The Evolution of Protected Areas in Finland

Nature protection has long traditions in Finland. Punkaharju Esker Nature Reserve is one of the oldest protected areas in the world, as this beautiful ridge between the two large lakes in South-eastern Finland was granted the status of a Crown Park Reserve as early as in 1843. The area was managed until the 1920s by Metsähallitus (founded in 1859), then by the Finnish Forest Research Institute and again by Metsähallitus from 2008 onwards.

From the Middle Ages until 1809, Finland was a part of Sweden. The oldest directives concerning valuable sites in Sweden were given as early as in 1666, when prehistoric sites and other historical monuments were declared to be under government protection.

During the period from 1809 to 1917, Finland was an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. Finland had its own government and legislation. There was no nature protection legislation proper, but the governors of the provinces had the right to preserve areas from forestry, for example.

In the first half of the 1800s, Punkaharju Ridge and Imatrankoski Rapids started to gain in popularity as tourist attractions. By the end of the 19th century, they had also become national landscapes praised by artists. When the artists found the forested hills and breathtaking lookout points of the Koli mountains in North Karelia, Koli soon became the very image of the Finnish national landscape. The government bought the hilltops of Koli in 1907 to protect them.

In Finland, as in Sweden, the initiative for more comprehensive nature and wildlife protection came from the famous explorer, the Finnish-born scientist A. E. Nordenskiöld in 1880. In the following years several proposals to establish nature reserves were made.

In 1912 Metsähallitus placed under protection 10 square kilometres of forest in Central Finland in Pyhä-Häkki, which became a national park in 1956. In 1914 Metsähallitus made a motion, and the governor of the Province of Lapland decided to protect the area now known as Malla Strict Nature Reserve, in the north westernmost extension of Finland. Malla was the first area in Finland to be established as a protected area with special regulations.

When Finland became independent in 1917, the Nature Protection Act was decreed, and it became effective in 1923. Nature conservation was centred on protecting individual species by law, different types of statutes concerning hunting and fishing and protecting natural monuments and establishing some protected areas

It took 15 years before the first national parks and other protected areas were established.

The First National Parks of Finland established in 1938

Finland got its first four national parks in 1938. Pallas-Ounastunturi National Park and Pyhätunturi National Park were fell areas, and the other two were bird islands. Heinäsaaret National Park was situated on the Arctic Ocean coastline in Petsamo in the north easternmost Lapland. The island of Stora Träskö was part of Porkkala National Park, off the coast of the cape Porkkala in Kirkkonummi, some 50 km southwest of Helsinki. The national parks were managed by the Finnish Forest Research Institute. At the same time the Strict Nature Reserves of Kutsa, Pisavaara, Malla, Pääskyspahta, Pummanki and Hiisjärvi were also established.

Finland lost most of these areas to the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939–1940 and the Continuation War of 1941–1944. Many of them were situated in north-eastern Lapland. After WW II only Pallas–Ounastunturi and Pyhätunturi national parks as well as Malla and Pisavaara strict nature reserves were situated in areas that were not lost. The area of Stora Träskö in Porkkala is nowadays a part of a nature reserve, but it is not a national park, as it does not meet the national parks size standards of today. Heinäsaaret Islands are now part of the Russian Kandalaksha Strict Nature Reserve. The national parks and strict nature reserves suffered only minor damages during the war.

The first national parks after WW II were established in 1956. They are Lemmenjoki, Liesjärvi, Linnansaari, Oulanka, Petkeljärvi, Pyhä-Häkki and Rokua National Parks. Eleven new national parks were established in 1981.

National nature conservation programmes and their additions were approved between 1978 and 1996. The Wilderness Act which constituted that 12 wilderness areas were established in Lapland came into effect in 1991. In 1998 Finland started to build its Natura 2000 network. It is made up, for the most part, of already established protected areas, wilderness areas and national hiking areas. Finland’s Natura 2000 network also includes many nature conservation programme areas.

Nowadays there are 40 national parks and 19 strict nature reserves in Finland and a large number of other protected areas.

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