About peatland and mires

6 September 2015
About peatland and mires

Roughly a third of Finland’s surface area consists of marshy areas that are peat-producing ecosystems. The drainage of natural marshlands was introduced in the 1860s, and the quantity of drained areas increased significantly in the post-war period. Today, half of the country’s marshy areas have been drained and are being used either for agriculture or for growing trees more efficiently, particularly in the south of Finland.

Marshes are very important to Finns and the Finnish environment. Approximately a quarter of the entire stock of the country’s trees, nearly 2.4 billion cubic metres, grow in marshy areas. The share of marshland trees used in wood production amounts to a third of that of trees growing on heath lands, at 1.6 billion cubic metres. Marshlands play a significant role in wood production.

In addition to the production of wood, marshes provide other types of ecosystem services, such as flood protection and various recreational uses. Cloudberries and cranberries growing on marshes are considered great delicacies, and in the autumn grouse hunters head to marshes and wetlands. Several nature reserves have been established on marshy areas, such as Kurjenrahka and Patvinsuo National Parks.

Sustainable use and conservation of marshlands are regulated by the Forest Act, forest certification and a Government resolution

In 2012, the Government issued a resolution regarding a sustainable and responsible use and conservation of mires and peatlands. The resolution lists actions intended to promote sustainable ways to use marshlands and to protect their nature and value in recreational use. A follow-up report published in 2015 showed that progress had been made on all areas covered by the resolution.

A significant portion of legislation concerning the use and conservation of mires and peatlands has been revised or is to be revised in the near future, and several measures regulating the use of such areas have likewise been revised in recent years.

There are 34 endangered species living on marshlands, mostly in woodland-type mires, whereas various heritage environments, such as pastures and forest meadows, are home to over 40 endangered species. This implies that in relation to surface area, the species found on marshy areas are not particularly endangered as a whole. However, this does not mean that there is no need to promote the conservation of marshland species.

No new drainage on pristine marshlands

Modern forestry does not make use of hydrology intended to modify the primary value of pristine marshlands. No new drainage is created and drainage maintenance is only undertaken in areas with potential for forest management development, depending on the eutrophication and accumulated temperature of the area. In terms of quantity, the current amount of drainage maintenance is insufficient in relation to the number of overgrown drainage ditches.

In practice, this means that the more barren marshlands in particular are reverting closer to their natural state as ditches are becoming overgrown. From the point of view of water conservation and the survival of species, natural restoration is probably at least as effective as active blocking of drainage ditches, as it makes it possible to avoid sudden hydrological changes.

Woodlands in pristine state, including areas that grow wood horsetail and cloudberry, have been defined as conservation areas by the Forest Act. Forest certification specifies that the hydrology of natural marshlands must be maintained. Together with the changes required by the Government resolution, they form a complete set of principles for versatile and sustainable use of marshland environments.

Sami Oksa

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