Suomen Luonto
English summaries 2/2001

Written in the snow
By: Antti Halkka
pages: 4-11

Many animals remain hidden during the winter but leave their tracks in the snow and various other signs in the environment. The Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute assesses the size of the populations of our most familiar mammals by studying their tracks in snow. Winter trails reveal, for example, where otter, pine marten and brown hare populations are heaviest in this country.

Even with minimum skills at reading tracks in the snow, the ordinary nature lover is able to recognise the prints of red squirrel, mountain hare, fox, or mustelids without too much trouble. It is more difficult, though, to identify the similar prints of the wolf, wolverine and lynx. One can learn to recognise tracks best by following them for some distance.

Snow also hides animals, protects them, and provides insulation. The tunnels of voles run in networks beneath the snow where, however, they are not safe from the attentions of weasels, foxes and owls. Squirrels, roe deer and hares are able to find food under thin snow, while reindeer can reach ground lichens beneath a snow cover as much as a metre deep. Black grouse, willow grouse and capercaillie plunge into soft snow without leaving any tell-tale trails, to spend the night in a tiny "snow cave" of their own making. Snow also offers shelter to mountain hares, brown hares and European elk (moose).

A pine sapling's broken crown informs us that an elk has been having a meal. Hares eat the bark from aspen twigs and branches that have fallen to the ground, or been cut down with the tree. Badgers and woodpeckers dine on wood ants that have withdrawn for hibernation into the deeper quarters of their nests. Many kinds of animals gather winter stores, the largest of which belong to the beaver and wolverine. Willow, crested, and coal tits store seeds and invertebrates in crevices in tree bark, while the Siberian jay's larder is located among spruce branches.

Towards the end of February, evidence that foxes and wolves are ready to mate may be discovered. The first crane footprints appear on bogs and mires in March-April, while the start of the annual display tournaments (leks) of the black grouse and capercaillie are detectable on the hard snow of late winter. The bear also stumbles out of its winter retreat on to the spring snow.

National Park for Raumanmeri
by: Raimo Sundelin & Juhani Korpinen
pages: 22-28

Satakunta and Vakka-Suomi are campaigning for a national park, Raumanmeri National Park, on their coast. This park would extend from the Gustav outer archipelago to Uusikaupunki and Luvia, and in the marine area fronting on to Rauma to the inner archipelago, thereby nicely serving to fill the gap in the national park network between the Archipelago Sea and the Bothnian Sea.

The area's rich natural habitats extend from the onshore herb-rich forests to the outermost islets. Shores with little human construction on them are rare nowadays and the uncluttered ones at Rauma are one of the prime features of the archipelago. Other natural gems are the large forested islands and small islets with their interesting bird and plant life. There are also many cultural values associated with the archipelago's history.

The natural park project is considered important in Satakunta. Cabins have already been constructed for visitors arriving by boat and sleeping shelters and jetties have been provided, in addition to trails with information boards. However, the intention is to retain the existing wild character over most of the area.

Construction projects of various kinds have threatened the area. Plans to build an oil harbour and to lay roads have already been abandoned but there remains the eternal threat of summer house construction.

Iceland is my native land
by: Jouko Parvianen
pages: 42-46

Iceland is a land of opposites. The bleak, unpredictable environment is offset by warm spring waters. The weather is variable, the Gulf Stream ensuring that Iceland is more temperate than Finland. It is a 3000-km trip from here, the journey being accomplishable in winter only be air. Europe's most sparsely populated country supports only 280,000 inhabitants, 60 % of whom live in the Reykjavik area. Only 2000 people live in the author's home town of Dalvik, in northern Iceland.

Icelanders have a deep respect for culture and even tiny Dalvik has five choirs. The favourite form of culture is literature, which has roots going way back to the sagas written in Viking times and the Edda poems based on religious and mythical subjects.

Swift settlement of the island took place in the 800-900 (9th and 10th century) period. Covering two-thirds of the land area, the natural birch woods were destroyed in the course of a few generations and nowadays only one percent of the land is forested. The Icelanders have decided, however, to reforest one-tenth of their country. At the present rate of five million seedlings a year, this will take almost a thousand years.

Private cars are generally used for short journeys, causing a pollution cloud over Reykjavik on still days. There is very little polluting industry and buildings are heated using geothermal hot water provided free by the planet. Unfortunately, living close to nature has given people the idea that the environment can withstand just about anything, with the consequence that snowmobiles have caused problems and environmental matters are generally paid scant attention.

Iceland's first wetland protected area is located on the River Svarfadardal estuary. This is the nesting ground of countless seabirds, diving and dabbling ducks, and waders.

The ice beckons
by: Anna Parkkari
pages: 18-21

In winter, we can handily get acquainted with Finland's lake and marine environments on skates. From the ice, southern Finland's winter landscapes are often breathtaking and the "cross country skater" experiences a feeling of freedom that is difficult to put into words.

People venturing out on to the ice in this way should follow a few simple rules: they need to be suitably equipped and clothed, move in a group, and keep a watchful eye on conditions at all times. The sound a skate makes tells the wearer how thick the ice is. One should be extremely aware that, especially in the spring, even thick ice can be soft and dangerous, giving way suddenly beneath a skate.

This style of travel is ideal for all those interested in nature, since keeping a watchful eye on everything that is happening as we skate along keeps us constantly vigilant.

Out and about on the snow
by: Jaakko Heinonen
pages: 30-35

With the onset of winter frosts, many small terrestrial animals vanish into hiding. A few tough little arthropods, however, continue their active lives even during the cold season.

No-one knows why some insects and spiders are specialised in living on top of the snow. Rather than fly, many of them hop about, and feigning death (to resemble a dead insect or rubbish) is another common habit. There is plenty of space on the snow and competition is slight. The most well-adapted of snow dwellers are able to keep going even at minus 6-8 degrees Celsius, but a temperature of zero or a few degrees above this turns the snow into a veritable love nest, a grazing pasture, and a hunting ground.

The special community adapted to the snow surface comprises only a few dozen species. It includes members, or occasional visitors, from almost all insect orders. Practically every year something new crops up among the life on the snow. The latest arrival is a small harvestman, about which nobody appears to know anything!

Teksti: Leigh Plester