Forest retention across borders: ConFoBi visits Finland

Forest retention across borders: ConFoBi visits Finland

by Anna Knuff

with contributions from Bettina Joa, Fabian Gutzat, Jan Helbach, Johannes Penner, Ronja Mikoleit & Taylor Shaw

Integrating biodiversity conservation of multiple-use forests and forest management is a major topic not confined to Germany, much less Baden-Württemberg, where ConFoBi does its research. We were curious about what experiences other countries have had so far. What kind of research has been conducted in other forest ecosystems? How does the transfer of knowledge from science to policy, and vice-versa, work elsewhere? What successes have been achieved? What parallels or differences are there compared to Germany? What can we learn from each other? And are the islands in Finland’s numerous lakes also forested? Furthermore, after our Summer School 2017 where we visited the forest that most closely resembles a natural forest—Bialowieza in Poland—we wanted to experience experimental retention forestry. With all these questions in mind, a group of seven ConFoBi members ventured out to explore Finland with its boreal forests as their Summer School 2018.

Fig. 1. One of the 187.888 lakes in Finland.

Our trip brought us first to Joensuu, a university town in eastern Finland. There, we met Jari Kouki (University of Eastern Finland) and Timo Domisch (Natural Resources Institute Finland, Luke) who are conducting studies on retention forestry and biodiversity, respectively. Jari introduced us to “Fire and retention trees in facilitating biodiversity in boreal forests” (the FIRE experiment Many of the threatened species in boreal forests depend on high amounts of dead wood which remain after naturally occurring forest fires. Unfortunately for many of these saproxylic species, modern forestry suppresses fires very effectively nowadays. Additionally, the dominant clear-cutting practice does not leave sufficient dead wood either. In the FIRE experiment, Jari and colleagues tested whether controlled burning and leaving varying amounts of retention trees could alleviate negative consequences on forest biota on harvested sites. They found that there is still a major difference in biodiversity between natural conditions and harvested sites even with retention. They also found that burning significantly influences the system in a positive way for biodiversity conservation: on harvested sites burning distinctly enhanced biodiversity of saproxylic species, especially beetles, at all retention levels. Fire damages the retention trees to different degrees so that many different microhabitats emerge and dead wood is supplied more continuously. Especially in combination with high retention levels, this ensures a long-term supply of critical resources (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. A FIRE experimental site: Even 20 years after burning and clear-cutting at a high retention level, there is still continuous dead wood supply.

With Timo, we visited some Finnish study sites of the project “Functional significance of forest biodiversity in Europe” (FunDivEurope Within this project, researchers from 15 European countries examined whether the number of tree species in forests (i.e. tree richness and species composition) affects ecosystem services such as timber production, carbon storage and insect herbivory. Thanks to the large-scale set up of study sites in which they could use the same methods in forests of different tree richness all over Europe, they were able to make comparisons between vegetation zones. As often in ecological research, the closer you look the more complicated it becomes. Mediterranean, temperate and boreal forests differ greatly in their ecosystem services. These differences are not well explained by the number of tree species (i.e. whether we look at mono- or mixed cultures). What is far more important is the tree species itself, and what combinations of species comprised the experimental sites (Fig. 3). Still a large part of the variation remains unexplained and calls, as always, for more research.

Fig. 3. Visiting Luke and their study sites of FunDivEurope: Measurements are still being collected in the plots.

On our way back to Helsinki, we stopped at Lusto, the Finnish forestry museum. During a guided tour and subsequent exploration of the museum on our own, we gained insights into historical and present day forest uses and their influence in Finland. These ranged from timber harvest, collection of berries and mushrooms, production of tar to slash-and-burn agriculture. We also learned about the social significance of forests for Finnish communities, including forest mythology and folklore (in which bears play a feature role), single trees used for ritual and ceremony, and local forests which to date provide space for foraging, play, education, exercise and folk art. The exhibitions were complemented by contemporary pieces of art either concerning forests or made of wood and other forest products (Fig. 4). The museum is outstanding and we all agreed that it provided a comprehensive overview with numerous well-selected details.

Fig. 4. At the Lusto Forestry Museum: Only occasion where we could observe elks from close range

In Helsinki, we met Eeva Primmer, a researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE who is also closely associated with ConFoBi (Fig. 5). We had a science-policy seminar on biodiversity conservation in managed forests, with a diverse range of interesting talks from both representatives of Finnish institutions and ConFoBi. Saija Kuusela from SYKE spoke about METSO (, a highly regarded and successful program, which encourages private forest owners to participate in voluntary biodiversity conservation through a compensation scheme. She shared insights about how she addresses high-level decision-makers in other projects and reflected upon how findings need to be communicated very context-sensitively depending on the target audience and their needs.

An example of how knowledge of biodiversity conservation was integrated into management of state-owned forests was given by Lauri Saaristo from Tapio, a provider of forest management related advisory and consulting services in Finland. Tapio ( is an interesting case of an intermediary organization with very good connections to both the government and forest owners, and as such is well-position to communicate scientific results to practitioners. In Germany, due to the federally fragmented forestry policy landscape and the resulting diversity of organizations, such boundary-crossing work might need to be tackled differently. Maari Loiskekoski, a ministerial adviser at the Ministry of the Environment, added a perspective on biodiversity conservation from public administration’s viewpoint.

Doctoral students of ConFoBi gave an overview of the integrative forestry management paradigm in Germany, forest management policy and practice related to forest biodiversity conservation in Baden-Württemberg to the Finnish attendees (Ronja Mikoleit), presented first results on local ecological knowledge and conservation practices of private forest owners in Baden-Württemberg (Bettina Joa) and introduced an approach for evidence-based biodiversity management guidelines (Fabian Gutzat).

Fig. 5. Our ConFoBi group with Eeva (left) at SYKE Finnish Environment Institute.

The program of this year’s Summer School added nicely to our last Summer School to Bialowieza National Park (Poland). Last year we visited close-to-pristine forest remnants and explored the tensions arising over how to use them. This year, in contrast, we took a deep look at boreal forests, which have a management system that differs from our study region in the Black Forest. We met scientists who conduct similar research to ours, but in different settings, and learned the value of fire. We had a lively exchange with people from the policy-science interface and glimpsed into the long road ahead of us in our translational approaches. We returned with many new insights and an admiration for Finish bakery and hospitality. And yes, most islands are forested – but not all of them…

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