English summaries 5/2003
Summery white blossoms and sweet scent of bird cherry
By Seppo Vuokko
In Finland the blossoming of the bird cherry coincides with the end of spring and beginning of summer. Although many people love the scent of the white flowers, there are those who find it disagreeable and somewhat overpowering. According to Finnish folk lore, the flowering of the bird cherry and its sweet perfume stood for many things. Amorous young men believed that girls were especially receptive towards their advances, the East European bream and roach left the sea for the rivers to spawn, while inland the common bream began spawning, all at the time the bird cherry and lilac were in blossom.
The heady scent of bird cherry blossom attracts large numbers of flies and beetles. Ripening in August, the dark berries are appreciated by thrushes, robins, warblers and many other small passerines. People rarely pick the berries nowadays, but they proved popular during the Stone Age. Even later, the berries and their stones were ground up and mixed with bread. However, one should be careful about eating too many, since the fruits contain rather large amounts of amygdalin, which is metabolised in the body into sugar, coarse almond oil, and cyanide. The same protective toxin is also present in abundance in the bark and leaves of bird cherry.
In southern Finland bird cherry generally blooms after mid May, whereas it does not flower until the end of June in Utsjoki. In past times the bird cherry was a common and prominent tree species in the Finnish landscape. It grew alongside outbuildings, among piles of stones gathered by farmers in the middle of fields, in meadows, and along forest verges. Then came tractors, farms began to specialise, fodder was brought to pastures, meadows vanished, fields were combined, drainage systems were constructed, and the piles of stones were hauled away. Cultivated spruce stands begin where the field margins end. In short, the bird cherry has all but vanished from Finland?s present day agricultural land.
Bird cherry shares its genus with more than 200 other tree and shrub species. These include almond, various cherries, plum, bullace, peach and apricot. Such species were cultivated for millennia before the start of our own chronological record. Indeed, the peach is no longer even known in the wild form. The famous Roman military commander and gourmet Lucullus originally brought the cherry from Asia to Europe in 66 BC.
Twins for a Pihlajavesi ringed seal?
By Jouko Kuosmanen
Ringed seals usually give birth to only a single pup at a time. Professor Eero Helle studied pregnancy in 250 of these seals in the Baltic and only one had twins. Then wildlife photographer Jouko Kuosmanen discovered a ringed seal family on Lake Pihlajavesi, in Saimaa, comprising a mother seal and two pups. The mother suckled them both. But were they both her own?
Ringed seal researcher Tero Sipilä has heard of two previous cases of a mother rearing two pups. Feeding one young already results in the mother losing 20-30 kg in weight, so that Sipilä feels that two pups in the same family would most likely end up as dwarfs. Possibly exceptionally large, fat females could successfully manage to bring up twins, though.
Sipilä considers it highly probable that the pups observed by Kuosmanen came from different mothers. The pups have got to know each other and spent their time in each other?s company. The mothers may also well be well acquainted and possibly even sisters.
Interview with President Tarja Halonen: Practical environmental action is needed!
By Ritva Kupari
President Tarja Halonen has encountered the challenges posed by sustainable development in both her daily life and at global discussion forums. At both office, as well as her official residence, an effort is made to implement the environmental regulations and principles of sustainable development. The President has regarded this issue as a major challenge.
President Halonen would like to see clear counselling given regarding what solutions are ecologically sustainable. In the last few years a lot of information has been obtained which, however, has had the effect of increasing anguish rather than resolving ecological headaches. She would also like to see the environmental NGOs co-operating to ensure that people take well defined practical steps towards viable solutions.
The President feels one of Finland?s strong points to be that the country is able to demonstrate that modern technology can also assist sustainable development. The romantic idea that one can return to a former way of living to conserve nature is a misconception. Former systems destroyed nature much more than the one?s adopted nowadays. Modern technology may well be sustainable development-friendly!
On the other hand, Finland?s ecological footprint is extremely large. We consume natural resources many times more than we should to achieve sustainable consumption. One reason for this, at least, is the country?s northern location: in a cold country resources are consumed by heating and building. Pulp and metal industry also consume very much energy.
Finland supports the notion that decisions within the EU should be based on a majority vote. At present single countries are able to hold up decisions almost indefinitely. However, the problem is that Finland, as an unaligned state, is unwilling to approve the majority decision alternative in her foreign and security policies. In the future EU, the President regards the Baltic nations and Poland as Finland?s natural associates.
Together with Tanzania?s President, Benjamin Mkapa, President Halonen is also the president of the ILO?s world commission, which is involved with the social connotations of globalisation. The commission also deals with environmental issues. The social dimension cannot be resolved without recognition of the fact that the world?s resources are not boundless. As it is, the limitations of natural resources and their uneven distribution over the world are present realities of globalisation.
Back to the wilds
By Helena Telkänranta
Helsinki Zoo sits on an island cradled by the city. It is a high quality zoo where breeding stocks of several of the world?s endangered animals are kept. The most famous of these is the snow leopard. Some bird and mammal specimens have been returned by the zoo to the wild and this process continues.
Lynxes have been shipped to Poland, wild cats to Bavaria, and eagle owls to Sweden. Ibex have been taken to Austria and individuals continue to be sent there. This species was hunted almost to extinction in the Alps. Specimens living in central European zoos are either mixed progeny of different subspecies, or have an unknown genetic background. Helsinki Zoo?s specimens are known to definitely belong to the type subspecies (Capra ibex ibex).
Golden eagles have been transferred from the zoo to Germany and Poland, European bison to Russia, snowy owls to Lapland, barn owls to the British Isles and Belgium, barnacle geese to Sweden and various parts of Finland, greylag geese to the South-western Archipelago National Park, and wild forest reindeer to the Suomenselkä region in the middle of Finland.
The return of some Przewalski?s horses to the Mongolian steppes is planned. Future descendants of the lammergeier and the griffon vulture will also be sent back to the species? original home in southern Europe.
Helsinki Zoo belongs to EAZA (European Association for Zoos and Aquaria) and complies with the IUCN?s guidelines for returning animals to the wild. Special attention is paid to the adaptive ability and genetic quality of the animals being released. It is only possible to take steps towards re-establishing a species after the local inhabitants have realised the value of the animal and have fully committed themselves to the project.
The adaptation of animals for release is promoted at Helsinki Zoo by a ?do not touch? policy, with the animals living their own lives, being neither brushed nor patted by human hand. The conditions under which the animals live are also arranged so as to permit the inmates to move freely about, foraging for their own food. Lynxes hunt the birds, mice and voles entering their enclosures, while ibex climb about on sheer rocks. As a consequence, a surprisingly large number of released animals have thrived well in the wild. For instance, mortality among ibex released to the wild has not been any higher than that of individuals of like age born free.
Time warp to Finland?s roots
Text by Heidi Gröhn, photos by Kari Leo
The Hossa wilderness recreation area lies on Finland?s eastern border south-east of Kuusamo. It features hiking trails in summer and a network of ski trails in winter. Many of its lakes and streams are well stocked with fish, while the old forests are full of dead wood. There are thus plenty of woodpeckers.
People visited Hossa in bygone times. Here and there are old Scots pines or spruces from which the branches and some bark have been removed. Letters have been carved in the bared trunks with sheath knives. Messages testify to a visit by a vicar, a baby?s christening, or just a good fish catch. The oldest such inscriptions date from the 1740s.
Even older than these are the rock paintings at Julma Ölkky. At the southern end of this, Finland?s most well-known canyon lake, is Värikallio ("Painted Cliff"), a cliff face which Stone Age man daubed with pictures some 4000 years ago. Despite many of the paintings having been destroyed, some have been well preserved by a layer of silicon oxide, or silica, forming a coat over them. It is possible to make out European elk, people and people wearing antlers among the artwork.
There are fewest visitors at Hossa during the spring and autumn. Around 70% of all visitors visit the area during the three summer months.
A week on an island during the great ?Arktika? migration
By Jukka Mikkola
What the Finns call "Arktika" is a massive migration of water birds and waders taking place each May as they move en masse from their wintering places along the Atlantic and North Sea coasts to the tundra region of northern Russia. There are simply millions of birds involved. Long-tailed ducks take the record, followed by black scoters and velvet scoters. Vast numbers of Brent and barnacle geese also head north, as do whooper and tundra swans, dunlins and knots, grey plovers, bar-tailed godwits and whimbrels.
The peak of this massive movement of birds is one of the most spectacular sights Nordic nature can offer. He who has once experienced it will want to return to see a repeat performance time and again. The exact time and the routes taken by the birds vary from year to year according to the weather and the prevailing winds. By far the best location in Finland to witness the annual event are the islands in Finland?s extreme south-eastern corner, right next to the Russian border. Recently, the author of this article has been taking his annual holiday in May and has moved to one of these islands with his family for a whole week in order to enjoy the sight of thousands upon thousands of birds of passage.
So colossal a migration never fails to impress the adults and children of the family alike, and when the all-too-short week has ended, everyone is of the same opinion: "Let?s come again next year!".
Teksti: Käännös Leigh Plester