Beneficial outcomes from a successful Finnish LIFE Nature project include the involvement of military personnel in practical habitat restoration actions and the mainstreaming of new nature conservation guidelines into defence force codes of conduct.
Located in western Finland near Lohtaja, the coastal habitats of Vattaja comprise the country’s most extensive Natura 2000 sand dune habitat site. Here, over 450 ha of open sand habitat stretch along 15 unbroken km of shoreline. Six different priority habitats are found in the Natura site which is also home to eight other habitats of EU interest. These include various dune formations as well as coastal lagoons.
Part of the Vattaja Natura designation is attributed to the coastline’s unique natural characteristics. The area has the fastest land upheaval rate in Europe (experiencing approximately 8-9 mm/year), which results in the sand dune habitats being in constant flux as the coast and its vegetation types are slowly shifting towards the sea. Nature conservation work is therefore underway to monitor and manage the status of these important habitats.
Some of the main challenges involved in such conservation work include balancing the needs of Vattaja’s priority habitats with the sand dunes’ different land users, a major one of which is the Finnish military. LIFE Nature funds were awarded in 2005 to help Finland’s forestry authorities work with the national defence forces and regional NGOs in a partnership project to find solutions that ensured a sustainable future for the Vattaja Natura 2000 site.
This Vattajan dyyni project received a LIFE grant of just over €900 000 for its partnership work and the EU money helped to lever a total investment of €1.8 million in nature conservation work during the project’s four year term. Much of this funding was targeted at areas affected by military training, such as in the transition mire and forest habitats. A proportion of the LIFE funds were also used for improving management of tourist and livestock pressures in other parts of the sand dune habitats outside of the army’s firing ranges and exercise areas.
Inside the military zone, early LIFE project efforts focused on developing a conservation strategy for the Natura habitats. This included detailed proposals for restoring dunes, pastures, forests and mires. Implementation of the management plans generated results that surpassed the project’s objectives. Small wildlife clearings were created across 140 ha of forests and coastal meadows were restored by clearing stumps and young pines from 70 ha. Over 15 ha of wooded pastures received remedial attention and the project blocked 7.2 km of ditches which helped to increase the availability of decaying wood in the restore mires.
Military personnel participated in a number of the project’s habitat restoration actions and this effective partnership work with the Finnish defence authorities was a crucial success factor behind the project’s nature conservation outcomes. Military responses proved decisive and highly productive in terms of establishing an favourable outlook for the Vattaja habitats. Thanks to LIFE, new procedures are now in place that reduced the army’s operations in sensitive sites by 90%. Live firing grounds have been relocated and a network of signs have been introduced to identify areas that are off-limits for heavy vehicles or troop use.
Other important LIFE results included the mainstreaming of new nature conservation guidelines into the defence forces code of conduct. These are anticipated to have a considerable impact on the sustainability of Vattaja’s sand dunes, as well as the country’s wider military training grounds.
See the project’s website for more information about this transferable example of LIFE’s support for military intervention in nature conservation.