Habitats Management and Restoration at Metsähallitus

Halting biodiversity loss in state-owned areas is one of Metsähallitus’ strategic objectives. In this work, restoration of valuable habitats and ecological management are important tools.

The habitats in Finland’s protected areas show great diversity: freshwater, marine and coastal habitats, semi-natural grasslands, boreal forests, eskers, southern peatlands, northern peatlands and fells. Most of the protected areas are in a natural state. However, in protected areas that have previously been in commercial use, habitat function and structure have often deteriorated, and active restoration and management measures are needed.

Habitat restoration and ecological management include many measures aiming to improve the ecological status and representativeness of sites. A single measure can trigger development towards a natural state in a habitat, or speed up its recovery. Restoration is usually a one-off measure targeted at areas where it will produce maximum benefits for biodiversity.

Ecological management means reviving or maintaining a biotope or habitat suitable for a protected species. It is often necessary to repeat management measures from time to time to enable the typical features of a habitat to develop or a species to build up its population. Ecological management focuses on such biotopes as herb-rich forests, sun-exposed environments and deciduous forests. Invasive alien species, including the Himalayan balsam, and harmful small carnivores, such as mink, are increasingly eliminated, especially to safeguard species in protected areas.

Metsähallitus has managed and restored protected areas over an area of approx. 6,000 hectares every year. In multiple-use forests such habitats as mires have been restored over approx. 660 hectares per year. Smaller sites, for example streams, are also restored every year.

The results of a conservation status assessment of species and habitats carried out in 2019 are a cause for concern, and active measures to expand habitats and strengthen populations are urgently needed. The Government Programme contains significant objectives related to improving this situation.

As from 2020, the habitat programme Helmi sets targets for mire protection and restoration, restoration of bird wetlands and other wetland areas, restoration and management of traditional rural environments, management of forest habitats as well as the restoration of shoreline and aquatic environments. Metsähallitus is a key implementer of the Helmi programme. Additionally, the Government’s new ownership policy on Metsähallitus sets for the first time a target for enhancing carbon sinks and carbon sequestration. In line with this policy, there now is a major focus in Metsähallitus’ multiple-use forests on active ecological management, climate sustainability and taking recreational use into account.

Long experience and new cooperation

In the late 1980s, Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland carried out the first restoration measures in Finnish protected areas. We thus have over 30 years of experience of forest and mire restoration. The methods of planning, implementing and monitoring the measures have been improved constantly in cooperation between professionals of the practical work and researchers. By monitoring the impacts of restoration and ecological management, we gather information on how well the objectives of biotope improvement are achieved. The ELO working group, which brings together restoration experts from different organisations, has been an important cooperation forum.

Wildlife Service Finland has restored game and fish habitats in Metsähallitus’ multiple-use forests and waters since 2007. Its measures have included mire restoration to create habitat for the willow grouse and bean goose, restoration of brood habitats for grouse, building of wetlands with open water areas for waterfowl as well as restoration of streams and rapids.

Metsähallitus Forestry Ltd promotes biodiversity in areas used for commercial forestry, among other things by preserving retention trees, making artificial snags and leaving all deadwood in the forest. Ecological management measures, including mire restoration, management of sun-exposed environments and burning of retention tree groups, are carried out as part of forestry operations. Biodiversity in protected areas is supported in connection with forestry operations by diverting water to mires which have dried out or are at risk of drying. Areas which promote the preservation and spread of species have been excluded from forestry use in landscape ecological planning.

Many of the management measures have been completed in cooperation between Parks & Wildlife Finland, Wildlife Service Finland and Metsähallitus Forestry Ltd. The goal is to step up collaboration between these units of Metsähallitus, both in protected areas and the multiple-use forests surrounding them. This is also in line with the Government’s ownership policy for 2020–2024. Carbon neutrality, halting biodiversity loss and sustainable forestry are key objectives.

LIFE funding benefits nature and entrepreneurs

Significant restoration and ecological management measures have been implemented with the help of LIFE funding from the European Union. It has been used to restore mires, wetlands, freshwater habitats, sun-exposed environments, semi-natural grasslands, herb-rich forests, Baltic coastal habitats as well as habitats for the flying squirrel and insect species listed in the Habitats Directive. Since 1995, Parks & Wildlife Finland and Wildlife Service Finland has been involved in over 50 LIFE projects, coordinating almost a half of them.

The funding for LIFE conservation projects comprises on average 25% of central government and 75% of external funding. Millions of euros of the funding are spent on ecological management services outsourced to entrepreneurs. The overall economic impacts of the LIFE projects led by Parks & Wildlife Finland which began after 2013 have been approx. EUR 25 million annually. In 2021, Metsähallitus was coordinating eight projects, in which cooperation both between Metsähallitus units and with partner organisations is extensive.

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Collecting and utilizing data

It is important to have up-to-date and high-quality data on protected areas. In habitat type inventories, Metsähallitus collects data on vegetation types, Natura 2000 habitat types, living trees and dead wood, and needs for restoration and management measures. Based on this information, the restoration measures and nature management can be targeted at areas where they are needed.

The biotope data provides basic information for management planning. Furthermore, it serves as important background data for evaluating threatened habitat types in Finland as well as the conservation status of habitats referred to in the Habitats Directive.

The biotope data as well as other data on protected areas in Finland is stored in ULJAS geographic information system owned by Metsähallitus, Parks & Wildlife Finland and also used by other environmental authorities. ULJAS has several subsystems, including a subsystem for protected area biotope information (SAKTI) and a species information database (LajiGIS). 

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