Forestry in Finland


Finland is the most forested country in Europe

Finland is the most extensively forested country in Europe. Forests cover 86 percent of its land area. There are about four and half hectares of forest to every Finn.

In terms of phytogeography, Finland is situated in the boreal coniferous zone. Almost half of the volume of the timber stock consists of pine (Pinus sylvestris). The other most common species are spruce (Picea abies,) downy birch (Betula pubescens) and silver birch (Betula pendula). The Finnish forestry and forest industry are based on the use of these principal tree species which all are indigenous. In all, Finland has about thirty indigenous tree species.

As regards the tree species found here, Finland is located in the northern coniferous zone or the taiga. It is also called the heathland forest zone. In the taiga, the number of forest-forming dominant tree species is small.

Finnish forests are also categorised according to the forest type classification developed by A.K. Cajander. The system is based on the fact that the competition between species and their different requirements lead to the development of a unified vegetation or forest type in each type of habitat. Thus, the forest type is linked to the productivity of the habitat. In forest management, the forest type is used, among other things, to assist in the choice of a suitable tree species for each location, and of the best method of regeneration – sowing, planting or natural regeneration. The forest type also reveals something of the timber-producing capability of the habitat.

Average growth of million cubic metres on a summer´s day

The total volume of timber in Finnish forests is 2,189 million cubic metres. The total annual growth of the trees is 98,5 million cubic metres. The growing season in Finland is about 80 days, which means that the average daily increment is over one million cubic metres. So, during one day of the growing season, the increase of timber in Finnish forests equals a compact woodpile that is one meter in height and width and one thousand kilometres in length.

The volume of growing stock in the forests has increased ever since the 1960s. For over 30 years, the growth of Finnish forests has clearly exceeded the volume which is removed from the forests naturally and trough harvesting.

In Finland, forestry land is classified according to the annual increment of trees growing per hectare. The majority of Finnish forests, 20 million hectares, grows on forest land with high productivity. The area of low productive forest land and other land area for forestry combined is six million hectares. The term 'forest' generally means productive and low productive forest land together.

Out of forestry land, 34 percent consists of mires. The area of forest land increased from the 1950 up to the 1980s, because mires with a poor yield were drained which resulted to higher productivity per hectare.

Forest management: productive and close to nature

The important principles of Finnish forest management are sustainability and closeness to nature.

Sustainable forestry combines three objectives. The ecological tolerance of nature must not be weakened; in other words, the environment may only be altered to the extent that nature is able to recover its former condition after the change. The social and cultural values of forests may not be weakened, either. Thirdly, forestry must be financially profitable to all partners involved.

Forest management that is close to nature means that natural processes are emulated in forestry. Thus, the cyclical processes of nature are altered as little as possible, while still maintaining the financial profitability and social sustainability of forest management.

During the 20th century the management of Finland's commercial forests adopted the system of periodic cover silviculture. This means that silviculture is organised into rotation periods. A rotation period begins when a new forest stand is established and ends after several decades, when most of the trees are harvested before regeneration of new forest stand. During the rotation period, the forest is tended by, for instance, thinnings, which means that small trees and trees with little economic value are removed. This leaves more space for the remaining, more viable trees.

Forest destruction is prohibited by law

The destruction of forests was prohibited in Finland by the very first Forest Act in 1886. Currently this prohibition means that within five years of the rotation period has ended a new forest must be established to replace the one felled. It also is prohibited to start fellings for regeneration until the timber is sufficiently stout. The regulations for nature management must also be observed.

The method of setting up a new forest depends on the type of habitat. In general, seedlings are planted on productive lands, since they are capable of competing for space with grasses. On poor, grassless lands, seeds may be sown. These two methods of establishing a forest are called artificial regeneration. A forest may also be established through natural regeneration. This means that a sufficient number of large trees are retained to provide seeds for a new stand. The retained trees are felled after the seedling stand has been established.

The average annual felling area in Finland is a generous two percent of the forest area. About two thirds of this consists of thinnings while the rest is made of regeneration. Out of all trees growing in Finland, four fifths are the result of natural regeneration.

The aim of silviculture is to maximise the yield of most valuable roundwood in the forest. To qualify as roundwood, a tree has to be sufficiently straight and stout, which is why roundwood is harvested particularly in the end of the rotation period. Roundwood is processed by sawmills into planks and boards. Smaller trees are called pulpwood, which is harvested particularly in thinnings. Pulpwood and chips, which are a by-product of sawmills, are sent to pulp mills because they are very good material for paper and cardboard. The sawdust produced by sawmills is used either in board manufacturing or for the generation of energy.

Harvesting also produces residues – the crowns, branches, twigs and stumps of trees. An increasing proportion of this is gathered in to provide a source of energy for power plants.

State subsidies safeguard forest management

The state subsidises the forest management undertaken by private forest owners. The aim is to safeguard the continuous growth and health of Finnish forests. An important reason for the subsidies is the fact that the benefits from a silvicultural investment are not necessarily reaped by the person who makes it; they may only be realised by the next generation. It is important for society that the productivity of forests is guaranteed also on the long run, which is why the state considers it necessary to encourage forest owners to invest in forest management.

However, the factor most important for the profitability of Finnish family forestry is a continuous industrial demand for each timber grade. This is not the case in all parts of the world. In Finland this has been attained through long-term efforts over several decades.

Forest policy since the 19th century

Finnish forest policy is based on sustainable forestry and the multiple use of forests. The use of forests is regulated to ensure the welfare of both nature and people and the economic sustainability of the forestry.

Finnish forests are open to everyone by virtue of the so-called everyman's rights. This means that everyone may freely and without charge ramble in all Finnish forests, regardless of who owns them. No permit from the forest owner is needed to enjoy the everyman's rights, and no charges are payable. However, the use of everyman's rights may not cause harm or disturbance to anyone.

The roots of Finnish forest policy go back to the 19th century, which is when general concern over the state of forests was awakened in the country. Finland's forest resources were dwindling at an alarming rate, due to the selective felling of the stoutest timber and the gathering of firewood. Before this period forest destruction had been caused by the slash-and-burn agriculture and the manufacturing of pit tar. In 1859, the Government established a forest management authority, subsequently named the Metsähallitus (Forest and Park Services), to restore the state of the forests and to improve their management. In 1886 a new Forest Act was passed, prohibiting the destruction of forests and striving to safeguard the regeneration of forests after felling.

After Finland's independence in 1917, a reform with a significant impact on forest policy was passed in the 1920s. Tenant farmers were given the right to buy the land they had held under their tenancy agreements. This was the beginning of Finnish family forestry.

During the 1990s, Finnish forest policy was thoroughly reformed. At that time, the concept of sustainable forestry was redefined, so that the requirement of ecological and social sustainability was given an importance equal to the sustainability of timber production.

Diversified forest planning

Forest policy is translated into practical action by various means, including forest planning and the activity of forest organisations. The target areas of forest planning range from single farms to regions and the whole country.

The highest forest authority in Finland is the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The duties of regional forest authorities are managed by the 13 Forestry Centres. Among other things, they enforce the Forest Act and also manage the forest planning for regions and individual farms.

Forest Management Associations are statutory organisations of private forest owners. They operate within one or several municipalities, and their aim is to support the profitability of forestry and the achievement of other forest management goals set by the owners. Forest owners are subject to a statutory forest management fee, which is used to finance the advisory activity of the Forest Management Associations. The associations are entitled to levy a payment for other services which they provide for the forest owners.

The authority in charge of managing the state forests is the Metsähallitus (Forest and Park Services). Certain sections of the state forests are in commercial use, while others are protected. Under the Metsähallitus organisation, the management of these two is strictly separated. The management goals of commercial forests are defined by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and those of protected forests by the Ministry for the Environment. The aim of commercial forest management is to generate revenues for the state, while the management of protected areas is financed by the state from its annual budget.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry also sets the framework for the activity of the Finnish Forest Research Institute and the Forest Development Centre Tapio.

Finland is also an active participant in international forest policy, both within the European Union and elsewhere in Europe, as well as globally.

Legislation and everyman’s right guarantee multiple use.

Finnish forestry legislation is based on the principle of sustainability which has three equally valued elements: social, ecological and economic sustainability. In Finnish conditions multiple use means much the same as social sustainability and there are several ways to make this come true in the forests. One of the most important is the wide-spread forest ownership in Finland: almost one fifth of the population owns forests. Also the rest of the population have free access into the forests, which is guaranteed by what are called everyman’s rights.

Everyman’s right is not based on law, but on established custom, which is also observed by courts of law in their decisions. Everyman's right belongs literally to everyone – not only Finns, but also all visitors to Finland. These rights are valid in all Finnish forests, excluding certain areas under strict protection. In some of these everyman's rights are valid to some extent, while in others they do not exist at all.

Everyman's rights allow everyone to move in forest and nature on foot, on skis, on bike or on horseback. Camping in nature is also allowed, as is the picking of natural flowers, berries and mushrooms. They also include some restrictions. No damage or nuisance to the landowner or to nature is allowed. The use of a motor vehicle without permission from the landowner is prohibited. Similarly, making a fire without the landowner's permission is prohibited. Naturally, the right to gather natural flowers, berries and mushrooms does not apply to protected plants – or to timber, for instance. Everyman's rights, such as the right to camping, are not valid in the grounds or immediate vicinity of residential buildings.

Forests provide game and berries

Finland differs from many forestry countries in that Finns have strong respect for the sustainable use of forests also for the needs of forest industries. This is partly due to the everyman’s rights; on one hand forestry is practiced almost everywhere in the country, and on the other hand, everyman’s right gives everybody a chance to see the practices and make their own mind on the basis of experience. And because of wide-spread forest ownership each and every Finn knows someone who either owns forest or works in forest sector.

Everyman's right guarantee that anyone can enter the forests owned by anyone or anybody. And this is exactly what Finns do: three out of four Finns have leisure pursuits related to forests, on the basis of everyman's rights. Two out of three Finns visit forests weekly for physical exercise. The average distance from residence to areas with berrying or mushrooming potential is four kilometres. Half of the Finns live only about one kilometre away from good berrying or mushrooming grounds. 

There are 37 species of edible wild berries in Finland, 16 of which are picked for food. The annual volume of berries picked is about 40 million kilos, and 75 percent of this is picked for family use. Financially, the most important species are red whortleberry (lingonberry), bilberry and cloudberry.

About 200 of the of mushroom species growing in Finnish forests are edible. 23 mushroom species are approved for commercial use.

The annual volume of edible mushrooms can reach some 360 million kilos in a good year, and three quarters of this is in such good condition that it could be picked.

However, only 5–9 million kilos of mushrooms are picked annually in general and almost all of this is consumed by households. Of all mushrooms picke, only about 0.5 million kilos are picked for commercial use.

During an exceptionally good year of 2003, 13 million kilos of edible mushroom were picked. 

The most popular outdoor pursuits of Finns are walking, swimming in natural waters, spending time at the summer cottage, picking berries, biking, fishing, boating, skiing, picking mushrooms and spending time on a beach. Hunting is a very widespread pursuit in all social groups, because the right to hunt is linked with land ownership. There are 300,000 hunters in Finland, two thirds of whom go out hunting at least once a year. Most of the 60 species of game in Finland live in forests. Financially the most important species of game is the elk.

The origin of wood is tracked from forest to factory

Tracking the origin of wood means that the buyer and user of wood product know where the wood which is used to make the product actually originates from. By tracking the origin of wood the forest industry makes sure that it buys only legal wood which comes from sustainably managed forests.

The largest forest industry companies track the origin of wood in all countries where they are buying and using wood. Tracking the origin of wood is, however, especially important in countries where the share of certified forests is small and where societal infrastructures are not fully developed.

Logging is well documented in Finland

The domestic wood the Finnish forest industry uses comes from certified forests. 95 percent of Finnish economic forests are certified. Certification means that an independent third party testifies and gives a certificate, which proves that the forests are managed legally and sustainably.

The origin of un-certified wood is also known in Finland, thanks to long traditions and well-developed information and mapping systems. There does not exist any illegal logging in Finland.

The wood supply units of forest industry companies have also been granted certificates for the methods they use to verify the legal origin of the wood. These are called the chain of custody certification systems.