Study: Finland has some readiness for implementation of EU biodiversity strategy

Press release 2021-06-23 at 9:44

“Impacts of EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 for Finland” is a study by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), which produced background information to allow Finland to effectively participate in matters such as planning the details and implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, and to make it possible to take the goals of the strategy into account in the planning of the Finnish national biodiversity strategy. The study examines Finland's starting point with respect to the goals of protection and restoration, while seeking to evaluate what the effects would be if the goals were to be fully implemented. The evaluation of the effects from Finland's point of view is still preliminary, as the goals mainly apply to the entire EU, and have not been allocated to the individual member states. The goals still need to be more precisely defined to a large extent.

Reduction of pollinators can be stopped. Photo Riku Lumiaro.

The study by the Natural Resources Institute Finland and the Finnish Environment Institute was presented to stakeholders and other actors in a webinar organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of the Environment and held on Tuesday, 15 June 2021. The study was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of the Environment. It will be published online in August.

Comprehensive examination of goals required in evaluation of biodiversity strategy

In the joint study by SYKE and Luke, it was possible to only perform initial examinations on the starting situations and the effects of different goals. The first reason for this is that these goals partly apply to the entire territory of the EU, and the goals have not been allocated to individual member states. Second, the interpretation of the goals and the concepts used in them remain somewhat vague. Third, the quality of the materials and the methods used in the evaluations vary according to the goals, which affects the accuracy of the baseline and the effects of the various goals.

Finland is well prepared to achieve part of the goals of restoration. As for the goals of protection, it is an ambitious aim, but it is necessary for ecological sustainability. To evaluate the economic effects of the implementation of the goals of protection, more detailed information is needed on the need for protection for each habitat. Further information is also needed on the synergies and cross-effects of the different goals of the strategies.

With many of the goals put forward in the strategy, it is important to develop the compiling of research, follow-up, and statistical information. This would open the possibility of improving the monitoring of the implementation of the goal and to measure the effects. For example, evaluating environmental risks and the combined effects of the risks requires research that is multidisciplinary, and which produces location-specific environmental data on what the best overall solution for the environment would be.

Protection and restoration goals of the EU biodiversity strategy and their situation in Finland

The 30 percent goal for protection that was set in the EU's biodiversity strategy covers all habitats. Relatively detailed information has been collected about the protection of forests and sea areas, while evaluations for many other habitats are inadequate. According to an evaluation written in the sixth country report of the biodiversity agreement, the proportion of protected land areas (including inland waters) in Finland was nearly 14 percent of Finland's surface area in 2018. This evaluation does not include, for example, the diversity targets for commercial forests. At present about 11 percent of Finland's sea area is protected. Forests are the largest habitat, which is why the goals for their further protection are crucial from many different points of view.

The goal of the EU biodiversity strategy is to have at least a third of the EU's protected areas under strict protection, including all of the EU's remaining old-growth and primeval forests. In Finland, most of the forests under the strictest protection, where no forestry is practised at all, are in nature conservation areas set up under the Nature Conservation Act and in areas set for inclusion as nature conservation areas in conservation programmes, and in wilderness areas. Their surface area is about 10 percent (2.2 million hectares) of the total surface area of forest land and poorly productive forest land.

Initial scenario calculations were made in the study on how the additional protection of about five percent of the total surface area of forest and scrubland would affect forests if annual felling were 72.4 million cubic metres of wood in the next 30 years. This annual amount of felling corresponds to the average total recorded felling from 2015 to 2019. According to the calculations, keeping the cumulative felling at this level is possible also in scenarios that include additional protection, but additional protection would result in an increase in regeneration felling in commercial forests. Consequently, the total surface area of young forests would increase compared with a scenario in which conservation measures were kept at the present level. It has not been possible to evaluate in the calculations if the additional protection would affect the supply of wood, and consequently, the amount of felling. The calculations will have to be specified in the future with respect to matters such as defining protection and the targeting of surface areas of additional conservation. According to scenario calculations implemented in the KEIMO project last winter, an increase in total felling to 80 million m3, and a powerful increase of protection are not possible to enact at the same time if the aim is to retain the possibility of felling in the future. The costs imposed on the state from the implementation of additional protection would probably be substantial especially with respect to the protection of forests with large tree volume.

Conservation areas are cared for efficiently and clearly defined protection goals and measures are in use, and their implementation is monitored properly. Plenty of information is available to support the efficient care of conservation areas. The implementation of the goals would raise the effectiveness of protection in the improvement of biodiversity. More efficient care for conservation areas and monitoring the goals and measures for conservation could increase costs and the need for human resources. Implementing the goals would require effective coordination to improve the cost-effectiveness of implementing the goals.

Thirty percent of the nature values in an adverse state of protection under nature directives are expected to show improvement by 2030. Less than half of the nature directive habitats of the Boreal region are areas that could potentially be improved through active care. The recording and evaluation of care and restoration of surface areas nevertheless requires development, as many kinds of restoration measures do not end up in national statistics that are collected.

Reduction of pollinators can be stopped. Monitoring Finland's natural species of pollinators has been implemented over a longer period only with butterflies and moths. The national pollinator strategy, which is being drafted, supports the goals, as they contain several measures to prevent a decline in the numbers of pollinators, as well as a proposal for nationwide monitoring of pollinators. The monitoring would provide more comprehensive information on the present situation and would enable the monitoring of development at the habitat, and pollinator insect group levels. The impact of achieving the goals could become apparent in the improvement in the quality and quantity of crops of agricultural plants, garden produce, and wild berries that are dependent on insect pollination.

Use of chemical pesticides and the risks that they pose would be reduced by 50 percent. The use of pesticides that are more harmful than average is to decrease by 50 percent. In 2018 total sales of the active substances in pesticides sold for agricultural and horticultural use was 1,243 tons of active chemicals, and 3,658 tons for forestry, with urea accounting for nearly 100 percent. The goals of the strategy for agriculture and horticulture are achievable if the use of glyphosate is cut by 50 percent and the use of other chemical pesticides is reduced by 25 percent from the 2019 level. Except for using urea for fighting heterobasidion, pesticides are rarely used in forestry. At this time, it is not known if a goal that that is in line with the EU's biodiversity strategy to reduce the use of pesticides would also apply to urea used in the processing of stumps.

As the present environmental hazards of pesticides are small in most of Finland, the effects of reducing the use of chemicals would be small in most areas. Halving the use of glyphosate could reduce crop levels by an average of 0-15 percent. However, the goal of using less pesticides encourages the use of more sustainable farming solutions, while seeking to reduce chemical contamination of the environment.

At least ten percent of farmland has landscape features that are very diverse. To evaluate the goal that has been set, it would first be necessary to get a more precise definition of what the kinds of landscape features it would mean on the national level. About 10 percent of our arable land already comprises perennial grasses of different kinds, which benefit some of the species of flora and fauna in agricultural areas. Leaving fallow land is not sufficient on its own to promote the diversity of species in agricultural environments. Most crucial for effectiveness would be to increase the area of traditional habitats that are cared for, the amounts of various open and partly open habitats, wetlands, and flood plains that are built in a manner that is compatible with nature and which are not part of the actual agricultural land. Diverse landscape features have positive effects on, for example, the condition of waters, carbon sinks, landscape quality, and recreational use.

At least 25 percent of agricultural land is included in organic agriculture, and the use of agroecological practices has increased considerably. In 2020 14 percent of Finland's total farming area was farmed organically, and under supervision for organic farming. In 2016 254 farms had committed to the measures in the environmental commitment for alternative plant protection for garden plants as defined in the Rural Development Programme for Mainland Finland 2014–2020. The surface area covered by these commitments corresponded to about 11 percent of the surface area for garden produce. Increasing the proportion of organic production to 25 percent of arable land was seen to have mainly positive ecological and social effects. Increasing organic production would also boost the utilisation of agroecological practices, while supporting the development of agroecological skills and knowledge. However, the extent of the effects depends on what parts of production and in what places the area under production would increase in Finland.

Three billion new trees are to be planted in the EU area using fully ecological principles. Evaluating the effects is difficult at this point because no goals have been set for member states, and the ecological principles of planting trees have not yet been set in the EU. Nowadays the annual surface area for forestation is about 2,000 hectares. The annual area for forestation could be 3,000 hectares. In such a case about six million saplings a year could be planted as a part of forestation. About 170 million saplings are currently used in forestry each year. Forestation can have both negative and positive effects on diversity, depending especially on what areas are forested. In addition to the forestation of disused land, there is potential for reaching this goal by bringing more greenery to cities.

Considerable progress has been made in upgrading spoiled land areas. Information on more than 28,000 areas suspected or confirmed to have been spoiled or cleaned or declared to be clean has been recorded in the MATTI data system of the environment administration. Cleaning tainted soil is done each year in 250-500 areas, mainly because of changes in the use of land and in construction. A future goal will be to map out and identify land areas suspected of being spoiled, which would be likely to significantly affect nature values and diversity that require special protection.

Restoring at least 25,000 kilometres of free-flowing rivers. Of all bodies of water, about 120,000 kilometres are streams, brooks, and rivers. In practice, however, the number of small bodies of water is much greater, if small catchment basins upstream from the bodies of water are included. About 5,200 dams have been identified, and in addition to these, the estimated number of blocked culverts is about 30,000. Therefore, there are a significant number of structures that block the flow of rivers and restoring them is mostly easy to implement without causing conflicts with other forms of use. Finland has good possibilities to restore naturally flowing waters in accordance with the goal.

The number of species on the red list threatened by harmful invasive species has declined by 50 percent. Invasive species have been seen as a threat to a total of 223 species on the red list, 159 of which are already endangered. The invasive species of terrestrial ecosystems that are the greatest threat to species on the red list are the rugosa rose and the garden lupin. For invasive species, the goal of the EU's biodiversity strategy exclusively targets species of the red list, even though invasive species also have a powerful effect on other habitats. Invasive species are a threat to 59 endangered or near endangered habitats. Fighting invasive species in different biotopes could simultaneously affect several endangered or near endangered species. The most challenging habitat for removing invasive species are waterways, where preventative work is of crucial importance.

Loss of nutrients caused by fertilisers will decline by 50 percent, leading to a reduction of at least 20 percent in the use of fertilisers. To use nutrients more efficiently, farmers need advice on fertilising according to the plants’ need for phosphorus, and on reducing the high levels of nitrogen. Rapidly cutting the phosphorus load in half without lowering the crop yield requires targeting phosphorus fertilizer in sectors of fields where fertilisers increase the crop, the efficient processing of manure, targeting protection zones, and fighting erosion effectively.

More effective distribution of nitrogen fertilisation and increasing the use of under sown and catch crops reduce the waste of nitrogen. Increasing biological nitrogen fixation also reduces the need for fertilisation, requires large surface areas and changes to normal farming practices and the selection of crops. Reducing the use of nitrogen fertiliser has negative effects on the volume and quality of crops. However, the impact on a farmer's finances is not as great as the decline in crop yield. This is because of the reduction in the cost of fertilising, which means that the profit margin per hectare does not fall as much as the crop yield per hectare.

Cities with at least 20,000 residents have an ambitious greening plan. In Finland this goal applies to 56 cities and municipalities. Statistical information on the amount of green space in cities and on different types of green areas is available only for a few individual cities. For this reason, it is difficult to evaluate the potential for change, and the effects, on a national level. The survey shows that only a few cities are preparing a greening plan, although increasing numbers of municipalities have produced a green areas programme and a few have produced an action programme for natural diversity. Many municipalities have engaged in individual actions, such as fighting invasive species, setting up meadows, or leaving decaying wood in forests. Zoning solutions that support diversity as well as wetlands have been utilised in several municipalities.

Chemical pesticides are not used in green areas of EU cities, or in other sensitive areas. There is no separate statistical information on the use of pesticides in urban areas and other sensitive areas. Glyphosate is the substance that is most used. A study from the early 2000s showed that a few tenths of a percent of total sales of glyphosate was in urban areas. Setting a ban on its use as a national goal could help create a positive atmosphere. However, the use of pesticides should still be allowed in exceptional situations, and in the fight against invasive species.

The negative impact of fishing and mining on vulnerable species and habitats, including the sea bottom, is to be reduced significantly to help achieve a good state for the environment. Fishing in Finland has many recognised negative effects on the populations of many threatened species (landlocked salmon, Arctic char, brown trout, whitefish, mullet). Other significant factors posing dangers for all endangered species of fish are changes caused by human activity, such as interference with or lack of a natural cycle of life, climate change, and eutrophication.

At present Finland has about 40 mines in operation, 11 of which are metal ore mines. Especially problematic are closed areas of extractive waste where measures aimed at reducing environmental impact by shutting the areas down have mostly not worked and are poorly suited to the reduction of liquid waste with a high acid and metal content. There is also no active environmental monitoring in the area. There is no certainty of how much closed mines have weakened the biodiversity of waters downstream, as there is no information on the biology of the waters downstream from the mines.

Becoming an incidental catch must be prevented - or reduced to a level that enables the recovery and preservation of species. Sensitive fish species that end up being caught incidentally include threatened fish species and populations, and occasionally, threatened bird species (e.g., eider, black guillemot, and velvet scoter) and mammals (porpoise, Saimaa ringed seal). Information on these is more difficult to find for recreational fishing than for commercial fishing. Considering the popularity of recreational fishing and the frequent use of deadly fish traps, recreational fishing is at least as much of a threat to endangered species as commercial fishing is. Implementation of the goal requires the development of the regulation of fishing, especially with respect to endangered species.

Further information

Senior Research Scientist Saija Koljonen, Finnish Environment Institute, tel. +358 295 251 791,

Senior Scientist Leena Kärkkäinen, Natural Resources Institute Finland, tel. +358 295 324 848,