature Heritage Foundation was responsible for conserving some 540 hectares of natural areas, more than has ever been preserved in a single year in the organisation's 22-year history.

As positive as the news may appear, and even though the Natural Resources Institute says Finland's standing forests are growing faster than they are being felled, the species diversity of Finland's natural habitats is seriously threatened. More than 40 percent of forests more than 160 years old have been felled in the past 15 years, and the flora and fauna living in the ones that are left are at risk.

"There's a lot of work to be done because making money off the land is perceived as a tradition here," says chair Harri Hölttä of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. "Forests have been felled, swamps drained, fields cleared. That has created some dire circumstances."

The government has vowed to curb the impoverishment of domestic nature by 2020, but that may not come to pass.

"There's not enough money, and not enough time," Hölttä says. "The government wants to both protect and use the land, and these goals are at odds."

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