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Biodiversity

    Biodiversity is a cornerstone of life. It is the genetic diversity of species, the species richness and diversity of habitat of those species. Biodiversity affects the resilience and resistance of ecosystems to environmental change. It can be even seen in variability of landscapes.

    Protecting the waters is in essence about protecting biodiversity. When the ecosystem is not in balance, new species take over other life forms. This is what is happening to the Baltic Sea and numerous lakes in Finland. We humans have shaped the environment for a long time – mostly to our needs. We can also shape it for the better to take care of our environment.

    In the best case scenario taking care of the environment also benefits us. But it is also important to understand the value of biodiversity as something that sustains life for future generations. Rich and diverse environment can offer ecosystem services for us.

    Biodiversity has been in the background lately as climate change and eutrophication of the Baltic Sea have dominated the discussion. The United Nations declared year 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity but unfortunately not much came out of that year.

    Biodiversity does not only mean rare and extinct species. Biodiversity is also common species living and reproducing in environments that are typical to them. Humans can greatly affect the biodiversity of agricultural environments and often this also leads to benefits to recreational activities.

    For more information visit the Finnish Environment Institute biodiversity information system LUMONET

    Current situation

    Loss of biodiversity is not a threat only in rainforests but is also one of the largest environmental problems facing agricultural environments. These cultural environments are habitat to several species. Almost a third of endangered species in Finland are dependent on these rich and variable habitats. Intensive farming has led to monocultures that do not support these endangered species, but this can be corrected by recreating the diverse agricultural environments needed.

    In the 20th centrury biodiversity was not a priority as intensive farming became widespread.  Only at the end of the century loss of species started to get attention and agri-enviromental subsidies were directed to protect biodiversity in addition to water pollution control. However, the goals set for the agri-enviromental support system have not been reached.

    Results from MYTVAS report

    MYTVAS report (2008, Kuussaari, Heliölä, Tiainen and Helenius)  is a report on the significance of the Agri-enviromental support scheme to biodiversity and landscape in Finland. The Finnish agri-environment support scheme includes several obligatory and optional support measures (Read more). According to the report the basic and optional support measures have not been enough to increase biodiversity or even maintain it. The basic measures do not include any measures that would significantly increase biodiversity.

    The report states that the measures from special contracts (such as management of traditional rural biotopes) are a functioning part of the support scheme but they cover only 13% of the subsidies. Reason for this is likely to be the bureaucracy of the application process which has led to farmers not to apply if the related land areas are not significant. Farmers also feel that the monitoring of these subsidies is intimidating, even when the farmer has done their best to do what is demanded.

    Farmers do not have a direct need for nature management work unless the farm in question is a large cattle farm that has need for pastureland. Nature management should be planned better taking into account farmers and modern farming methods. Game management is a good example of this. There are over 300 00 hunters in Finland and over 40% of them own land. This means many hunters are significant supporters of biodiversity in agricultural environments.

    Measures for biodiversity in agricultural environments can be divided into measures taken on the field and off the field. Measures on the field concern all farmers when measures off the field such as management of traditional rural biotopes concern farmers that have their own interests in doing them. However, these measures can have financial importance to farmers with large cattle farms.

    At their best agri-enviromental measures can contribute to biodiversity, reduce nutrient loading, offer new ways of recreational use and add to the diversity of the landscape. It can be difficult to combine all but finding the suitable solutions can lead to multiple benefits.


    Goals

    The rapid loss of biodiversity is a global problem. Several agreements have been made to address this problem. A major global agreement is the UN Biodiversity Convention signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Countdown 2010  is an initiative by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and European Union to halt the loss of biodiversity The goals for the agreement were set by the member states of the EU in Göteborg 2001. Finland has signed both agreements.

    European goals

    The common European has been to meet the goals of year 2010 by implementing all laws and agreement that are related to stopping the loss of biodiversity. European Union has agreed to inspect current programmes so that they support the goal as well.

    In Finnish agriculture these goals are achieved through the agri-enviromental support scheme. If the agri-enviromental measures are not well functioning or attractive, the farmers will not choose to implement them as much as needed.


    To do

    To better promote biodiversity in Finnish agriculture, the results from the MYTVAS report should be taken seriously . The new agri-environmental support scheme, regarding biodiversity, should be based on those results – combined with views from farmers on how the measures work. The next period of the scheme starts in 2014 so there is some time left.  Innovations are needed now.

    Bureaucracy of the support system makes it unattractive to farmers. Faster sources of financing are needed. For example the LEADER subsidies and special measures subsidies of the Finnish agri-enviromental support system have become so inflexible that they are not used as much as before. Fear of making mistakes has become a major problem. The support system should be simplified at once though it will not be an easy task.

    It is important to direct more support for biodiversity measures on the field. These can be for example direct sowing, naturally managed fields, use of catch crops, conserving open ditches and pasturage. More specification is needed on all of these.

    Measures that increase biodiversity and are implemented off the field, are for example use of natural pastures (traditional rural biotopes etc.), mowing of traditional rural biotopes and buffer zones. Measures that are used in game management should also be more extensively used in management of agricultural environment because in addition to game species these habitats are home to other species dependent on agricultural environments. For example, measures to help Finnish Grey partridge benefit many other species. The Nature and Game Management Trust Finland has prepared a report on how to manage the grey patridge population in Finland (in Finnish).

    For more information visit Biodiversity.fi