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    METSO Programme

    The forest biodiversity programme METSO aims to halt the ongoing loss of forest species and biotopes in order to create favourable trends in forest biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020.  At the heart of the programme is voluntary-based conservation. One of the main goals of METSO is to establish 120,000 hectares of new conservation areas. In addition, nature management activities and preservation of valuable forest biotopes will cover over 100 000 ha of privately owned commercial forests.
     
    The METSO programme was originally created to give an incentive to private landowners to participate in biodiversity conservation in southern Finland, where very few wooded areas are not in economic use. Today, all other landowners can also participate in the programme, including forest companies and municipalities.

    The programme aims to:

    • Activate voluntary-based conservation agreements between forest owners and authorities
    • Improve Finland’s network of protected forests
    • Continue and enhance the application of nature management and restoration methods in commercially managed forests and conservation areas
    • Improve the knowledge base on forest biodiversity conservation and train professional foresters
    • Enhance collaboration between forest and environmental organizations
    • Improve communication on the biodiversity of forest habitats and ecosystem services

    What does the METSO programme have to offer?

    • METSO is based on a voluntary approach and is highly valued by forest owners who can decide to include their forests and peatlands in the programme
    • METSO offers an opportunity to maintain and improve the biodiversity in commercial forests and conservation areas
    • METSO has succeeded because, in addition to forest owners and authorities, a broad group of forestry and environmental stakeholders accepts and supports its imple¬mentation in practice
    • METSO takes a novel and bottom-up, voluntary approach to conservation
    • Conservation agreements are either permanent or temporary (10–20 years). Landowners get full financial compensation for conserving areas and tax-free compensation for permanent protection.

    How are METSO forests selected?

    The sites offered by forest owners are evaluated against selection criteria which define what kind of ecologically valuable habitats are to be protected in the programme. The criteria are based on the ecological structure of forests and on forest habitats important for biodiversity and ecosystem services. The criteria include ten different forest and peatland habitats.

    Sites are especially favoured where habitats are well preserved in their natural state or could easily be restored, or where they host threatened species. Another important selection criterion is the proximity of potential sites to the current network of protected areas or whether they are otherwise important for ecological connectivity. Impacts on sustainable economic activities, recreation, tourism and cultural values may also be considered when selecting sites.

    Funding and results

    The Finnish government budgets 40 million euros per year for the METSO programme. This yields approximately 5,000 hectares yearly of permanently protected areas. In addition, temporary agreements are signed that protect 6,000 hectares per year. During 2008–2011, altogether 15,000 hectares of privately owned forests were permanently protected and 23,000 hectares were protected under temporary conservation agreements.

    The State-owned forest enterprise Metsähallitus has also contributed to the METSO programme by protecting some hundred new sites in state-owned commercial forests, of which about 11,500 hectares fulfil the programme selection criteria.

    Nature management and restoration

    Metsähallitus has already restored over 30,000 hectares of state-owned forests and mires inside conservation areas. In these areas, restoration of forests and peatlands covers approximately 1500–2000 hectares annually. Metsähallitus is also responsible for managing traditional rural biotopes and herb-rich forests in both privately and state-owned conservation areas. Biodiversity values of key biotopes in commercially managed forests are enhanced under METSO by ecological restoration of approximately 1,500 hectares per year.

    Research

    Research plays an important role in assessing the long-term ecological, economic and social impacts of the METSO programme. Under the programme, 2 million euros per year are allocated to support basic and applied research on forest biodiversity.

    METSO is now using the Zonation decision analysis tool in conservation area planning. The software program was developed at the Centre of Excellence in Metapopulation Biology at the University of Helsinki.