Finnish hunters are involved in a LIFE project based on partnerships with the aim of restoring large areas of wetland habitats.
Finnish wetlands provide core breeding areas for many migratory bird species, especially waterfowl, and therefore they are of key importance for the European avifauna and waterfowl populations. During the last century an estimated 4.000 lakes and an estimated 5.7 million hectares of wetlands have been lost due to drainage for agriculture and forestry in Finland. Countless small wetlands and moist forest habitat patches in forests have also been lost. As a result, ecological connections between wetlands disappeared and species can no longer move from one area to another, accelerating the loss of biodiversity.
The LIFE project “Kotiseutukosteikko Life/ Return of Rural Wetlands Life” (LIFE09 NAT/FI/000563) is a five-year project (2010-2015) aiming to create a new frame and good start for future habitat conservation, restoration and re-creation, while being in line with the Finland’s National Biodiversity Strategy for 2006-2016 and the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland 2008-2016.
Practically speaking, one of the expected results is the creation of demonstrative wetlands in 15 Game Management Districts to increase biodiversity and to provide habitat for waterfowl.
The project is meant to be conducted in co-operation with local stakeholders and regional authorities including the Finish Hunting Association in order to promote the interest for wetland restoration and re-creation and to develop the co-operation of public bodies. The other expected results are:
• Significant increase of waterfowl breeding pairs and broods in the demonstration sites;
• Increased motivation, skills and cooperation of local people and regional authorities for wetland conservation, restoration and re-creation.
28 percent of the total surface of Finland is privately owned, mainly by hunters having fundamental knowledge of habitats’ importance for wildlife and biodiversity. This creates an exceptional frame for landowners to voluntarily work on conservation and restoration objectives. Landowners, usually hunters, can contact the project managers if they are willing to restore their unproductive area to create wetland habitat. In general, the main motivation is to have more possibilities for waterfowl hunting. However, it is also common that landowners do not hunt on their “own wetland” and prefer maintaining suitable nesting or resting sites for waterfowl.
Working with hunters in the field provides a number of advantages:
Hunters have a long tradition of voluntary work in hunting clubs, this can reduce costs of implementation and management.
Hunters can provide community support.
Hunters monitor waterfowl populations by national annual point count method organized by the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute and the Finnish Museum of Natural History. Local hunters conduct monitoring activities in about 30 wetland sites of all 48 sites of the Life+ Return of Rural Wetlands.
Hunters committed to wetland restoration also play a key role in eradication of invasive predators like the raccoon dog and American mink.
Hunters also participate in education programmes. Many hunters like to present their wetland to local people, authorities and peoples interested in wetlands.