A bringer of hope

Scientists understand what it takes to respond to the challenges posed by climate change. This understanding should now be put into words and concrete measures, climate researcher Tero Mustonen says.  

Text Sari Eskelinen Photos Janne Raassina and Raija Törrönen

Restored into a wetland a couple years ago, Linnunsuo is an old peat production area located in the village of Selkie in eastern Finland. Although the former marsh has lost much of its nature value, it has quickly become an important habitat for birds, even on a national scale, with several rare species migrating through and nesting in the area. Indeed, it’s a bird watcher’s paradise.

“It doesn’t take immense resources to restore wetlands into natural environments that are suitable for birds. The same is also true for other environments that have lost their nature value,” Tero Mustonen says.

Living in Selkie, he has turned his research into action through the Snow Change Cooperative, which works to restore water areas, among other things, in different places across Finland. In December 2018, the cooperative secured significant funding for its Landscape Rewilding programme, which is the largest restoration project ever to be carried out on privately-owned land in Finland.

“Restoring privately-owned land that has lost its nature value is an important tool in climate change mitigation. Restored areas don’t turn into old forests or marshes overnight, but restoration makes it possible for different animal species to return there.”

Tero Mustonen chairs the Selkie village committee and, according to him, the Linnunsuo wetland is a good example of well-functioning co-management. There is room for bird watchers and, after the autumn migration of waders, also for hunters.

Mustonen is a geographer whose expertise has been widely used. Thanks to his research, he has had the opportunity to meet various heads of state, and he was one of the authors of the climate change risk report commissioned by the Obama administration. Currently, he is working on the Sixth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, focusing on the effects of, adaptation to and vulnerabilities associated with climate change.

“From the viewpoint of the climate and nature, the situation is perilous by any indicator. My own thinking starts from the idea that there are limits to how much nature can bear. It’s utter nonsense to say that these limits could be pushed further by a new project or a nice slogan.”

The Linnunsuo wetland, however, is an important example witnessing that even small things matter when safeguarding biodiversity and mitigating climate change.

“When you give nature space, it is quick to reclaim lost habitats – and this is not something we humans should see as a threat.”

 

Intensive forest management is the key reason behind the loss of biodiversity in Finland. This is especially true in southern Finland, as 95 per cent of the country’s commercial forests are located south of the Arctic Circle. Southern Finland is also home to five million hectares of drained marshes.

The majority of Finland’s forests are privately owned. Forest owners have plenty of say about their forests, and also plenty of opportunities to have an influence.

According to Mustonen, forest owners and land owners can also play a major role in climate change mitigation.

“Through the well-planned and diverse use of forests it is possible to safeguard both economic and environmental values.”

Nature conservation and the commercial use of forests are not mutually exclusive. For instance, selective felling makes it possible to preserve the forest structure. It is also possible to preserve valuable nature types within felling sites, such as those preferred for nesting by the rarely seen white-backed woodpecker.

“In the UK, for example, large interlinked patches of land spanning from coast to coast have been preserved and restored back to their natural state. These patches of land create uninterrupted habitats for different species.”

This is important, since scattered habitats are one of the key threats to biodiversity.

 

The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples should, according to Mustonen, be made better use of in the governance of natural resources. This is also required by the international Convention on Biological Diversity. However, a study by Mustonen and Camilla Brattland, a researcher based in Norway, found that Finland and Norway, for example, are struggling to make use of the traditional knowledge of the Sami people in the management of salmon populations.

“There is a need for dialogue between the different parties. Land owners, local residents, representatives of business and industry, researchers and other stakeholders should sit down and discuss the measures needed for the brown trout to return to the local waters, for example.”

Moreover, local residents can often provide researchers with valuable information on how their natural environment has changed. The mitigation of climate change and biodiversity depletion requires not only that we start doing things differently, but also that we change the way we think.

“This is not an economic or technical crisis, but a spiritual one. Our social system is consumerist and leaves very little room for nature’s own system. We don’t always understand what nature is and what it is that we should be doing.”

However, there is still hope, and small things matter. “For example, you can let grass grow in your yard, or even just on half of it. This creates a habitat that is suitable for different kinds of insects.”

UEF Bulletin 2019