The Boreal region is a vast expanse of coniferous forests, mires and lakes circling the northern hemisphere. Within the European Union, it includes most of Sweden and Finland, all of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and much of the Baltic Sea. It has specific regional features such as its latitude and climate, a relatively flat topography, a ragged coastline with thousands of islands and a brackish sea.
To best protect this land of forests and wetlands and its rich biodiversity, the relevant Member States and key stakeholders team up to devise nature protection measures, tailored to suit the particular needs of the entire Boreal region and to target its specific pressures.
The list of sites of Community importance for the Boreal biogeographical region, included in Natura 2000, is updated every year.
The Boreal region is a land of forests and wetlands. To the north, it merges with the tundra forest of the Arctic, to the west with the Fennoscandian mountains and, to the south, it gradually turns into the deciduous forests of the Continental region. The region has relatively flat lands, mostly below 500 m. Centuries of grazing and haymaking have resulted in typical semi-natural habitats of high conservation value such as the Boreal Baltic coastal meadows and the Nordic alvar.
Along the southern coasts of Finland and Sweden, thousands of islands and islets intermingle with fens and meadows. Forests dominate the landscape but wetlands are also very common. 10 000 years ago, the entire Boreal region was covered in ice. When it retreated, the ice carved into the hard bedrock, creating numerous lakes, rivers and mires. Three quarters of Europe’s 600 000 natural lakes and some of its largest bogs are found here. In parts of the far north, peatlands make up 50 % of the land surface.
As for the Baltic Sea, it is very shallow (average depth 54 m) and barely connected with the open sea by the narrow strait between Sweden and Denmark. This makes it one of the largest brackish water systems in the world. Low-lying brackish fens are ideal for breeding waders and saline tolerant plants.
The Boreal region is relatively rich in species, considering its latitude. Four mammals occur only here within the EU: the flying squirrel (Pteromys volans), the wild forest reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus), the freshwater Saimaa ringed seal (Phoca hispida saimensis) and the Baltic ringed seal (Phoca hispida botnica). Lynx, beaver and brown bear are also typical. Sweden and Finland are the only EU countries to host the highly endangered wolverine (Gulo gulo).
The dominant forest type, known as western taiga, contains both Norway spruce (Picea abies) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), on a sparse layer of mosses, lichens and ericaceous shrubs on shallow soils. Where the soil is more fertile, valuable herb-rich spruce forests have evolved. Deciduous trees including birches (Betula spp.), aspen (Populus tremula), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and willows (Salix spp.) tend to occur instead on bare ground and along rivers and lakes.
The entire Boreal region is a magnet for birds. The fens and meadows provide ideal nesting grounds for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Waterfowl and seabirds are also drawn to the archipelagos off the coasts of Finland and Sweden. Over half of all European bird species have part of their breeding range in this region. These include rare bird species, amongst them ten species of owl including the Ural owl (Strix nebulosa), six species of woodpecker including the three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) and a range of raptors such as the greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga).
The region is a land of contrasts, with increasingly large urban areas in the south (Stockholm, Riga, Helsinki) and vast areas in the north with very little population. The south averages 40 inhabitants/km² whereas the north counts around 2–3 inhabitants/km². Large scale agriculture is mostly concentrated in the south and increasingly intensive.
Commercial forestry is the dominant land use throughout the region so the forest is mostly of reduced conservation value. Many boreal countries have now introduced national programmes to buy up and preserve the remaining 5–10 % of natural old-growth forests. Hunting is a popular recreational activity and can still be practiced within Natura 2000 sites, provided that it is sustainable. Attitudes towards large predators, however, are still an issue of concern, despite dwindling population figures and the extremely limited number of conflicts between man and predator.
It can take up to 35 years for the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea to be fully renewed due to its poor connection to the open sea. This makes the Baltic Sea highly prone to eutrophication. The region may also expect an overall increase in average annual temperature of at least 2°C by 2050. The consequences for ecosystems are difficult to predict but rare species such as the Saimaa ringed seal, arctic fox and forest reindeer are all likely to be affected. Higher temperatures may also lead to the release of greenhouse gases from boreal forests and peat deposits.
To reflect the changes proposed by Member States to the list of SCIs, and to ensure that all new sites have a clearly defined legal status, the Commission proceeds to an annual updating of the Union Lists.
The list of updates as well as the first version of the Boreal list are available here:
The Reference list of habitat types and species of the Boreal Region includes protected habitat types (Habitats Directive Annex I) and species (Habitats Directive Annex II) present in this bio-geographical region by Member State. These are all habitat types and species for which the Member States have to propose Natura 2000 sites. The Reference Lists derive from the conclusions of bio-geographical seminars and are updated when new scientific information becomes available.