Working together for Finland’s water heritage

A deepfreeze day in the south of Finland; some 80 conservationists from all over Europe enjoy a bright sunlit sky and temperatures below minus 15 degrees. They visit some of the restoration measures that are being carried out to restore freshwater habitats and their endangered species.

Human activities have in the past decades reduced the quality of these habitats and locally driven freshwater species to extinction, in Finland and across the globe. Dams, for example, have been constructed to manage water levels and for hydropower. These dams, however, have prevented migratory fish such as Eel and salmonids to reach the areas where they reproduce. Their populations have decreased dramatically, as well as those of species dependent on their presence. In the Finnish case for example this concerns the endangered Freshwater pearl mussel. Luckily these mussels are long-lived (they can reach an age of 200 years!) and thus it is not too late for their recovery.

Recent restoration efforts in the area focus on creating fish passages, rapids and other structures that allow fish to swim upstream again. Also, working with regional land managers, measures are taken to reduce the influx of sediments and nutrients from adjacent agricultural and other land use, in this way improving water quality.

Implementing these measures at the scale of Finland requires coordination between a range of sectors, effective cooperation, and good governance. This is the aim of the ‘LIFE integrated projects’, funded by the European Commission and a range of other funding sources. The Freshabit project, of which the above measures are a component, is one of such integrated projects that are being implemented across the European Union, to support the effective implementation of relevant EU legislation and Natura 2000, the network of Europe’s most precious nature.

The visit to the Karjaanjoki (also known as the Eldorado of the mussels because of their high diversity in mussel species) watershed was part of a three-day meeting in Lohja, Finland, during which some 100 coordinators of integrated projects, representatives of the European Commission and of NEEMO, the consortium in charge of monitoring LIFE projects and in which I participate, met to exchange knowledge and agree common approaches for effective project implementation.

Lake Vanjärvi, covered under snow and ice and covering precious freshwater species. (Photo: Ben Delbaere)