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Viable habitats provide species with a living environment and people with functioning ecosystem services

Habitats are a very significant part of natural diversity. They offer species a living environment and provide people with essential ecosystem services. The current state of Finland's habitat types has been most thoroughly examined in the national assessments of threatened habitat types (2008 and 2018), in addition to which the state of habitats considered important by the European Union has been evaluated (2007, 2013, and 2019). Efforts have been made to protect habitats through various means including legislation as well as restoration and nature management.
Rock meadow
Many endangered species of plants, mosses and lichens grow on dry and calcareous rocky meadows. © Riku Lumiaro

Protection of species is often not possible without the protection of their habitats. If a nutrient-rich open fen is drained and becomes forested, demanding species of rich fens, such as the moss Scorpidium revolvens and orchids can not grow in an environment that transforms into a pine mire. In Finland different habitat types have been classified into eight main groups: The Baltic Sea, the Baltic Sea coast, inland waters and shores, mires, forests, rocky habitats, seminatural grasslands, and fell habitats.

Threat status of habitat types has been evaluated twice in Finland

The threat status of habitat types has been evaluated for a second time in 2018. Of approximately 400 habitat types, 48 percent were listed as threatened. The results of the first assessment in 2008 are not directly comparable with the second assessment because of differences in the assessment method. Based on the results, it is nevertheless possible to say that the state of the habitat types has not improved, and that the trend for many habitat types has been seen declining.

The main reasons for habitat types becoming threatened are related to forestry, ditch drainage, clearing for agriculture, construction, and eutrophication of waters. The significance of climate change as a future threat in particular is expected to increase.

 Climate change is a threat to snowbeds in Finland.  © Riku Lumiaro

State of habitat types can be improved

Improving the state of habitat types requires protection, nature management, and restoration both in conservation areas and outside them in areas under commercial use. Nature management is needed especially in many habitat types of forests and in seminatural grasslands suffering from overgrowth. Climate change increases the need of nature management in many types of habitats. A key issue is taking habitat types better into consideration in the planning of land use and the utilization of natural resources.

Restored brook
A restored urban brook in Imatra city offers a spawning ground for lake trout and a good living environment for their offspring. © Riku Lumiaro

The benefits offered by nature to people are called ecosystem services. These free services can only be maintained if the ecosystems formed by the habitat types remain viable and functional. If we weaken the function of an ecosystem, the number or quality of the services that it provides may deteriorate. For example, damaged natural waters and wetlands cannot produce fish for nutrition, or clean water, or protect against flooding.

Protected habitat types: Nature Conservation Act and the EU Habitats Directive

Finland's Nature Conservation Act lists habitat types that can be protected by a decision of an ELY Centre (Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment). The protection covers areas of listed habitat types if these occurrences are in a natural state or in a state comparable to a natural state. There are not very many protected habitat types, and they often cover just a small area, but they nevertheless play a valuable role for natural diversity and as landscape protection.

Most of the protected habitat types are stands of deciduous hardwood forest. Other protected habitat types include herb-rich forests with hazel, black alder swamps, sandy beaches, seashore meadows, sand dunes, dry meadows with juniper, pollard meadows, and prominent single trees in an open landscape.

The EU Habitats Directive protects natural habitat types considered important by the community, and protecting them requires special areas for protective measures - so-called Natura 2000 areas. Of the habitats in the Habitats Directive, 68 are found in Finland.  These include habitats of sharply differing sizes, such as extensive boreal natural forests and raised bogs, and habitats with a very small area, such as springs with tufa formation or alluvial meadows.

Hazel groves are among the protected habitat types under the Nature Conservation Act. © Riku Lumiaro


Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)