Suomen Luonto
English summaries 1/2003

Red squirrels keep warm in their nests
By Alice Karlsson
Pages 4-9

The Finnish winter is now at its most severe. As the temperature continues to fall to well below zero animals take shelter in a broad variety of places. Snow protects many of them but the nests of red squirrels are located out in the open. Squirrels generally build their nests in a spruce tree, starting with the twigs of the outer shell. This completed, they traditionally line the nest with wispy beard lichens. If these are unavailable, moss or even grass provides a substitute. Near buildings the squirrels have learned to use the mineral wool with which people insulate their own homes. In very stiff frost squirrels only leave their nests if they have to.

Red squirrels thrive on a diet of spruce and Scots pine seeds but in years when cones are scarce they nibble off the shoots at the tips of the branches representing the year?s new growth. They also readily visit the bird table in search of nuts, sunflower seeds and lard. Reijo Juurinen, a wildlife photographer from southern Finland, has been photographing squirrels in his yard for the last 30 years. It all began with some hazel trees which he planted below his window. The trees flourished and started to produce nuts which attracted squirrels. Now over ten of these animals regularly visit Juurinen?s yard. They nest in boxes hung up for them in the yard.

Squirrel skins used to be used as money in Finland. A squirrel pelt was a ?coin? of rather low value. For instance, in the mid 16th century 80 squirrel pelts could be swapped for a bow, six axes, approximately 52 kg (6 units in terms of the old North-European 20-lb measure) of rye bread, 8-14 ells (approximately 5-8 metres) of homespun cloth, or 40 lb of butter. Squirrels were hunted for commercial reasons right up to the 1960s. Nowadays it is rare for anyone to bother. A hunter could expect to bag a few thousand individuals in the course of the hunting season, which extends from the beginning of December to the end of January.

Squirrel populations vary enormously from one year to the next, depending on food availability and weather conditions. On average Finland?s total population appears to be about three million individuals.

Bottled water to be marketed from a sacred spring?
By Kirsi Kangas
Pages 14-15

A heated argument is going on in conjunction with the water in Sulaoja, a stream in the Municipality of Utsjoki in northernmost Finland, and whether it would be wise to build a water works there, as has been suggested. Those with an eye to commerce consider that the pure spring water could bring money into the poor municipality, while traditionalists feel that the spirits are going to put a curse on the entire undertaking.

Launched by the municipality in 2001, the water works project is aimed at exploiting Sulaoja?s abundant water supply for the world's rapidly growing bottled water markets. Sulaoja is fed by the Kylmäkaltio spring which has traditionally been considered sacred by the Saami people. Some 50,000 cubic metres of water a day, or 555 litres a second, pour into the stream. The intention is not to take water from the spring itself but to site the proposed well 120 metres away from it. Some 1,300 cubic metres of water a day would be siphoned off.

The area is popular with tourists and a nature trail set up by Metsähallitus - the Forest and Park Service - skirts the spring. One end of the spring is most likely an old sacrificial site and there are also ancient wild reindeer traps in the area. Some Saami oppose the plan on the grounds that the site is sacred and has national monument values, while others feel that the work and money that sales of bottled water would bring are the answer to their ancestors? prayers. Most of today?s Saami pay no attention to the "spirits". In the autumn of 2002 the Municipality of Utsjoki withdrew from the project and is now seeking an entrepreneur or enterprise to continue with it.

Disclosing Finland's most abundant animals
By Antti Halkka
Pages 16-23

In 2000 there were around 5 million people inhabiting Finland - in the winter there was an equal number of great tits. In winter there are also 4 million willow tits, 2-3 million yellowhammers and goldcrests, and 1-1.5 million crested tits. Among the breeding birds the most abundant are the willow warbler (8.5 million), chaffinch (6.5 million), redwing (2.1 million), robin (1.7 million) and brambling (1.6 million). Compared to 1988 the most startling differences were found to be the decrease in the number of tree pipits from being number 3 on the list to number 8 and the robin going up from number 10 to position number 4.

The most common mammal in most years is the bank vole, the second most abundant being the common shrew. In years when vole populations are at a low ebb the reverse is true. In favourable forests in the springtime there are approximately 10 bank voles per hectare, but as many as 50 per hectare in the autumn after the breeding season: when the population is at its peak there may be as many as 100 million bank voles in Finland. There are far fewer of them in infertile forests compared to more productive habitats. Other common species are the root vole, southern vole, northern water vole, masked shrew, pygmy shrew and yellow-necked mouse. Rat and house mouse populations are most dense near human habitation. In some years the Norway lemming is also one of our commonest mammals.

As to the larger mammals, there are a million or so muskrats and mountain hares. In the autumn some 200,000 red foxes, minks and raccoon-dogs can be found here. The total red squirrel population amounts to about 3 million individuals, that of the European elk (moose) 200,000.

Finland boasts few reptiles and amphibians but an impressive array of fish. The most abundant reptile is the common, or viviparous, lizard, with the adder, or viper, ranking second. Next come the grass snake and slow worm which, however, occur here in far fewer numbers. Our commonest amphibian is the familiar common frog, followed by the common toad and moor frog. In the fish category the Baltic herring and sprat head the list. It has been estimated that the spawning population of the former in the Baltic as a whole amounts to a around 30 000 million breeding fish. The Finnish population of the species can be assessed as being around 10 000 million breeding fish. The third most abundant fish species is the vendace, with the perch falling fourth. These are followed by the roach, ruffe, smelt and bleak.

It is difficult to estimate invertebrate populations. In conjunction with the periodical national forest inventory in Finland the number of wood ant (Formica rufa) nests has been estimated, however. Depending on the forest type, 1-3 of these occur in a hectare of forest land. From this it can be roughly calculated that there are around 10 000 000 million or 10 billion wood ants crawling about in our forests. However, such numbers pale into insignificance in comparison to the number of Collembola, Oribatei mites, Nematoda and Protozoa. For instance, there are one million nematodes per square metre of soil and their total population in Finland runs into the uncountable trillions.

Common roots of the Milky Way
By Teuvo Suominen
Pages 28-32

While all Indo-European languages refer to "the milky way", the Ugric languages alone refer to this constellation as "the bird's flight path". Moreover, the Finns and their relatives are united by the belief that the creature in question is a water bird; in Finland, for example, the species is designated a goldeneye in The Kalevala, while the Mansi in arctic Russia have opted for a red-throated diver. There are over 20 million people of Ugric descent left in various parts of Europe and Asia, speaking 30 different Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages. Although such peoples have been incapable of understanding one another for a long time, they do have over one thousand common words for various kinds of fish, trees, parts of the body, and natural phenomena.

In the 1970 three Estonians set out to discover and film the common roots and traditions of the Ugric peoples. At the same time they laid a firm foundation on which these peoples could be made aware of their own identity and their roots and origins. The film, Winds of the Milky Way, was written and directed by Lennart Meri, later to become the first president of the newly independent Republic of Estonia. It was filmed by Rein Maran, with Enn Säde as sound recordist. These three personalities were present at the Kuusamo Nature Photo festival held in Kuusamo during the 2002 autumn, when they showed the film they had shot a quarter of a century ago.

In the now defunct Soviet Union making a film called not only for the requisite level of professional skill, but also an intimate knowledge of the system and the inevitable loop holes in it. A bottle of cognac and a sense of humour often produced better results than an official seal or permit! However, the Soviet authorities did not leap for joy when they saw the film, which showed people dwelling under primitive conditions and concerned itself with their weird history.

Winds of the Milky Way was warmly received in Estonia, Finland and Hungary, though. It was awarded a silver medal at the New York film festival. Moscow three times demanded that changes be made to the film, after which it was buried and officially forgotten. Enn Säde feels that the Soviet authorities at the time would have preferred the documentary to have concentrated on the Soviets' large power stations and modern dwellings.

One hundred years since the Brünnich's guillemot was blown off course
By Jukka Kauppinen
Pages 40-41

A hundred years ago a gale brought thousands of strange birds in a much weakened state to Finland, where they died in our snow and waterways. Mementoes of this event are to be found in the Kuopio city museum collections, which contain some Brünnich?s guillemots gathered in late November to early December 1902. The birds were observed flying south over Kuopio?s market place, some of them later being picked up dead from surrounding fields and frozen lakes.

The well-known Finnish zoologist A.J.Mela collected observations on the Brünnich's guillemot. Obviously thousands of the birds had arrived in various parts of Finland, several dozen of them ending up either in the pot or in museum collections. Mela considered that the unusual occurrence of the species in Finland was due to winter arriving before autumn in western Siberia, the normal home of the birds. At the beginning of October the thermometer there stood at 25 degrees below zero Celsius and by the end of November to early December period it had fallen to minus 50 degrees. The sea froze much earlier than usual and the ice extended further out than in an average winter. Thus, the Brünnich?s guillemots had either to get up and leave, or die.

Waste burned in "clean" biogas vehicle
By Ari Lampinen
Pages 60-61

Biogas is a better alternative than natural gas as a vehicle fuel, because it produces no net carbon dioxide emissions. Only half the amount of nitrogen oxides are evolved compared to petrol-fuelled passenger cars, and only one third as much compared to heavy vehicles running on diesel oil.

Such large amounts of biogas could be produced from municipal wastes that they would be sufficient for fuelling a large proportion of Finnish cars. The gas would prove cheaper than oil-based fuels. Cars can be constructed such that they can cope with both oil-based fuels and bio- and natural gas. This would only increase the price of new vehicles by a few percent.

Finland?s first private biogas vehicle was put on the road last autumn. It is owned by a farmer producing biogas from manure, kitchen waste, energy plants and food industry wastes.

Teksti: Leigh Plester