Natural habitats include land and water areas characterised by certain environmental conditions, and by the plant and animal species typical of such areas. Natural habitats are affected by soil and bedrock, water conditions and the microclimate, among others.
Habitat types are protected in order to safeguard ecological diversity and the habitats of different species. Natural habitats and habitat systems are also the source of a variety of ecosystem services, or material and immaterial benefits that humans gain from nature.
Wooded pasture. © Riku Lumiaro.
Natural habitats and changes therein were comprehensively examined in the first Finnish assessment of threatened habitat types, completed in 2008. This assessment included some 400 habitats, from underwater habitats in the Baltic Sea to alpine heaths.
Protection of habitats
Natural habitats are protected under legislation and international agreements. The Finnish Nature Conservation Act places nine habitats under protection, including broad-leaved deciduous forests, sandy beaches and pollard meadows. Broader sets of natural habitats are placed under protection in national parks, strictly controlled nature reserves and other conservation areas.
The EU Habitats Directive lists 69 habitats found in Finland, which are protected as part of the Natura 2000 network. The Forest Act covers seven particularly important habitats, while the Water Act covers four small water body types. Actions jeopardising the special characteristics of these areas are prohibited.
In addition to setting up nature conservation areas, natural habitats can be preserved through sustainable use of natural resources and by taking such habitats into account in land use planning. If natural habitats have been altered, their condition may be improved by means of nature management and restoration.