An extensive research project by the wood processing industry on the biodiversity of forests and the impact of biodiversity efforts is making headway. The first results show that the numbers of decaying wood, large aspen, bilberry and lingonberry are on the rise. At the same time, spruce is taking over young forests. New measuring technology helps secure biodiversity in forest operations.

The Finnish Forest Industries Federation and the Finnish Sawmills Association, together with the Natural Resources Institute Finland, the University of Eastern Finland, Metsäteho Oy, the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute and Tapio Palvelut Oy, started a research project in November 2022 to determine the short- and long-term effects of the forest sector’s biodiversity work. The data produced by the research will be used in the sector’s biodiversity roadmap to be released next summer.

The first research seminar of the project presents the latest evidence of the current state of biodiversity in forests. The results indicate positive development in the numbers of broad-leaved trees, rarer species of broad-leaved trees, large aspen, retention trees and decaying wood. Young forests, in turn, show clear signs of being taken over by spruce.

“The structural characteristics vital for the biodiversity of forests have shown positive development. Moreover, the soil cultivation methods used in forest regeneration have been adjusted to be less destructive,” says Research Manager Kari T. Korhonen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland.

“The management of commercial forests and the monitoring of biodiversity have been systematically developed for more than 25 years. This long-term work runs through the entire forest value chain, from the forest owner to the manufacturer of the end product. These results prove that we are heading in the right direction and they encourage us to engage in even more impactful biodiversity efforts,” says Paula Lehtomäki, Director General of the Finnish Forest Industries Federation.

Bilberry and lingonberry flourishing

Operaatio Mustikka (‘Operation Bilberry’), a research project studying the undergrowth of forests, analyses changes in the habitats and numbers of plant species. The preliminary results of the nationwide vegetation inventory conducted by the Natural Resources Institute Finland shows that bilberry, lingonberry, red-stemmed feathermoss and glittering woodmoss have increased considerably since the previous inventory, conducted 25 years ago.

“In mineral soil areas, the development of soil cultivation methods has had a positive impact as the roots of sprigs remain intact. Extensive first-time ditching is a thing of the past, but previously ditched bogs have dried and peatland vegetation has continued to decline,” says Research Professor Raisa Mäkipää.

In the research project, Researcher Juha Siitonen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland analyses the impact of changes in the structural characteristics of forest on forest species; which endangered forest species can be supported by means of nature management and which species are challenging to support. Siitonen also examines the duration of the impact of nature management measures.

“The objective for nature management in commercial forests has been to increase the structural characteristics vital for endangered forest species. The habitats of endangered species that have benefited from nature management include aspens as retention trees and decaying hard wood in spruce forests,” says Siitonen.

Remote sounding and forest machine data in biodiversity efforts

A survey conducted by the University of Eastern Finland, the Natural Resources Institute Finland, Metsäteho and the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute shows that remote sounding can already be used in measuring biodiversity. Researcher Lauri Korhonen estimates that laser scanning technology will enable storing information such as the locations of retention trees in forest resource databases. Forest machinery, in turn, offers the chance to examine biodiversity below the treetops.

“In the future, we will be able to use sensor technology to automatically measure the information of not only the harvested wood but the trees left behind as well. This will give us a better, real-time understanding of biodiversity efforts as part of everyday forest management,” says Professor Kalle Kärhä from the University of Eastern Finland.

The next step in the research project involves modelling the development of forest biodiversity in 2035, 2055 and 2100. On the basis of the future modellings and current-state analyses, the wood processing industry will build a biodiversity roadmap that will be published in the summer of 2023.

“We want to discover the parts of our activities that are in the greatest need of development. This research project has already acted as strong proof of the cooperation between the scientific community and the wood processing industry. We have received new, diverse information to use in our roadmap development. We believe that there is room for both forestry and biodiversity in the same forest,” says Tino Aalto, Managing Director of the Finnish Sawmills Association.

In addition to members of the Finnish Forest Industries Federation and the Finnish Sawmills Association, the research project has been funded by the Union of Industries and Employers Foundation and the Marjatta ja Eino Kollin Säätiö Foundation.

For further information, please contact:

Paula Lehtomäki, Director General, Finnish Forest Industries Federation,

Tino Aalto, Managing Director, Finnish Sawmills Association,

Kari T. Korhonen, Research Manager, Natural Resources Institute Finland, (Development of structural characteristics vital for forest biodiversity 1980–2020)

Raisa Mäkipää, Research Professor, Natural Resources Institute Finland, (Changes in forest undergrowth, Operaatio Mustikka)

Juha Siitonen, Researcher, Natural Resources Institute Finland, (Impact of structural characteristics on the development of endangered forest species)

Lauri Korhonen, Researcher, University of Eastern Finland, (Opportunities of measuring technologies in monitoring biodiversity)

Kalle Kärhä, Professor, University of Eastern Finland, (Opportunities of measuring technologies in monitoring biodiversity)