The Development of Nature Conservation and Recreational Services
The first forests spared from fellings and the first ‘nature parks’ on Metsähallitus’ lands were established as early as in the beginning of the 1900s. These areas, among them the Pallas-Ounastunturi and Pyhähäkki areas, were untouched or important forests in terms of their natural beauty, and were preserved for research purposes as well as for posterity.
The first official record on establishing a national park can be found in a 1910 report of the Forest Conservation Commission. The first statutory national parks, however, were not formed until 1938. These parks, established in state lands, were defined under the administration of the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla). In 1956, seventeen national and nature parks were established in Metsähallitus’ lands. A second significant expansion to the conservation area network was carried out in 1982, when a total of 16 new national and nature parks were created. Metla’s national parks and its strict nature reserves, excluding the Koli National Park and the Malla and Vesijako nature reserves, were transferred to the ownership of Metsähallitus in 1992.
Since the 1970s, the development of Finland’s conservation area network has been based on conservation programmes aimed at preserving, for example, mires, herb-rich forests, old-growth forests and shore areas. A significant amount of the programme sites are located in areas owned by Metsähallitus. Metsähallitus currently administers a total of over 500 statutory nature conservation areas covering a combined area of ca. 17,000 km². The wilderness areas of Lapland (15,000 km² ), are also important in terms of nature conservation. Most of Metsähallitus’ conservation sites are a part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network.
Hiking became so popular after WWII that campsites with campfires, firewood and latrines were a necessity. In the 1970s Metsähallitus focused special attention on expanding the existing network of wilderness huts. The first official hiking areas in accordance with Finland’s Outdoor Recreation Act were established in 1979 in Kylmäluoma and Hossa. There are currently seven national hiking areas in the country.
The planning of national park management and utilisation began in 1974 with a national park working group set up by Metsähallitus. Building up of the service offering for hikers, such as routes, lean-tos and campfire sites, began in 1978 according to the first management and utilisation plans. National parks and a number of other nature conservation areas today offer an abundance of hiking and recreational possibilities across the country.
For many years, Metsähallitus’ nature conservation tasks were handled as a part of forestry operations. Since the latter part of the 1970s, personnel specialised in nature conservation tasks have gradually increased, and the Nature Conservation Area office was established in 1981. Ten years later the office was changed to Natural Heritage Services. The Natural Heritage Services business unit, an ever-expanding field of activity, received its own regional organisation in 1992. Nature conservation tasks and hiking services have been continuously developed to respond to the current conservation demands of nature’s biodiversity, as well as to the needs of the recreational use of nature and nature tourism.
Since autumn 2014, the unit is called Parks & Wildlife Finland.