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Delays for flying squirrels, tools down for nesting birds

The Finnish construction sector needs better means to deal with conflicts between projects and wildlife habitats.

Rauman sataman edusta Vähä Järviluoto
The construction of the embankments as part of an extension of the Port of Rauma was stopped 10 metres short of the shore of the small island of Vähä Järviluoto. Image: Tapio Termonen / Yle
Yle News

Nowadays, the environmental impact of construction projects is carefully evaluated in advance and monitored while work is underway.

However, from time to time, projects run into surprise situations in which the needs of developers clash with nature conservation.

Zoning goes a long way to avoid these issues, but Anne Kumpula, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Turku, says new tools are needed to reconcile these tensions between commercial interests and the natural environment.

"We lack a flexible way, and sufficient sensitivity, to identify in advance how construction and nature can be combined," Kumpula says.

Port extension stopped for nesting birds

One example comes from Rauma on Finland's west coast where a project to expand port faculties has come to a standstill.

According to the plans, the Port of Rauma is to be expanded from the mainland out to sea to encompass a few small islets a few hundred metres offshore. A embankment road to the first islet has already been built, but to date falls short by about 10 metres.

The construction site was closed down by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment ( ELY) Centre of Southwest Finland to prevent disturbing cormorants and herons nesting on the islet.

The order was challenged in the Turku Administrative Court which backed the decision of the ELY Center. Now the port operator, Rauma Satama Oy, and the City of Rauma have applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.

Hard to plan

Planning the extension of the Port of Rauma was a long-term process that included all of the required permits being approved by the courts.

Competition between ports is fierce and any legal proceedings that delay upgrades are difficult not only for the port authority, but also for the rest of the local business community.

Article continues after the photo.

merimetsoja luodolla Vähä Järviluoto
The islet of Vähä Järviluoto is filled with cormorants. Image: Tapio Termonen / Yle

Timo Metsäkallas, technical director of Rauman Satama Oy, says that the planned extension is a very important issue for the port.

Rauma's port has reached full capacity and expansion is crucial. Right now, the negotiation situation is described by Metsäkallas as "difficult".

"There is no predictability in the use of the area. This may cause a loss of millions or even tens of millions of euros," Timo Metsäkallas says.

Losses not uncommon

One major construction project wrestling with similar issues in the capital region is the construction of a rail line running from Keilaniemi in Espoo to the eastern Helsinki district of Itäkeskus which has long fought to find a means of coexistence with flying squirrels.

The latest development in this case the Supreme Administrative Court has decided to allow the project to continue.

Hakkuut Patterimäen puistossa.
Controversial logging to make way for a rail line began east of Patterimäki in mid-February. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Work on the line is progressing normally now, but only after numerous changes in the project schedule along the way.

"The financial losses caused by them are quite significant," says project manager Ari Bergström.

According to current plans, traffic on the light rail line will begin in June 2024.

A need for new approaches

Anne Kumpula, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Turku, says that the concept of environmental values expanded very clearly in Finland in the 1990s.

Previous to that time, nature conservation was usually only associated with actual designated nature preserves. Since that time an appreciation of the role and value of the natural environment has been seen in a much broader perspective.

"Previously, only species were protected, now we also want to protect their nesting areas," Kumpula points out.

Professor Kumpula says that only a small portion of ongoing construction projects find themselves clashing with environmental issues. However, a number of controversial cases easily come to mind because they get a lot of media attention.

She sees detailed and proactive zoning as the most important means in making construction and natural values a better fit.

Disputes that end up in court are often long, drown-out affairs. One of the difficulties in dealing with cases is that they are often governed by a range of different laws.

Sparrows halt demolition

Sometimes construction projects are suspended, however on a voluntary basis without the need for legal challenges and courts. One good example can be seen in Pori.

liikekeskuksen purkutyömaa
Demolition of an old shopping center in Pori was suspended when locals noticed swallows building nests. Image: Tapio Termonen / Yle

The demolition of an old shopping centre in that city was quickly stopped when workers were informed of sparrow nests in the building.

The sparrows have been given the peace and quiet to raise their broods. It is not yet certain whether the demolition work will continue, but the city's nature conservation supervisor Kimmo Nuotio told Yle that it probably won't be long before the demolition team can get back to work.

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