In Finland, more forest is under strict conservation than in any other EU Member State: 7.6% of the total forest area. This is equal to over half of the land area of Belgium. Conservation is focused on state-owned forests in northern Finland, where 13.4% of forests are protected. In southern Finland this figure is 1.4%.
Strictly protected forests are excluded from commercial use. Natural forest habitats may be managed and restored in these areas. These forests include nature reserves, national parks, forests protected under conservation programmes and Natura 2000 areas, which are protected by the Nature Conservation Act. Nature conservation areas on private lands and parts of wilderness areas to be are conserved in their natural states are also under strict conservation.
European-level cooperation on biodiversity
According to a definition by European forestry ministers, sustainable forest management is the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.
The Finnish forest industry promotes forestry that is economically, ecologically, socially and culturally sustainable by, for example, protecting biodiversity, safeguarding ecological functions of forest ecosystems and through maintaining and furthering forest inventories and wood production.
Finland’s Natura 2000 network is part of a nature conservation network that spans the entire area of the European Union. 97% of Finnish Natura zones are nationally established nature conservation areas, included in national conservation programmes or otherwise protected. The European Commission has approved of the Finnish Natura 2000 programme, which proves that the level of conservation here is favourable and the survival of populations and habitats is safeguarded in the long run, as defined by EU criteria.
Biodiversity conserved in commercial forests
86% of Finland’s land area is forestry land. Over 90% of Finnish forests are commercial, and their management decides how the natural diversity of the forest environment fares.
Finnish forestry is guided by the Forest Act, which was first enacted as far back as 1886. It contains provisions on cutting practices and requirements, and places an obligation to establish an economically viable sapling stand to replace felled forests. The Forest Act also defines and ensures ecologically valuable natural forest habitats.
In addition to the Forestry Act, the management of commercial forests and the protection of biodiversity are steered by the recommendations for good forest management by the Forestry Development Centre Tapio. For example, habitats and broadleaf trees important to endangered species in Finnish forests are spared from forestry processes, in addition to which attempts are made to increase the amount of decaying wood. Domestic tree species used in forest regeneration play a part in safeguarding sustainable forestry. 95% of Finnish forests have been certified.
To protect forest biodiversity, the forest industry practices responsible wood procurement policies and trains its employees on forest environment issues. Environment and quality systems as well as chain-of-custody management systems are in place at companies to safeguard the high standard of environmental management. The industry also funds forestry and biodiversity research.
State funding for voluntary forest conservation
Studies have found that voluntary conservation is a low-cost and accepted way of conserving forest biodiversity. For example, a study by the Pellervo Economic Research Institute indicated that the negative economic impacts of voluntary conservation were less severe than those associated with traditional conservation. A study by the Finnish Forest Research Institute reveals that forest owners take a positive attitude to voluntary conservation methods. In addition, two out of three Finns thinks that forest conservation should primarily be based on volunteerism.
Good voluntary methods in which forest owners commit to conserving the ecologically valuable natural forest habitats have been developed under the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland. The most effective way to protect the biodiversity of southern Finnish forests is the use of voluntary measures and the restoration of existing conservation areas. Targeted protection is a cost-effective way to safeguard the diversity of the forest environment and promote sustainable forestry.
The voluntary conservation of forests in southern Finland is appropriate also because the majority of forests are owned by private citizens and redeeming lands for conservation areas would require the state to put up an unrealistic amount of funds. The state should allocate funds in the budget for the acquisition of voluntary conservation areas. Sufficient funding for maintaining existing conservation areas must also be provided and research into biodiversity continued.