Finland: Natura 2000 & Hunting

In Europe, protected areas in the first half of the 20th century were predominantly strictly protected national parks, traditionally run by central governments and designated as set-asides for nature conservation due to their intrinsic values. They were generally managed in a technocratic way without regard to opinions by local communities.

Despite Europe being the most densely populated continent, the surface area designated as protected areas has been growing exponentially since the 1970s, and with this evolved the way protected areas were run. They started to be increasingly managed with and by local communities and stakeholders, integrating social, economic and environmental needs. Today some areas even fully rely on the local people and their knowledge.

The EU’s Natura 2000 network and the Council of Europe’s Emerald network were developed in the mind-set of this evolution in approach. The 1992 Habitats Directive even requires measures for biodiversity conservation to “take account of economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics”. One of the main tools for such biodiversity conservation is the Natura 2000 network.

In terms of inclusion of local stakeholders and the acceptance of sustainable use, such as hunting in Natura 2000 sites, things are not perfect in the EU, but in most Member States different users can get involved in some way. Unfortunately there are two EU Member States to this date, namely Greece and Finland, which are imposing horizontal bans of certain activities, including hunting.

Finland has recently adopted a new law that allows the environmental authority to establish such bans in nature protection areas on government-owned land in the south of the country. This will affect around 500.000 hectares where hunting will only be possible to take place when exceptions are being issued - a great cause for distress to the hunting community.   

During the April Hunting Intergroup meeting of the Finnish Parliament, Member of Parliament and President of the Hunting Intergroup Eero Reijonen reminded participants that “since the Habitats Directive was transposed into Finnish law, the government is supposed to implement Natura 2000 taking into account the views of different interest groups”. The President of the Finnish Hunters’ Association Lauri Kontro added that “despite the clear signal from the EU, the Finnish Environment Ministry is designing comprehensive restrictions on hunting in many Natura 2000 sites. Hunting, however, is a part of conservation and it is acknowledged as a positive tool in strengthening sustainable development. Proposed restrictions and bans are often based on random choices and not on firm scientific evaluation.” FACE’s Gabor von Bethlenfalvy, gave an overview of hunting in protected areas in Europe, and explained that “banning activities based on the precautionary principle does not help nature conservation. Hunters invest a lot of their resources to nature conservation and monitoring because of their incentive to hunt.”

Two European Commission studies found that the success of the management of Natura 2000 sites is fully dependent on a positive attitude and cooperation from a range of stakeholders. Many conflicts arose due to poorly organised or even absent stakeholder participation during the designation of Natura 2000 sites.
From experiences around the EU, the studies suggest that bottom-up approaches, taking into account the human and cultural dimension seem to be most successful for putting in place realistic management of these sites and avoiding conflicts.

The EU has come a long way in accepting the concept of a participatory approach for the management of protected areas. It is important to continue to build on this and not go back to excluding local people.