English summaries 9/2002
Over 400 important bird areas
by Mauri Leivo
Finland's most important bird areas have recently been mapped. This work forms part of the Birdlife International IBA (Important Bird Areas) Project and the results have been published in a FINIBA report. Although Finns have been well aware of the birds nesting in their country, up to now there has been no detailed study on the resting places favoured by migrants. Data gathered by thousands of bird watchers over several decades has been made use of for compiling this up-do-date report.
The FINIBA report concentrates on birds important from the conservation standpoint. For this reason, endangered and vulnerable species were chosen for study, in addition to species for which Finland bears special responsibility at the international level. The most important home areas and resting places for approximately 70 species of Finnish birds were determined.
In some cases, notable part of the European, or even global, population of a species breeds in Finland. We bear special responsibility for the welfare of such species. Birds favouring Finland include the broad-billed sandpiper, goldeneye and Siberian jay. Over half of Europe's broad-billed sandpipers, amounting to a quarter of the world?s entire population, may breed in Finland.
The most important bird areas vary enormously in character. Wetlands constitute the largest group among the 411 areas. There are also many forest and bog/mire areas, but very few fell areas. Even cultivated fields are of importance. Based on surface area alone, bogs/mires, forests, fell districts and archipelago areas are the largest entities, the combined surface area of the wetlands notable for their birdlife being small. FINIBA areas commonly vary in size from 100 to 1000 hectares.
Designating a locality a FINIBA area provides no guarantee of its protection, since this is an unofficial project. Whether or not an area is protected depends on the degree of official action, official will, and above all money. However, calling a site a FINIBA area is a clear declaration of its importance and worth which can be used to advantage when steps are being taken to protect the area.
Professor Palmén chose Tvärminne
by Antti Halkka
The peninsula of Hankoniemi juts out into the Baltic Sea in Finland's south-westernmost corner. There the sea is more saline than elsewhere and an archipelago forms a zone of islands spilling out before the continental land mass. It was here that University of Helsinki Zoology professor J.A.Palmén in 1901 purchased an archipelago farm on the island of Tvärminne together with several islands lying seaward to this. He had a laboratory built on the farm, equipping it with his own money. As a result, the University of Helsinki's Tvärminne zoological field station came into being in 1902.
Several generations of biologists have received practical instruction in the Tvärminne archipelago, on its shores, and in its laboratories. Right up to the 1950s this was Finland's only biological field station. The establishment's activities have since been broadened, becoming increasingly more comprehensive. Tvärminne is both a research station and an institute of learning. It has had particularly marked significance in the field of nature conservation. J.A.Palmén himself endeavoured long ago to have hunting stopped in the Tvärminne archipelago and was keen to establish Finland's first bird reserve on the nearby islands. Over the decades, the field station has made sustained efforts on behalf of nature conservation and environmental protection, both within the archipelago and on the mainland peninsula of Hankoniemi.
Queen of fairy tales also encouraged a love of nature
by Minna Roisko
Author Astrid Lindgren's fairy tale characters love and respect nature. As indeed did the "queen of fairy tales" herself. She expressed concern over the wretched conditions in which animals in agricultural production had to live - and was not afraid to make her views on this known. Farmers responded by saying that the cost of food would rise, if the animals were treated humanely. Astrid Lindgren counteracted their argument by pointing out that not everything in life can be assessed in terms of money and that people knew in their hearts what was right and what was wrong.
Astrid Lindgren was one of the world's most influential educators of the young, her books being translated into more than 70 languages. Although the warm humour of her stories has an ethical slant, she did not stoop to moralisation or authoritarianism. Her characters and events were set in pleasant surroundings. The author's love of nature is perhaps best manifested in her "Children of the archipelago", in which the clown Pelle Melkerson "loved animals, all that lived and moved, flew or crept under the sky, birds, fish and four-legged beasts. To him these were all delightful little animals, even the frogs, wasps, grasshoppers, and beetles, right down to the tiniest of creepy-crawlies."
Astrid Lindgren wrote for the adults of the 1980s, soundly criticising the piggeries and hen houses which had been turned into production plants. Shocked at how farm animals were being treated, she founded a fund in the late 1990s which she called Min ko vill ha roligt (My cow wants to be happy). The fund finances animal protection research.
Treasure lying in the cellars of the Baltic
by Marjatta Sihvonen
In the days of sail, the Vrouw Maria was en route from Amsterdam to St Petersburg in October 1771 when it went sank close to the island of Jurmo, westward of Finland?s south-western point, in 41 metres of water. The shipworm Teredo navalis is unable to survive in the cold, weakly saline waters of the Baltic, while bacterial decay and decomposition by fungi are extremely slow processes. In such conditions wooden ships may remain intact for centuries, or more than a thousand years, even. The Vrouw Maria's oak planking is still as hard as ever.
The vessel is a veritable treasure ship from many points of view. Careful scientific study can tell us a lot about how people lived and worked on board in the late 18th century. At least in theory it would be possible to raise the vessel and museumise it. Experts believe that the cargo, consisting of valuable articles and paintings, was on its way to the court of Russia's Catherine the Great. The value of the cargo in monetary terms is known but if only a part of it can be saved, it may be worth a considerable fortune.
The Fabulous Famous Five sally forth
by Jonna Karhunen and Esa Pienmunne
The red fox is one of the world?s most widely distributed predators. A pair devote a lot of attention to caring for their young. Often a female cub from the previous year, or even two, will lend a "helping paw". The five cubs that this article is about were fortunate because voles were abundant in the nearby meadows. In a rural mosaic, however, foxes can almost always find something to eat, as they have a broad diet ranging from mice and voles to berries and wastes. According to the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, just before the breeding season there are approximately 70,000 red foxes (as distinct from Arctic foxes) in Finland.
In Finland the red fox is one of the three target species of the small predator destruction campaign, the others being the (American) mink and raccoon-dog. The Hunters' Central Organization alleges that populations of these small predators have vastly expanded in Finland, adversely affecting their natural prey species to such an extent that the latters' populations have drastically declined. In particular, tetraonid birds like the capercaillie have suffered from predator pressure. To a certain extent studies on small predators fail to support these allegations, the results tending to be contradictory in the case of the red fox. Hunters kill some 55,000 red foxes a year.
Under army protection
By Alice Karlsson
Ecologically speaking, an army range at Huovinrinne, Säkylä lies on the side of an esker where sunny, hot conditions prevail. This open area supports populations of the rare grasshoppers Psophus stridulus and Bryodema tuberculata as well as the baton blue butterfly (Pseudophilotes vicrama). Notable rare plants growing on the site include Thymus serpyllum, Anthyllis vulneraria ssp. fennica, Gypsophila fastigiata and Jasione montana.
The site has an interesting history. Two prisoners escaped from the nearby prison in 1947. Suffering from hunger at Säkylä, they discovered a hooded crow?s nest and began to fry the eggs taken from it. A thousand hectares of forest was burned down as a consequence. The Pori Brigade took over the unwooded area in 1963, exploding shells and the boots of national conscripts ensuring that the vegetation was kept in check. These activities are essential to the survival of the esker's rare animals and plants.
In this issue Pori Brigade Major Erkki Kallio shows us the Huovinrinne area. The site used for military manoeuvres is connected by a corridor to a similar area around a kilometre away. Patches about a quarter of a kilometre in extent have been cleared along this corridor and these are now inhabited by Psophus stridulus. Heather and pine seedlings starting to take over these exposed areas are periodically cleared away by national servicemen and -women who are apprised of the importance of their efforts to nature conservation. Last year all Säkylä?s 6 year-old children were taken to the site, where they helped make space for the baton blue.
Without the Finnish army and constant management Säkylä's charming little wildlife sanctuary would have vanished years ago, its place taken by a gravel pit or forest. Over the years, the Finnish army has become an important contributor to conservation - albeit originally quite by chance. The army manages extensive unbuilt areas of land both on the mainland and in the archipelago. However, nowadays nature protection by the army is deliberate rather than accidental.
World's oldest "fungus farms"
by Marja Härkönen
Tropical termites take chewed up plant material to their nests. Being unable to digest cellulose themselves, they make use of assistants. The most evolutionary advanced termite species are fungus farmers. They may use up to one third of the plant material collected by them in a year. Termites are most abundant in savannahs and dry forests. It has been estimated that in the savannahs of Serengeti the termite biomass is equivalent to twice that of the grazing mammals living in the area.
Termite nests do not always have mounds above ground level. Underground there is an extensive network of tunnels which the termites keep clean of litter. Arriving from the ground surface, termites void the plant material accumulated in their stomachs through the anus on to the tunnel walls, where it becomes an ideal substrate for a crop of fungi. The fungal mycelia break down the cellulose and lignin present in the plant debris and the termites then consume the fungi.
Termite fungi (Termitomyces) have become entirely dependent on termites. There are some 30 different species, which are able to grow only if "farmed" by termites. In a functioning nest the insects tend to consume the fungal sporocarps when small. If the nest for some reason or other is abandoned, the fungal mycelia produce these fruiting bodies above ground. The world's largest fungus, Termitomyces titanicus, was scientifically described in Zambia as recently ago as 1980; it's cap may have a diameter of nearly a metre. Local people have known this huge fungus for ages.
Termite fungi are extremely tasty and much sought-after. Many folk tales, beliefs and legends are associated with them. These fungi are believed to have medicinal properties, not only in Africa but also in China, where books about medicines mention Termitomyces albuminosus as strengthening the stomach, improving thought processes, and curing haemorrhoids.
Teksti: Leigh Plester