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Voluntary forest protection popular among forest owners – record numbers of environmental aid agreements and nature management measures under METSO Programme

Publication date 8.2.2024 9.08 | Published in English on 14.2.2024 at 10.33
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© Teemu Pokela

Last year, almost 10,000 hectares of forest habitats were protected under the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland METSO. The ten-year environmental aid agreements concluded by Finnish forest owners covered more than 5,100 hectares of forest and about 4,300 hectares were protected permanently. Besides these, about 90 hectares were protected for 20 years and nature management work was carried out in an area of about 160 hectares.

Press release of the Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 8.2.2024

The aim of the METSO Programme is to establish 96,000 hectares of new protected areas by 2025. By the end of 2023 more than 93,000 hectares had been protected, which means that 97% of the protection target had been achieved. 

“The excellent results of the METSO Programme that is based on voluntary action by forest owners show very clearly how willing they are to protect biodiversity. I wish to thank every forest owners who has been active in this and made a protection decision,” says Minister of Climate and the Environment Kai Mykkänen.

Another main target of the METSO Programme is to conclude environmental aid agreements and carry out nature management work for an area of 82,000 hectares by 2025. Last year such work covered an area of about 5,400 hectares, which is clearly more than in the previous years. Now the measures have covered about 65,000 hectares, which means that 79% of the target has been reached. 
“As the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry I wish to thank and congratulate both forest owners and the experts and other people working on environmental aid agreements and nature management for the record high numbers reached last year. Voluntary protection is very important for reaching the protection targets set in Finland, and it is also widely accepted,” Sari Essayah says.

The value of the sites protected permanently or for 20 years under the METSO Programme in 2023 totalled about EUR 33.5 million. About EUR 12.7 million were used for compensations under the environmental aid agreements and EUR 1.3 million for nature management projects. Last year more money was used for environmental aid and nature management than ever before under the METSO Programme.

Ten-year environmental aid agreements popular way to implement METSO Programme

In 2023 more than 1,600 ten-year environmental aid agreements were concluded. The average size of the sites was a little over 3 hectares and the average compensation to the forest owner for a ten-year agreement was about EUR 2,400 per hectare. The compensation varies between regions, depending on the regional average stumpage price used in the calculation.

There are many reasons for the large number of environmental aid agreements concluded last year. The Finnish Forest Centre received additional resources for central government grants in 2023. The preparation of applications for environmental aid by actors in the forest sector continued to increase: last year they prepared more than 30% of the applications. The compensations paid to them for this work totalled more than EUR 420,000. The Act on the Financing of Sustainable Forestry expired and applications under it had to be submitted by the autumn, which was also among the incentives to apply for the aid and draw up applications. All applications were also processed by the end of the year. The results show that forest owners are still very much interested in protecting forests on a voluntary basis. New sites to be protected are being found and sites also develop over time in such a way that they meet the protection criteria.

Every year hundreds of forest owners protect their forests permanently

Ever year hundreds of forests owners have made the decision to protect some of their forest permanently under the METSO Programme. Last year about 400 forest owners decided to protect their forests as permanent nature reserves under the Nature Conservation Act or sold their forests to the State to be designated as nature conservation areas. The average size of the sites protected under the METSO Programme is about 10 hectares.

New areas to be protected this year 

The aim for this year is to protect 3,000 hectares permanently under the METSO Programme, and about EUR 20 million has now been reserved for this purpose. In permanent protection the key focus is on sites located in southern Finland, but for the territories of many Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment the target for this year is quite moderate as the area to be covered set as the objective has already been reached. However, the most valuable forest sites will still be protected in all parts of Finland. Because of the EU’s definitions for primary and old-growth forests, in future measures under the METSO Programme will very likely be targeted to northern Finland as well. The total area still needed to meet the target for permanent protection by 2025 is less than 3,000 hectares, which means that the target for permanent protection will be reached ahead of time. Forest protection will continue until the end of the present period of the METSO Programme, i.e. the end of 2025. 

New incentive scheme, environmental aid agreements to be prepared through forest sector actors

The new forestry incentive scheme METKA replaced the aid for sustainable forestry in the beginning of 2024. Measures under the METSO Programme in the new scheme are environmental aid agreements, aid for forest nature management and aid for prescribed burning. The aim for this year is to conclude agreements and carry out nature management of habitats concerning a total of 3,100 hectares. EUR 14.5 million in total has been reserved to be used for environmental aid agreements and aid for nature management and prescribed burning, of which EUR 2.2 million is to be used for nature management and prescribed burning. Applications under the new incentive scheme can be submitted as from 1 March 2024.

There is work to be done to reach the targets for environmental aid agreements and nature management. Because of the new scheme, this year the processing of decisions on environmental aid will at best start early summer. This means that the forest sector really needs to take action to reach the targets. In future service providers operating in the forest sector will assist forest owners in preparing environmental aid applications. The Finnish Forest Centre will still be responsible for the achievement of the targets set for the METSO Programme and will conclude environmental aid agreements with the forest owners. 

Preparation of next METSO Programme period to be started 

Besides the METSO Programme, voluntary action to protect biodiversity is taken under the Helmi Programme, where the focus is 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 work on the future content and new targets of the METSO Programme will get started in 2024.

Figures: Implementation of the METSO Programme in the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment and the Finnish Forest Centre 2008–2023. 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 included in the results of the programme.


Esa Pynnönen
Senior Ministerial Adviser
Ministry of the Environment
tel. +359 295 250 386

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