Reform of the Nature Conservation Act – practical implications are partially unclear
The Finnish Government has approved the proposal for the new Nature Conservation Act. Although several of the planned reforms are beneficial, the practical implications of many remain unclear, resulting in a less predictable operational environment for the forest industry. In addition, the concurrent changes to the Water Act are also unclear in terms of their practical implementation.
The current Nature Conservation Act entered into force 25 years ago, hence there is a clear need for modernisation. The reform clarifies the structure of the Nature Conservation Act as well as its references to other legislation and EU regulations. The roles and responsibilities of authorities and other actors will be clarified as well. In addition, a whole new chapter on management of data on nature conservation will be added to the Act. This is relevant as the amount of and the use of nature information continues to increase.
Assisted migration of protected species will also be added to the Act as a new means of safeguarding biodiversity. In future, it is also possible to obtain financial support for the purposes of maintaining biodiversity based on the Nature Conservation Act. The law also creates a statutory framework for voluntary programmes METSO and Helmi, which seek to comprehensively improve biodiversity.
“The Finnish Forest Industries view the coupling of the traditional static nature conservation with active biodiversity safeguarding measures as a positive development,” states Karoliina Niemi, Forest Director of Finnish Forest Industries.
Businesses require a predictable operational environment
Although many parts of the proposal were clarified during the preparation of the Nature Conservation Act, some changes with unclear implications still remain. The predictability of the proposal is weakened by its obligation to take protected species and habitat types into consideration regarding operations governed under other legislation, such as land use planning and licensing.
“The provisions in question are very unclear in terms of their practical implementation and implications. The Finnish Forest Industries believe that obligations pertaining to specific operations should only be covered in their respective legislation,” Niemi continues.
The proposal also includes a new mechanism to automatically protect certain habitat types. The proposal refers to this mechanism as a form of strict protection. The habitat type conservation under the current Nature Conservation Act is considered strict protection, but it is based on delineation decisions by authorities.
“Automatic conservation should be abandoned and the new habitat types protected through an authority’s decision. It is reasonable not only for the legal protection of landowners’ rights but also for the protection of biodiversity,” Niemi stresses.
The same applies to the new protected habitat types proposed to the Water Act. Practical application of the law would be clearer if these types’ protection was based on delineation decisions under the Nature Conservation Act instead of the Water Act.
Ecological compensation needs to be clarified
Ecological compensation is a part of the Government’s proposal to the Parliament, although the piloting for it is still ongoing. The Finnish Forest Industries believe that implementing a completely new procedure requires a more thorough planning and a wide assessment of its overall impact.
“It is a good thing that legally binding ecological compensation won’t be added in its unfinished state to the Act, but voluntary forms of compensation also deserve well-prepared guidelines. It is important to us that when ecological compensation is implemented, the additionality, locality and real ecological benefits of the actions are ensured,” Niemi stresses.
Safeguarding biodiversity is an important objective and in Finland, a range of methods is inuse to achieve this target.
“During a law’s preparation, various options and their impact should be identified and assessed to ensure that the adopted solutions are appropriate and crystal-clear. This was not given enough consideration with regard to the Nature Conservation Act, which is evident in the unclear parts of the proposal,” she continues.