Suomen Luonto
English summaries 12/1999

Come back, Arctic fox!
by Matti Mela

Pages 4-11

Nowadays, Arctic foxes exist in Finland mainly on fur farms, the blue foxes bred for their fine coats actually belonging to this species. As recently ago as at the beginning of the 20th century, wild Arctic foxes were fairly common in Lapland. Their numbers were first reduced by hunting, then the spreading of the red fox (the familiar European species) into their range during the 1940s drove another nail into the species' coffin. Golden eagles prey on Arctic foxes, the climate is warming, and human waste management has improved so much that the amount of food available to Arctic foxes has drastically decreased. Lemming populations, on which the Arctic foxes prey, fluctuate enormously from one year to the next. The last good lemming year occurred around 30 years ago, since when there have been no large populations of voles and lemmings over Lapland as a whole.

There have been no reports of Arctic foxes breeding in Finland in recent years. Mammalogists are constantly monitoring around a hundred Arctic fox burrows, which they check at least twice a year for signs of breeding. An attempt is being made to eradicate red foxes from these burrows and from the areas around them. In 1999, there were more records of Arctic foxes in this country than for many years previously but no signs of reproduction were detected. Last year in Sweden there were 10 inhabited Arctic fox burrows but only one breeding was reported as succesful.

However, experts consider that a few Arctic fox pairs have indeed bred in Finland during the past few years. Individuals and their tracks have been observed among barely navigable shattered rock and scree on fell slopes, where a few burrows are known to exist. Previously the animals bred, for preference, in sand and gravel quarries, but these habits have since been commandeered by red foxes. Possibly a few Arctic foxes are now breeding in stony places that have been forsaken by the competing red foxes.

Weird spruces
by Jaakko Heinonen

Pages 23-25

When mature, the Finnish spruce (Picea abies) may reach a height of forty metres, or it may stop growing at under half a metre. In colour it can be light or dark green. Spruce branches may be long or short, or absent altogether; they may curve upwards or downwards and the trunk they are attached to can be exceptionally thick or abnormally thin. Special types of spruces as imagined by the Finns include the "sorrow spruce", "snake spruce", "walking stick spruce", "column spruce", "curtain spruce", "ribbon spruce", "slab spruce", "comb spruce", "ridge spruce", "clustered spruce" and "frizzy spruce". Unusual colour forms are commonly sought for decorative purposes. Thus, we can speak of the "golden spruce", "purple" or "strawberry spruce", "variegated spruce" and "blue needle spruce". Deviations from the normal trunk form have given rise to the concept of the "gnarled spruce", "bark spruce", "warty spruce", "nipple spruce", "twisted spruce", "shingle spruce", "knobbly spruce" and "scaly spruce". Even stranger are the "witch's broom spruce", "dwarf spruce", "tufted spruce", "nest spruce", "hedgehog spruce", "table spruce" or "Stephen's table", "cooking pot spruce" and "carpet spruce".

This large selection of different forms is mainly due to growth deformities caused by external forces such as an unsupportable weight of snow and ice. Trees affected in this way have perfectly normal offspring. However, mutations, i.e. genetic abnormalities, can bring about morphological changes. Such mutations may be passed on to the next generation.

Nature and a motor park are poor companions
by Jarmo Pasanen

Pages 32-34

There is a great deal of talk going on at the moment concerning a project called Finlandia Ring at a location, Pikkala, some 30 kilometres west of Helsinki. The plan is to construct a Formula race track, a technology park and a trade fair centre. A group of businessmen operating under the name of the Advantage Group maintain that the plan includes some ìgreen valuesî as well. The local environmental association, not to mention local inhabitants, are finding it hard to believe this.

Finland is passing through a period of rising public interest in motor sports. Mika Häkkinen becoming the Formula 1 World Champion, and Tommi Mäkinen the Rally World Champion, as well as the success enjoyed by other drivers, have recently ensured plenty of prominence for motor sports in the media. The adverse effects of this are already apparent. A large race track and a technology centre associated with it do not sit well with the conservation of natural values.

Last surviving Karelian village threatened by hydro power
by Anne Kärkkäinen

Pages 36-39

There are around 100 endangered cultural heritage sites on the UNESCO World Monument Watch list. Among these are the Taj Mahal, Pompeii - and a small White Sea Karelian village, Paanajärvi, in Russian Karelia.

Finns have a special relationship with Russian Karelian villages in the White Sea area. These have conserved the folk song and poetry heritage from which the Finnish epic, The Kalevala was composed during the early 19th century. The fact that these traditions have been preserved is easy to understand when one hears that the villagers did not learn to read and write until the 1920s. There are only around 20 of these so-called "poem villages" left now, and Paanajärvi is closest to the original form. Paradoxically, it has a hydropower project to thank for this which threatens to inundate the village! For decades there has been a plan to harness the river running through Paanajärvi for energy generation, with the result that no money has been given to the village for either newbuilding or renovations. Consequently, the village's 50 or so houses are in the same state they were in 100-200 years ago.

At the moment, constructing a hydropower station would be economically ridiculous. On the other hand, a plant fuelled by peat or wood would make sense, especially since the Finns are well able to provide the necessary expertise. Time will show what the eventual outcome is. Renovating the whole village would cost only in the region of FIM 12 million (about 2 million Euros).