Semi-natural grasslands like meadows and pastures are the most diverse habitats in Finland: they are valuable biotopes for many rare and threatened vascular plant, insect and bird species. They are also very important for rural landscapes. Consequently, the management of semi-natural grasslands and natural pastures is among the most important actions for maintaining the biodiversity of Finnish nature.
Over the last century, changes in farming and forestry practices have reduced the surface area of grassland habitats. Of the grassland and pasture areas found in Finland in the 1950s, only one percent remains. This is why semi-natural grasslands are nationally assessed as the most threatened habitat group in Finland, with nearly all its habitat types being critically endangered.
Protected areas have a key role in preserving habitats and species as well as cultural and landscape values. Currently, 12,000 hectares of semi-natural grasslands are managed annually in protected areas (5,000 ha in state-owned conservation areas and 7,000 in privately-owned areas). The goal is to increase the area significantly both in protected areas and elsewhere in the years to come and to improve the status of semi-natural grasslands by targeting additional management measures at the most valuable locations and improving the quality of management.
Safeguarding the precious habitats
Metsähallitus, Parks & Wildlife Finland manages the state owned semi-natural grasslands, with the help from livestock owners and volunteers. We also participate in organizing, planning and starting management of private-owned conservation areas together with the landowners and the regional Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.
At the beginning, managing semi-natural grasslands is time consuming and labour intensive. The first step in the restoration of overgrown old meadows and pastures is clearing trees and bushes. Subsequently, annual maintenance is important to prevent open areas from being overgrown. The easiest and often the most efficient way to manage semi-natural grassland is to fence the area and manage it as a pasture if livestock is available. Livestock farmers play a key role in the management of semi-natural grasslands, also in protected areas. They are eligible for agri-environmental payments to cover some of the management costs.
Grazing sheep, cows or horses in a small area may not be possible, and such areas must be managed by mowing. Volunteers have an important role in restoration and maintenance. Several volunteer camps are arranged every year by non-governmental organisations and Metsähallitus. The concept of ‘Sheep shepherd weeks’ has become very successful in helping to manage very remote sites. The shepherds help farmers in herding and watering the animals while enjoying an adventure holiday at a unique destination.
Keeping up the good work
In several habitat types, the impact of grazing and mowing on vegetation is monitored on new and old management sites and in unmanaged areas. The initial results indicate that management has had a positive impact on the representativeness of semi-natural grassland habitats and on populations of vascular plant and bird species. However, additional measures are needed to start restoration and annual management on unmanaged sites as well as to achieve good quality management and meet the conservation objectives on managed sites.
The government of Finland has started a habitats programme, led by the Ministry of the Environment, to strengthen Finland’s biodiversity. The programme, called Helmi, aims to rehabilitate 15,000 hectares of semi-natural grasslands biotopes by the end of 2023. The state of semi-natural grasslands is being surveyed and the most valuable sites are being identified. The management and rehabilitation measures will be targeted based on the results of the survey.
Semi-natural grasslands have also been the focus of several LIFE projects. These habitats are currently included in CoastNet LIFE Project.
- Raatikainen, K. (ed.) 2018: From Goals to Action! Guidelines for Semi-natural Grasslands until 2025 in Finland´s Protected Areas (julkaisut.metsa.fi)
- Kontula, T. & Raunio, A. 2019: Threatened Habitat Types in Finland 2018 – Red List of Habitats Results and Basis for Assessment. Finnish Environment Institute and Ministry of the Environment. (hdl.handle.net/10138/308426)
- Volunteer shepherds help habitat conservation
- Helmi habitats programme (www.ym.fi)
- CoastNet LIFE Project