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Why monitor habitat types?

Monitoring habitat types is important because they represent functional entities in nature. Changes in habitat characteristics indicate that the ecosystem is changing. It is vital to monitor how ecosystems function under pressure from climate change and human activity as humanity is entirely dependent on the services provided by ecosystems.
Dry heath forest in its natural state.
Heath forest is Finland's most common habitat type. © Riku Lumiaro

In addition to humans, habitat types also provide other species with the habitat they need: for example, animals find food, shelter, and mating and hibernation sites in nature. Monitoring of species plays an important role in monitoring the status of habitat types. And vice versa: monitoring the structural features of habitat types can offer insight into how species are doing. The monitoring of habitat types is part of the monitoring of biodiversity. The aim is to obtain information on the trends in the range, total area, size and location of habitat type occurrences as well as changes in the structure, function and species composition of habitat types.

How is monitoring carried out?

The monitoring of the surface areas and locations of habitat type occurrences are not the only essential factors in the monitoring of habitat types, but the monitoring of features indicating the quality of habitat type occurrences is also key. Among other thing, these features are related to topography; soil; water conditions; micro-climates; vegetation structure; plant, animal and fungal species; and various human-induced disturbances.

The status of habitat types can be monitored either through field inventories or remote sensing methods. Modern monitoring combines both of these so that the interpretation made by remote sensing is confirmed through observations from the field. With the help of observation points, artificial intelligence can be taught to interpret satellite images or other geoinformation to observe changes in, for example, tree species or moisture balance throughout Finland. 

However, field observation has remained the key monitoring method and it cannot be completely replaced by new technologies. New technology can also be utilised in the field, such as eDNA methods, which use DNA residues in the environment to shed light on the species composition in the area.

In Finland, monitoring of habitat types has mainly taken place in monitoring programmes originally established for the inventory of natural resources and the general status of the environment.

Habitat type monitoring related to projects and measures

Environmental permits may require that the impacts on habitat types are monitored. In this case, the structural features, function and species composition of the habitat types are monitored. Monitoring may be particularly targeted at the characteristics that are assessed to be impacted during the project in advance: for example, when the project affects groundwater levels, it is important to monitor changes in water management and impacts on vegetation and trees, especially in sites sensitive to these changes, such as mires, springs, streams and herb-rich forests.

A spring in a forest.
Brooks and springs are sensitive to changes in the environment. © Riku Lumiaro

Planning the monitoring of habitat types in individual projects must always be carried out by qualified experts. Monitoring needs may be very case-specific and there are no general guides for monitoring habitat types in such cases. However, support such as guides for restoration may be helpful.

Help in assessing the impacts of projects can also be found in the nature survey guide and the ecological impact assessment guide. Once the impacts have been carefully assessed, it is easier to plan their monitoring.

Nature surveys and assessment of impacts on nature
Guide for authors, contractors and authorities (abstract in English)

Monitoring of restoration and management

Monitoring is also carried out locally in connection with the restoration and management of habitat types in order to know how well the objectives were achieved.

Strong development in habitat type monitoring

The monitoring of habitat types has been developed and is currently being developed in various projects. A proposal for monitoring habitats and species under the EU Habitats Directive was prepared in 2008. A comprehensive monitoring proposal is also being drafted in the LUSEK project launched in 2021 by Syke, which will cover both the habitat types under the Habitats Directive and other habitat types.

Monitoring of marine habitat types is currently being developed especially in the Biodiversea Life IP project (2021–2029), which is Finland's largest cooperation project to safeguard the diverse nature of the Baltic Sea. The development of monitoring in the project is led by Syke and the joint project is coordinated by Metsähallitus.

The monitoring also produces information on indicators on the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. In 2022, the planning of indicators measuring the state of these ecosystems was carried out by habitat type group.

In addition, monitoring of restoration and management will be developed in the extensive Helmi Habitats Programme (2021–2030) to provide information on the impact of restoration and management actions that are carried out.


Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)