English summaries 7/2002
By train to the vast forests of Archangel
By Jouni Laaksonen
In the spring of 2000, Taiga Rescue Network published a report entitled "The Last of The last". Included were maps showing north Europe’s last surviving old-growth forests. Far and away the most extensive of these are located in Russia. The author of this article decided to make a trip, with a friend, to take a look at these vast Russian forests. Uninhabited and unnamed, the area they cover, located close to the village of Verkola, is approximately 60 x 100 km in size.
The first stage of the journey by rail took the two travellers from Helsinki to St. Petersburg by train. Arriving in the Russian city, they then boarded a train for Archangel (Arkhangelsk), which they reached 27 hours later. A third rail journey took them to Karpogory, whence there was still 50 km left to cover by car before the village of Verkola came into view. Problems were experienced with queuing for tickets, the shoving, inconsiderate passengers eager to find a seat in rapidly filling carriages, and the Finnish pair’s poor knowledge of Russian.
From Verkola the pair walked into the great forests, where they rambled at will for slightly less than a week. During that time they did not meet a single person, neither did they find a foot path - a totally foreign situation for a Finn. The forests in the vicinity are absolutely untouched, with fallen trees in places lying untidily in heaps. The undergrowth is extremely lush, far more so than in Lapland. Rare Finnish plants like lady’s slipper orchid and monkshood are also found in it. Few animals can be seen, although the pair came across bear tracks four times on their explorations.
By far the biggest drawback of the trip were the gnats and horseflies. The daytime temperature was close to 30º Celsius, the backpacks weighed heavily on their owners, and there was no breeze among the trees. Laaksonen and his colleague pitched their tent each time on the bank of a stream, in which they took a much needed bath each evening - clad in a mosquito hat!
Now the forest in Verkola is threatened by logging and the construction of a railway right through it.
Hornets for neighbours
By Aura Koivisto; info box Olof Biström
The author first became acquainted with the hornet (Vespa crabro) while staying at Matsalunlahti in Estonia. The large insect being a fearsome thing to have in a room, it was quickly dispatched. Later came the revelation, however, that, in spite of their reputation, hornets are not at all aggressive and they are good neighbours.
Vespa crabro disappeared almost entirely from Finland at the end of the warm period culminating in the 1930s. Now the species has returned and these large wasp-like creatures can be found in particular in south-eastern Finland. In Estonia the species is fairly common. The author nowadays lives on the island of Vorms, off the west coast, where hornets are abundant. The closest large colony last year had taken up residence in the neighbours loft, from the ceiling of which hung an enormous nest made from lilac bark and occupied by the huge insects.
Hornets are omnivorous, eating nectar, pollen and flies, horseflies, butterflies, moths, and their caterpillars. In contrast to other colonial hymenoptera, they also fly at night. Last year in Estonia the hornets continued to be active right up until October.
Females have a sting at the posterior end which they use both to stun and kill their prey, and to defend themselves with. A hornet sting can be extremely dangerous for an oversensitive person. Fortunately, hornets only sting when they feel themselves, or their nest, threatened. These large insects, and especially their nests, are best left well alone!
Time to stop the spring slaughter of waterfowl
By Martti Soikkeli
A peculiarity of Finland’s marine archipelagos is the shooting of waterfowl in the spring. People living in the municipalities of Uusimaa and Varsinais-Suomi, which are bordered by the sea, are permitted to shoot (under license) long-tailed ducks, eiders, goldeneyes, red-breasted mergansers, and male goosanders from 10th April to 25th May. Self-governed Åland (Ahvenanmaa) permits the hunting of several species of ducks in spring at slightly different times.
All this is possible, even though the Hunting Decree categorically states that game animals are under protection during their breeding seasons. For many duck species the closed season starts at the beginning of the year and ends on 20th August.
The spring shoot is defended on the grounds that it forms part of the archipelago’s cultural traditions and helps preserve its identity. It is a way of exploiting nature when a bird is at its best. It is also averred to promote game management, because the prospect of bagging ducks encourages hunters to put up nest boxes for goldeneyes and goosanders, and to destroy harmful predators like mink.
Spring hunting is in direct conflict with two basic principles of game management: hunting should never be targeted at the reproducing part of a population, and animals should be assured of peace in which to breed. Studies carried out in Finland have revealed that, for instance, killing male eiders in the spring reduces the fecundity of widowed females by a half. Furthermore, the hunters disturb the nesting activities of all kinds of archipelago birds, irrespective of species.
Spring hunting is a relic of the bad old days. It is contrary to the EU’s Bird Directive and indeed the Commission has threatened Finland with prosecution if the habitat is allowed to continue. Now, at long last, would be a good time to ban the practice.
Diving into the Gulf of Finland
Text: Antti Halkka; pictures: Ralf Åström
Although the Baltic tends to be turbid, on a clear day the depth of visibility through the water may reach ten metres. The turbidity results from the marine life: planktonic algae and microscopic animals, as well as their remains and wastes, all reduce transparency. Ralf Åström takes pictures of the underwater world as a hobby; for a living he photographs home furnishings, fashion trends, and products of various kinds.
During the depression here, Åström and his wife spent time in the Maldives, Red Sea and Caribbean teaching diving and underwater photography. After all those warm seas, the Baltic felt familiar yet different. Åström’s favourite subjects include the straight-nosed pipefish, a relative of the tropical sea horses. This species shyly turns its face away from the camera lens, just like the sea horse!
Åström felt growing concern for the state of the world’s oceans when he was obliged to watch the life and death struggle of coral reefs due to climate warming. A prolonged rise in water temperature, together with an increase in the amount of particles raining down on the corals, causes bleaching and death. Now Åström is worried about the Baltic. Bladder wrack has decreased and he sees dead fish on the bottom with increasing regularity. Diving, says Åström, opens our eyes to the sea’s plight.
Church environments are messages from the past
By Olli Suominen
At the end of the 1990s the nature conservation society of the Nousiainen district embarked on a survey of "The plants of church environments". The study involved the plant communities surrounding six churches built during the Middle Ages. A special quest was made for species associated with the old culture, while at the same time, however, documenting the entire plant communities found round the churches.
Churches of this kind were generally built on a hill. The vegetation may well have originated during the prehistoric Iron Age, that is in pre-Christian times, as the pragmatic Catholic church was wont to site its places of worship right on top of where the cult it was determined to oust used to hold its own rites. Some ancient arrivals have survived only in those places where mankind has been active without interruption from the Iron Age to modern times.
During Mediaeval times, and for a long time in the early stages of the new era, church environments were regularly used as gathering places and sites for markets and meetings. Monks and traders brought new species of plants with them. Enlightened priests of the 18th and 19th centuries grew many kinds of beneficial and decorative plants in their vicarage gardens.
Numerous species associated with the old culture, and arriving here at various times, have been discovered in conjunction with the Nousiainen field survey, including sweet flag (Acorus calamus), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), dark mullein (Verbascum nigrum), great mullein or Aaron’s rod (Verbascum thapsus), narrow-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata), field wormwood (Artemisia campestris), dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris), meadow oat-grass (Avenula pratensis), hairy oat-grass (Avenula pubescens), field garlic (Allium oleraceum), perforated St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare), hoary alison (Berteroa incana), tower mustard (Arabis glabra), flixweed (Descurainia sophia), garlic mustard or jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata), and greater celandine (Chelidonium majus).
In times past, death was an everyday happening, a part of life. Consequently, little time was spent caring for graveyards and cemeteries. It was not until World War II and later, when a start was made on restoring the graves of war heroes, that Finns began
to take an interest in the upkeep of modern burial grounds. Lawnmowers, trimmers, weed-whackers and herbicides are now threatening to destroy the old cultural plants. At the same time, the whirr and clatter of small machines destroys the peace of the old country churchyard. Luckily, the problem has already been recognised and is being addressed.
The nature conservation society of the Nousiainen district has been managing the juniper habitat adjacent to the Mediaeval greystone church of Masku since 1999. Parishioners have restored the ancient meadow atop the hill on which stands the old windmill and outbuildings. Sheep, long absent, have recently been brought in to graze and ‘manage’ the bottom meadow along the river near Nousiainen church. The future of historical church environments depends on the attitudes of both the parishioners and the parish decision-makers.
Teksti: Leigh Plester