Suomen Luonto
English summaries 12/2002

Garden magpies are a never-ending source of wonder
by Alice Karlsson, photos by Timo Helle
Pages 4-9

Timo Helle, a recent president of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and an expert on reindeer, lives in Lapland. At the moment he is studying the survival of reindeer in a changing world. During his 6-year stint as the Association's president, Timo Helle constantly travelled between Helsinki and Rovaniemi. According to his own estimate, he has collectively spent an entire year in a sleeping berth on a train!

Over the last few years, Helle has devoted a lot of his spare time to studying and photographing magpies visiting his yard and garden. A house is like a gigantic hide from which the photographer can take pictures without being seen by his subjects. Very recently, Helle has turned his attention to the mountain hares, squirrels and small birds that also frequent his property.

Magpies are intelligent, if cautious, birds which are difficult to observe and photograph. One of the biggest challenges is to catch them in the right light, as their black and white plumage calls for perfect exposure. In fact, the "black" colouration is not really black at all, most of the dark plumage having a blue, green and violet sheen. Moreover, beady black eyes are easily lost in a generally black head.

A protagonist of the principle of bioregionalism, Timo Helle photographs only on his own property, thereby restricting himself to his own near environment. This is really a kind of protest against the movement of goods and people from one place to another. Helle says that, despite being the most civilised form of travel, ecotourism loses its point when we step into an aircraft.

Christmas deep in the fells
by Raija Hentman
Pages 16-7

Hundreds of unlocked cabins and derelict, often log-built houses await the rambler in the wilds of Lapland. Silence and the peace of Christmas are easily found in a cabin during the winter twilight period. Some of these cabins belong to Metsähallitus - the Forest and Park Service. Since they are available to everyone, the visitor can never be sure in advance whether a cabin is already occupied by other hikers or not.

Other cabins are kept locked by Metsähallitus - Forest and Park Service but may be rented; these are generally better equipped than the unlocked ones and boast, for example, that inseparable part of Finnish life, a sauna. They have to be booked in advance and the rent, applying to the building, can be divided among a number of people in a group. The Wild North (Villi Pohjola) unit of Metsähallitus - the Forest and Park Service also runs a snowmobile transport service to some of its cabins, which can also be arranged at the time of booking. For information about rental cabins check out

Raija Hentman gives us a glimpse of Christmas spent in an unlocked cabin in the Kultala gold prospecting area - Finland's Klondyke - at Muorgam, now in Lemmenjoki National Park. Arriving with her companions on skis, she discovers a stiff frost inside the building! The windows of this accommodation are 'thawed out' after heating the cabin for several hours with the wood-burner. Dry firewood is always provided at unlocked cabins, so that there is no fear of the visitor freezing to death. Spending Christmas at such a location, the sauna, 'Christmas dinner', and utter peace reigning in the blue twilight of the sunless Lappish day is an experience never likely to be forgotten.

Catching the wind
by Juha Kauppinen
Pages 18-23

In winter, moving air - wind - increases the effect of subzero temperatures. Even at a temperature of minus five Celsius, a wind velocity of 10 m/s produces conditions similar to those at minus 20 Celsius in still air. The official wind speed is expressed as the mean of ten-minute readings, so that it is always much less than the wind speed during sudden gusts.

Wind is caused by differences in air pressure. Warm air rises, leaving a low pressure into which air flows from elsewhere, generally from the nearest high pressure area. For this reason, very low pressures are frequently associated with a high wind, or even a gale. The normal air pressure is 1300 millibars but in a raging gale the pressure can fall to as low as 950 millibars.

Friction has a marked effect on wind speed, the land slowing down the air moving across it. For this reason, the wind is stronger higher up in the air than it is at sea level on land. Friction exerts an effect up to a height of one kilometre above sea level. A water surface does not slow an air current down as much as uneven ground covered with vegetation. Thus, winds are always stronger at sea, friction having no effect at a height of as low as 200-300 metres above the water surface.

Wind creates dunes on sandy shores. This is especially true of a low shore, the dunes being composed of sand grains of an appropriate size. Dunes do not form inland due to the vegetation keeping the sand in check. Finland's best examples of dunes are encountered along the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia, where postglacial land uplift amounts to as much as 10 millimetres a year. This exposes large amounts of sand on shallow shores which is then at the mercy of waves and wind.

Wind carries plants, many kinds of small animals, and flying insects and birds. A number of plants are wind pollinated, their spores being dispersed by air currents. Many plant seeds and spores are also transported in this way, sometimes for thousands of kilometres. Certain noctuid moths migrate with air currents along the 3,500 km route from Kazakhstan, via Finland, to Denmark. In the early summer red admiral butterflies migrate into Finland from central Europe, breed here, and the resulting generation then migrates back south. Aided by the wind, migratory birds may travel immense distances; sometimes they are blown thousands of kilometres off course.

Every year Finland experiences storms. Indeed, these have been exceptionally common since the late 1990s. In a gale force wind the air speed can rise to over 50 metres a second (more than 200 km/h). The highest wind speed ever recorded in this country (given as the mean of ten-minute readings) is 31 m/s - this is pretty close to the accepted hurricane speed of 32 m/s. A tornado measured in Oklahoma (USA) holds the world record at 141 m/s, in other words 509 km/t. Quite a breeze!

Saanatunturi must not be ruined by 'progress'
by Alice Karlsson
Pages 24-27

The distinctively shaped 1029-metre fell known as Saanatunturi at Kilpisjärvi, in Finland's north-western corner, is the country's most well-known large fell, rising steeply to 550 metres above the adjacent lake. Sweden lies on the lake?s opposite shore, with Malla Strict Nature Reserve at the north-western end, and the University of Helsinki's Kilpisjärvi biological field station right at the foot of the fell.

Annually, Kilpisjärvi sees some 10,000 visitors, most of them Finns and Norwegians. They are attracted by Finland's less severe snowmobile regulations and far lower prices. Consequently, tourism businesses are campaigning for the road built by the Germans during the Second World War, together with the Jeahkatstunturi road and its offshoot the Saanatunturi road, to be repaired. This would make it possible to set up a downhill ski resort on Saanatunturi, featuring several ski lifts and slopes, as well as a restaurant with a panoramic view.

Nature conservationists, reindeer herdsmen, and the University of Helsinki are appalled at the idea, for Saanatunturi is unique and its habitats and wildlife have been a target of scientific study for countless years. To the Saami people Saanatunturi is a holy place. In many ways it has constituted a symbol of Lapland and its nature and has been the subject of numerous advertisements for that part of the country. With this unique landmark now under threat, people have began urging the authorities to legislate official protection for the fell - a petition signed by ordinary citizens was handed over to the Metsähallitus - Forest and Park Service's general manager last April.

Evenly applied protection will not save forest wildlife
by Ismo Tuormaa
Pages 28-31

University of Helsinki ecology professor Ilkka Hanski is one of Finland?s most famous research biologists abroad. His special subject is population ecology and its application to nature conservation; there is no doubt that in this field he is among the world?s leaders. Two years ago Hanski was awarded the Italian Balzan prize for science for his outstanding contribution to population ecology; this award was worth more than 300,000 euro.

Professor Hanski says that the present habit of protecting small snippets of forest habitat is doomed to failure. It is both economically and - especially - ecologically inefficient. Furthermore, one finds it impossible to even discuss this issue in Finland, as political views and biological facts are inextricably mixed into a cocktail from which it is impossible to stir up the truth. This principle applies particularly to forest protection, which has immense biological, economic and social consequences.

To drive home his point, Hanski singles out the kind of targeted protection (täsmäsuojelu) that has become popular of late. This means the protection of small herb-rich forests, springs and key biotopes as described in the Forest Acts and intended to save the endangered species associated with them from extinction. In contrast to this we have the traditional protection model based on large surface area, now condemned as old-fashioned and ineffective.

The first kind of protection affects biotopes of small area which are also usually of an isolated nature. The man in the street believes that by preserving some individuals of a population we are doing the species the greatest possible favour. However, the most important thing is not what happens to a small group of individuals but for viable populations of each species to survive.

In regard to the protection of the forests of southern Finland, politics has been allowed to override ecology. Hanski says that the danger inherent in this is the protection of biotopes in the form of a scattered network of areas of such limited extent that there is no chance of small populations hanging on; tiny colonies isolated from one another will eventually die out. Studies reveal that such local colonies become extinct, even if the habitat is suitable for them. It has been observed in various parts of the world that when the habitat is reduced to 10-20 % of its original extent, the effect of isolation becomes clearly apparent. With a further loss in habitat, species populations decrease at an accelerating pace and they disappear completely once a certain threshold is reached.

Professor Hanski stresses that if as little as one percent of certain biotopes is put aside, then sooner or later those species adapted to the particular environmental conditions will become extinct. Approximately one percent of the forest biotopes of southern Finland have been protected but, because most of the protected forests have at some time been exploited by mankind, there are only 0.2 percent of forest habitats now in a natural state.

Hanski fears that the protection of forests in southern Finland is nothing more than a 'political auction'. Forestry is proceeding normally and will destroy the last remaining unprotected snippets of natural forest. Yet decisions on the protection of these areas have been scheduled for as late as 2007. There is no wish to do anything about protecting forests for their ecological value before 2007 - if then.

A little bit of 'Old Russia'
by Tapani Tasanen, Mikko Ryökäs, Pasi Poikonen and Markku Kaukoranta
Pages 36-40

Kenozero National Park, located on the eastern side of Lake Onega (Äänisjärvi), is home to some 3,000 people who mainly obtain their income from two large farms and their own horticultural activities. Some of them are involved in logging and timber transportation. Finns are interested in the area because right up to the first half of the 20th century there were people living there speaking a language closely related to Finnish. This is still obvious in place names and in some of the words used in communication.

Covering 1,400 square kilometres, the national park is 80% forested. Half of the forests are Scots pine dominant, one third are dominated by spruces, and the remainder consist of broadleaf stands based mainly on birch and aspen. 15 percent of the entire forested area is in a completely natural state and no logging or forestry is permitted there. The rest is managed by thinning.

Park management is funded by the proceeds from forestry and agriculture. Small sawmills and a planing plant exist in the area, as well as a joinery workshop. Planks and panels are mainly sold to construction companies in Moscow. All over Russia agriculture based on large farms has been undergoing a crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the same holds true of Kenozero. Over the last few years the situation has improved somewhat, however. Fishing is still important for households, but the intention is to develop this into a tourist attraction in the foreseeable future. It is not possible to transport fish long distances owing to the lack of refrigerated trucks.

A good deal of scientific research is being done in Kenozero, the national park working closely in cooperation with universities and research institutes. It is visited by rather large numbers of tourists who hike, pick berries and wild mushrooms, fish, and motorboat, row or paddle. There are many historically important sites in the region, including hundreds of old peasant dwellings, 8 churches, 35 tsasounas, and 23 other prayer rooms. With their masterful woodwork, these represent the traditional Russian construction culture. Many valuable icons and ceiling, as well as wall paintings have survived in the churches.

Bottled water voted the most useless product on the Finnish market
by Alice Karlsson
Pages 52-53

Each year, based on feedback from readers, a jury appointed by the magazine Suomen Luonto awards a prize for the most ridiculous and unnecessary product on the Finnish market. This year bottled water from abroad was the winner.

Importing water to Finland is rather like taking sand to the Sahara! To make matters worse, the imported water arrives in plastic bottles that are not even recycled. Despite this, sales of bottled water in Finland have risen swiftly; every 'with it' person, male or female, must carry a small plastic bottle of this water, preferably from France.

Is foreign water really that much better than what we get here? Our editorial office set out to find the answer, selecting at random 2 bottles of foreign water, 2 of Finnish water, and one of City of Helsinki household water. Although the openly biased jury comprised people from the editorial office and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, nobody knew what water was in which cup!

The results of the test surprised everyone. The City of Helsinki water was the winning 'brand', earning five votes out of eight. Evian was judged the best by one jury member, while two testers were unable to decide which of the samples they sipped had the best taste. The task was difficult owing to all the water samples being exceedingly neutral. However, the results of this taste confirmed what many ordinary folk knew already - City of Helsinki water drawn from Lake Päijänne is of excellent quality.