The Forest Biodiversity Programme METSO – voluntary forest conservation and management in private forests

During the meeting of the European Network Integrate in Toruń, Poland, Sanna Kasurinen, from the Finnish Forest Centre, presented the METSO-programme, an initiative aiming to halt the ongoing decrease of biodiversity of forest habitats and species in Finnish forests. The Forest Biodiversity Programme in particular addresses private forest owners. The overall objective is that based on a voluntary agreement, nature conservation is enhanced and communication improved on biodiversity of forest habitats and ecosystem services amongst stakeholders.

A characteristic of Finland’s widespread forest-covered land area is that 61% are in private ownership. This means that one out of seven Finnish citizens is a forest owner. In order to support them and to ensure the protection of habitats, the Ministries of “Agriculture and Forestry”, and ”Environment” launched the METSO programme in 2008. The programme is an initiative in where private forest owners and the Finnish Forest Centre or The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment set up a joint arrangement, where both sides agree on certain criteria, among other, to allow natural development within the designated private forest area. The METSO programme offers three options to forest owners: those include (1) a permanent or (2) temporary protection, or (3) a targeted nature conservation management within the selected forests. In many cases these settlements are valid for a period of ten years. It is also possible to agree on permanent protection of the area.

This approach, being voluntary based, has raised positive attention amongst forest owners, but also with NGOs, forest companies and authorities. Thus the METSO programme experiences an increased interest in forest conservation or of permanent forest protection. According to the official METSO website “Forest owners value the voluntary approach, the independence in decision-making and the chance to retain their property rights in the available conservation schemes”.  The programme also grants forest owners full financial compensation equivalent to the value of timber growth on the protected site. In the case of a permanent protection, the private forest owner’s income from the site is tax free. “Forest owners are the actual decision makers in their own forests. They are often interested in preserving the nature values and the METSO programme is a good tool to support their decision-making process. Also, voluntarism has a great importance to value forest owners own will and desire”, says Sanna Kasurinen from the Finnish Forest Centre.

With its individually and independent possibilities for forest owners, the programme follows the Finnish government’s objective to have more than 90 000 hectares either voluntarily protected by landowners as private nature reserves or acquired by the State. Additionally, protected forest sites can serve nature-based tourism and recreation. METSO offers forest companies an approach to support a ‘green image’ which can be beneficial with customers within Finland and abroad. The METSO programme fulfills many EU directives and long-term strategies for enhancing and promoting forest biodiversity and connects the needs of forest owners with those aiming to provide forest ecosystem services.

For further information:

Photo: Pinus sylvestris in Koiravaara, Finland

Credit: Tanya Pyhäjärvi/UOULU, Finland

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