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Voluntary forest protection popular among forest owners – record funding for fixed-term environmental forestry subsidy agreements

Publication date 7.2.2023 14.52
News item
Puita lumisessa metsässä.
© Teemu Pokela

Last year the Finns designated about 4,700 hectares of forest for permanent protection under the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland METSO. About 90 hectares were protected for 20 years. The aim of the METSO Programme is to establish 96,000 hectares of new protected areas by 2025. This year there is a record amount of funding available for environmental forestry subsidy agreements.

By the end of 2022 almost 89,000 hectares had been protected, which means that 93% of the protection target had been achieved. The area covered by environmental forestry subsidy agreements and nature management works was about 3,800 hectares. This means that 73% (59,800 hectares) of the target of 82,000 hectares had been achieved. 

"It has been great to see how many Finnish forest owners are willing to protect biodiversity and improve the state of forest nature by voluntarily offering their forests for protection. METSO Programme is reaching the target set for protection, and I wish to thank all forest owners who have designated areas for protection over the years," says Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Maria Ohisalo.

Last year about 3,600 hectares of forest habitats were protected by ten-year environmental forestry subsidy agreements. Nature management works were carried out on about 157 hectares of private forests. 

“Forest owners are willing to use the means available under the METSO Programme to protect forest biodiversity. This is most valuable. Fixed-term protection agreements are flexible for the forest owners and they seem to maintain their popularity. Adequate funding for voluntary forest protection must be secured in future as well,” says Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Antti Kurvinen.

Figures. Implementation of the METSO Programme in the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment and the Finnish Forest Centre 2008–2022. The figures of the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment do not include 13,000 hectares of forest protected by Metsähallitus under the METSO Programme in 2014, but this is also counted towards the implementation of the METSO Programme.

In 2022 the compensations paid to landowners for measures to protect biodiversity totalled about EUR 43 million, of which about EUR 34 million concerned permanent protection and EUR 9 million were used for fixed-term environmental forestry subsidy agreements and nature management projects.

Hundreds of forest owners protected their forests permanently

The number of decisions made on permanent protection was 450. This means that hundreds of forest owners have ended up protecting their forests as permanent conservation areas under the Nature Conservation Act or sold their forests to the State to be designated as nature reserves. The largest are, about 1,000 hectares, was protected in the area governed by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Southwest Finland. The average size of the protected sites is about 10 hectares. Last year, the average compensation for permanent protection was about EUR 7,200 per hectare.

Environmental forestry subsidy agreements still popular

Forest owners continue to submit considerable numbers of requests for surveys concerning nature sites that are valuable for biodiversity. Last year almost 1,300 ten-year environmental forestry subsidy agreements were concluded. The funding available for the subsidies last year was not adequate to meet the amount of funding applied for, and part of the payments were transferred to this year. Growing numbers of actors in the forest sector have assisted forest owners in drawing up environmental forestry subsidy applications, and in 2022 such actors prepared applications concerning more than 900 hectares.

The average size of sites covered by environmental forestry subsidy agreements is just under 3 hectares and the average compensation to the forest owner for a ten-year agreement was about EUR 2,200 per hectare. The compensation varies between regions, depending on the regional average stumpage price used in the calculation.

Aim to protect at least 3,700 hectares permanently

The total area left to meet the target for permanent protection by 2025 in the METSO Programme is just about 7,000 hectares. The aim for permanent protection this year is at least 3,700 hectares. In permanent protection the main focus will stay on sites located in southern Finland, but valuable forest sites will be protected throughout the country. 

The Ministry of the Environment promotes forest protection with a separate appropriation that is targeted, in particular, to areas not covered by the METSO Programme, i.e. to northern Finland. Such a separate appropriation was granted for the first time in 2020 and the funding allocated to forest protection in the 2023 Budget is EUR 9 million. With this appropriation the means of the METSO Programme will be used to carry out voluntary forest protection, but the actions and results will not be counted towards the implementation of the METSO Programme. 

Record funding for ten-year environmental forestry subsidy agreements this year

Now is a good time for forest owners who are interested in fixed-term protection to offer valuable nature sites to be included in the METSO Programme. The aim is to conclude environmental forestry subsidy agreements for as large an area as possible, at least 4,000 hectares, and to undertake nature management of habitats on at least 100 hectares. The Finnish Forest Centre advises forest owners on how to apply for the subsidies.

For this year about EUR 13.6 million will be reserved for fixed-term environmental forestry subsidy agreements and 2.2 million for nature management projects that will also implement the measures of the METSO Programme. This is almost twice the amounts reserved for these in the previous years.

Nature management projects promote water protection, improving the state of habitats and the emergence of post-fire and burned habitats. The Forest Centre offers projects that have been prepared in advance to be implemented through public calls for applications. This year there will be two calls for applications.

With respect to environmental forestry subsidy agreements and nature management we are behind the targets set in the METSO Programme. Reaching the target set for 2025 requires that the funding stays on the same level in the next couple of year. Adequate resources must also be available for the planning of nature management projects, preparation of applications and processing of decisions. 

Voluntary forest protection under METSO Programme to continue until 2030

The new Nature Conservation Act will provide the legislative framework for action programmes concerning voluntary nature conservation. The new Nature Conservation Act will enter into force 1st June 2023. Besides the METSO Programme, voluntary action to protect biodiversity is taken under the Helmi Programme focused on the restoration and management of habitats. 
The continuation of the METSO Programme until 2030 is included in the Government Resolution on the Helmi Programme. The content and new targets of that term of the METSO Programme will be specified in 2025 at the latest.


Esa Pynnönen
Senior Specialist
Ministry of the Environment
tel. +358 295 250 386
[email protected]

Ville Schildt
Ministerial Adviser
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
tel. +358 295 162 190
[email protected]