Helmi habitats programme aims to strengthen biodiversity

Helmi habitats programme, led by the Ministry of the Environment, aims to strengthen Finland’s biodiversity and safeguard the vital ecosystem services that nature provides for us. At the same time, the programme is working to curb climate change and promote adaptation to it.

Through the programme, Finland is taking effective action on behalf of biodiversity:

  • We are protecting and restoring mires.
  • We are rehabilitating aquatic bird habitats, wetlands and coastal areas.
  • We are managing semi-natural grasslands.
  • We are managing forest habitats, such as herb-rich forests and sun-exposed esker forests.
  • We are managing and rehabilitating coastal and aquatic environments, such as sandy beaches.

The Helmi programme is a key tool for halting biodiversity loss in Finland. The programme's actions will provide help to hundreds of endangered species and most of the endangered habitats in our country. The Helmi programme is based on voluntary action by landowners.

42 million euros for habitat restoration and conservation in 2020

The Finnish Parliament has allocated an additional appropriation of 100 million euros for nature conservation in 2020, of which 42 million euros will be used for the Helmi programme.

The actions to be taken in 2020 include action plans, surveys and inventories, as well as conservation, restoration and rehabilitation of habitats. The first mire habitat that has already been conserved is Haukisuo in Juuka, North Karelia. The management and restoration measures to be taken by the Parks and Wildlife of Metsähallitus and Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment will first be started in conservation areas.

In addition, long-term objectives for the Helmi programme will be prepared. The Ministry of the Environment has appointed a broad-based steering group and a working group to prepare the objectives and content of the programme until 2030. The groups should complete their work by the end of March 2021. Based on the outcome of this work, the Ministry of the Environment will draw up a decision on the Helmi programme to be submitted to the Government for approval during spring 2021.

Protecting and restoring mires

The protection and restoration of mires strengthens the biodiversity of mire areas, helps to curb climate change and improves the status of our waters.

Mires are one of our most degraded habitat types, and many species that depend on them are on the decline. They are home to 120 endangered species, including the willow grouse and the ruff, plants such as the marsh helleborine and saxifrange, and butterflies such as Nola karelica and the woodland brown.

About half of all mire habitats in Finland are endangered. The main reason for the threatened status of mires is forest drainage: more than half of the mire areas in Finland have been drained for forest cultivation. In practice, drainage of new mire areas has already ceased, but mires are continuing to dry out.

In their natural state, mires bind and store significant amounts of carbon. Restoration of ditched mires restores their natural aquatic environment and vegetation, making them efficient carbon sinks. Restoration also reduces the flow of eutrophying nutrients from mires into waterways and mitigates flooding.

The Helmi programme aims to protect some 20,000 hectares of mire by the end of 2023. Protection is voluntary, and landowners receive compensation for it. The employees at the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment negotiate on the protection of land with the landowners. The negotiations will begin with sites of particular value for biodiversity that have already been identified.

The programme aims to restore 12,000 hectares of ditched mires located in protected areas by the end of 2023. At the same time, the programme will restore the ditched areas that surround protected areas, in cooperation with landowners, either by blocking the ditches or by returning the waters to unditched mires.

The ditched mires outside of protected areas are currently being assessed to identify the most valuable sites from the point of view of biodiversity. Once the assessment is complete, their restoration will be negotiated with the landowners.

Parks & Wildlife Finland, run by the state-owned forest enterprise Metsähallitus, is working to restore the mires located in and around protected areas. The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment are launching water restoration projects in cooperation with the Finnish Forest Centre.

Restoring aquatic bird habitats and wetlands

The restoration of wetlands and aquatic bird habitats is essential for the protection of many of our endangered coastal and aquatic birds. Half of the bird species living in wetlands are endangered, and the main reasons for this are the eutrophication and overgrowth of wetlands.

The rehabilitation of aquatic bird habitats and wetlands will help a wide range of endangered and declining bird species, such as the common pochard and the garganey, the coot, and many species of shorebirds. Rehabilitation will also improve the vitality of many endangered plants and insects living in wetlands.

Most of the significant wetlands and aquatic bird habitats in Finland have already been protected or are located on state-owned land. The Helmi programme aims to rehabilitate the 80 sites that are most valuable and in most urgent need of rehabilitation measures by the end of 2023. Depending on the site, rehabilitation measures include clearing, dredging, mowing, raising the water level, hunting small carnivores and management fishing.

The restoration measures will primarily be targeted at Natura 2000 network special conservation areas under the Birds Directive, which include the most important wetland sites and aquatic bird habitats.

The Finnish Environment Institute will investigate the order of priority for the restoration of aquatic bird habitats and wetlands, and will prepare a guide that can be used by the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment and Metsähallitus in their restoration of these sites.

Managing semi-natural grasslands

Semi-natural grasslands and wooded pastures are a highly endangered part of our nature. Changes in farming practices have reduced the surface area of grassland habitats, leaving them abandoned. Natural pastures and meadows need continuous management to prevent overgrowth.

The management of semi-natural grasslands helps the many endangered species that live there. Semi-natural grasslands are home to a particularly large number of endangered plant and insect species, such as moonwort, dwarf gentian, the clouded Apollo butterfly and the marsh fritillary, along with Aphodius sphacelatus, a dung beetle that depends on natural pastures for survival. The management of meadows and fields also helps to safeguard food production, as they are important habitats for pollinator insects.

The Helmi programme aims to rehabilitate 15,000 hectares of semi-natural grasslands biotopes by the end of 2023. Finland currently has around 30,000 hectares of semi-natural grasslands managed by grazing and other means.

Management and rehabilitation will begin in areas covered by the Natura 2000 network. At the moment, the state of semi-natural grasslands Finland as a whole is being surveyed and the most valuable sites are being identified. The management and rehabilitation measures will be targeted based on the results of the survey.

Management of woodland habitats

In the management of woodland habitats the aim is to enhance habitats where natural values have degraded as the area has become overgrown with trees and shrubs or because of human action. Such habitats include herb-rich forests, sun-exposed esker habitats and habitats of certain species. 

At first measures are targeted to sites covered by a contract, decision or plan symbol concerning the protection of the area concerned. The habitat restoration programme Helmi aims to find new means to secure the natural and ecological values of different kinds of sites in cooperation with landowners.

Practical measures to manage woodland habitats may include removal of spruces in herb-rich forests or hardwood-dominated woodlands and improving the habitats of different species in nature conservation areas.

Restoration of aquatic and shore habitats

The key aim in the restoration of aquatic and shore habitats is to enhance the biodiversity of small water bodies and shore environments which may have degraded as a result of land use changes and water construction. Small water bodies mean creeks, brooks and trickles, ponds and springs, and lagoons shaped by land uplift along the coast (flads and glo-lakes). Urgent measures are needed for many brooks and springs, and we already have a lot of experience on methods to restore these. Whole catchments areas are taken into account in the planning of all measures and especially in their implementation schedules. Measures to restore aquatic and shore habitats can also be combined with other conservation themes, including those concerned with mires, bird waters and semi-natural grasslands.

For many shore habitats, more and better baseline data is needed for the planning and targeting of measures. This is why in the first stage the focus is on further studies and data collection. Many of the necessary measures also involve elements that are related to land use planning and legislation. Fortunately, shore habitats already benefit from actions taken in other types of sites covered by the themes of the Helmi habitat restoration programme. In targeting restoration measures priority would first be given to well-inventoried sandy shores and dunes.

Inquiries:

Päivi Gummerus-Rautiainen, Programme Manager, tel. +358 295 250 240, [email protected]

Hanna-Leena Keskinen, Special Advisor, tel. +358 295 250 096, [email protected]

Themes:
Restoration of mires, habitats: Aulikki Alanen, tel. +358 295 250 333, [email protected]

Semi-natural grasslands: Tapio Heikkilä, tel. +358 295 250 166, [email protected]

Aquatic bird habitats and wetlands: Ilpo Huolman, tel. 0295 021 393, [email protected]

Management of woodland habitats, mire protection: Esa Pynnönen, tel. 0295 250 386, [email protected]

Restoration of aquatic and shore habitats: Antton Keto, tel. 0295 250 148, [email protected]