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Top five mistakes newbies should avoid in Finnish forests

Antti Kolppo / Yle
Ignorance and indifference are the main reasons people break the rules.

In Finland and the wider Nordics, public access to open land is much broader than in many other countries. As people fan out across the forests in search of seasonal berries and mushrooms, it’s important to know what's allowed and what's not. Yle News compiled a list of five common mistakes novices often make when they take to the wild.

The extensive freedom to roam for recreation or exercise, even to camp, fish, boat and pick nature's bounty, known in Finnish as "jokamiehenoikeus"  and "allemansrätten" in Swedish (literally "everyman's right") also comes with responsibilities.

Chief among them are a duty to refrain from disturbing others and to avoid harming the natural environment, wildlife, domestic animals or crops. Although information about Everyman's right is available, there are five common mistakes that people frequently make when they venture into the great outdoors.

Anne Rautiainen, an expert with Suomen Latu, the Outdoor Association of Finland, travels the country explaining these rights to interested audiences. She said that some people unwittingly abuse their right to roam either through ignorance of the law or because of indifference.

According to Rautiainen, the five most common mistakes that lead to abuse of the principle can be avoided by learning a few simple rules.

1. Making an open fire without permission

Makkaratikut nuotion ympärillä
Image: Minna Heikura / Yle

"We tend to think that a hike includes a sausage and it needs to be heated up. Making an open fire on private land without the permission of the owner is, however, not allowed," Rautiainen pointed out.

2. Breaking off branches

Image: Tuomo Häkkinen

"This includes gathering pussy willows and Christmas pine boughs. Living trees may not be cut down or damaged, nor is it allowed to take away even dry or fallen wood."

3. Gathering moss and lichen

Jäkälämattoa Tupavuorella.
Image: Yle

"Womens' magazines publish instructions for making Christmas wreaths and get people excited about collecting what they need without permission. Lichen and moss may not be gathered, even for making wreaths without the landowner's permission. Fallen pinecones and acorns, on the other hand, may be gathered."

4. Collecting chaga mushrooms

Chaga mushrooms can be detahced whole from the host tree or broken off in pieces and dried. Image: Yle / Kati Jurkko

"Chaga mushrooms may not be collected since it harms the living tree. Red Polypores [which grow on tree stumps] may be gathered." The chaga is a well-known sight in many forests; resembling charcoal, it is a parasite that attaches itself to birch and other trees.

5. Littering

Muovipurkkeja ja muuta roskaa rannalla.
Image: Olli Törönen / Yle

"Not a little litter, nor a lot of litter, not a sweet wrapper, nor a stove should be left behind, not even by the landowner," Rautiainen stressed.

Finland's Ministry of the Enviromnent has developed a primer for people who are not familiar with the principle. It offers guidelines for everything from overnight stays in the great outdoors, rules for dealing with protected species - including partial lists of protected plants, walking pets in open forests, organising public events in the widlnerness, fishing, hunting and water activities and the rights of private landowners.

Edit: This article was originally published in 2013, it has been upated with information about the Ministry of the Environment's handbook on Everyman's right.