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Boreal Biogeographical Region

With its endless expanse of coniferous forests, mires and lakes, the Boreal Region forms part of a distinct band of vegetation which circles the entire northern hemisphere. Habitat types blend seamlessly into one another, creating a characteristic mosaic landscape of forests and wetlands. Along the coast, bedrock archipelagos intermingle with lowlying brackish fens and meadows, providing ideal nesting grounds for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.

The Boreal Region of the European Union includes most of Sweden and Finland, all of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and much of the Baltic Sea. It has a relatively flat topography, mostly below 500 m. To the north, the zone merges with the forest-tundra of the Arctic, to the west the ground rises up onto the Fennoscandian mountains and, in the south, there is a transition to the deciduous forests of the Continental Region. Forests cover around 60% of the region and dominate the landscape. The majority is used commercially and is, consequently, of reduced conservation value compared to the original natural old-growth forests, which now account for less than 5–10% of the resource. The dominant forest type, known as western taiga, contains a mixture of Norway spruce Picea abies and Scots pine Pinus sylvestris. Its structure is relatively simple with a sparse field layer of mosses, lichens and ericaceous shrubs on shallow soils. Where the soil is more fertile, the understory becomes carpeted in a rich assembly of herbaceous shrubs and bushes. Overall, the boreal forests harbour a rich array of well adapted plants, insects and other animals. Rare bird species are also ever-present, they include ten species of owl, such as Ural owl Strix uralensis, six species of woodpecker like the three-toed woodpecker Picoides tridactylus and a range of raptors such as the greater spotted eagle Aquila clanga.

Wetlands are the next most common landscape feature. Around 10,000–15,000 years ago the entire Boreal Region was covered in ice. As the massive ice sheet retreated after the last Ice Age, it carved shallow depressions into the hard bedrock of granite and gneiss which over time evolved into lakes, rivers and mires. A significant proportion of Europe’s natural lakes and some of its largest bogs are found in this region. In the far north, peatlands can make up 50% of the land surface in places.

The coastline and islands around the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia are also very characteristic of a boreal environment. Having been depressed under the massive weight of ice, the coastline is once again emerging from the sea. Around the Gulf of Bothnia this is said to be rising by as much as 1 cm a year. As the water recedes, low-lying habitats, ideal for breeding waders and saline tolerant plants, develop. They have been used for centuries for grazing and haymaking which has, in turn, resulted in a number of typical semi-natural habitats of high conservation value such as the boreal Baltic coastal meadows, the Nordic alvar and the natural forests of primary succession stages. The archipelagos situated off the southern coasts of Finland and Sweden are also very interesting from a conservation perspective. Made up of thousands of islands and islets, dotted amidst a calm and gentle sea, they paint a picture postcard landscape. Flocks of breeding and staging waterfowl and seabirds are drawn here in their thousands, attracted by the clement weather, sheltered bays, shallow waters and abundance of food. As for the Baltic Sea, this is one of the largest brackish water systems in the world. Its only connection with the open sea is through the shallow sounds between Sweden and Denmark. As a result, it can take up to 35 years for the Baltic to be fully renewed by water from the North Sea and beyond. This, combined with the fact that the sea is very shallow (average depth 54 m), makes it highly prone to eutrophication.

Demographically, the region is a land of contrasts, with increasingly large urbanised areas in the south (Stockholm, Riga, Helsinki) offset by vast areas in the north where the already low populations are decreasing even further. The south averages 40 inhabitants/km² whereas in the north it is more typically around 2–3 inhabitants/km². Large-scale agriculture is also generally concentrated in the south where it is becoming more intensive. The growing season here is 200 days compared to 100 days in the north. This is influenced not just by temperature and soil quality but also by the number of daylight hours and length of snow cover. Commercial forestry is, on the other hand, widespread throughout the region.


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Member States:

EE • FI •  LV • LT •  SE

Lead country: Finland


More information:

Ecosystems and Habitats
Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process in the Boreal Region
Regional Cooperation
Relevant Projects
Relevant Publications


Ecosystems and Habitats




9070 Fennoscandian wooded pastures

1630 Boreal Baltic coastal meadows

6530 Fennoscandian wooded meadows

6510 Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)

6450 Northern boreal alluvial meadows

6210 Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (* important orchid sites)

6270 Fennoscandian lowland species-rich dry to mesic grasslands


9010 Western Taïga

9050 Fennoscandian herb-rich forests with Picea abies

9060 Coniferous forests on, or connected to, glaciofluvial eskers

9080 Fennoscandian deciduous swamp woods

91E0 Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)


91D0 Bog woodland

7230 Alkaline fens

7160 Fennoscandian mineral-rich springs and springfens

7120 Degraded raised bogs still capable of natural regeneration

7110 Active raised bogs

Rivers and lakes3260 Water courses of plain to montane levels with the Ranunculion fluitantis and Callitricho-Batrachion vegetation

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Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process in the Boreal Region

Document library

Background documents First Boreal Seminar (2012) 

Background documents Second Boreal Seminar (2016)


Discussion Forum

Sub-forum dedicated to the Boreal biogeographical region


 Preparatory / Follow up actions

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Regional Cooperation

Regional Networks

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Regional Funding

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Relevant Projects

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