Lady's slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) and yellow marsh saxifrage (Saxifraga hirculus) are circumpolar species which have been seriously declining, principally as a result of the disappearance of suitable habitats. In the EU these species are to be found most abundantly in Finland and Sweden, although here too they are steadily decreasing. In these two countries ldy's slipper grows mainly in wild boreal forest, while yellow marsh saxifrage grows on treeless alkaline fen. These species are the special target of the project, since the areas where they occur also have, in addition to wild boreal forest, other Annex I natural habitat types, such as aapa mires and bog woodlands. These in turn are home to a series of other threatened plant species, such as Hamatocaulis lapponicus, Drepanocladus vernicosus, Meesia longiseta, Ranunculus lapponicus and Diplazium sibiricum, which will all benefit from the project. Furthermore, the size of the Finnish lady's slipper and yellow marsh saxifrage populations will make it possible to try out new management procedures without endangering their survival - this is no longer possible in most other EU countries.
The aim of the project was to assess the conservation status of lady's slipper and yellow marsh saxifrage and coordinate rehabilitation measures in the Nature 2000 areas where they occur. Sites where lady's slipper and yellow marsh saxifrage occur would be rehabilitated by blocking drainage and removing any stands of trees that had grown as a result of drainage. In addition, in the lady's slipper sites any conifer trees that were blocking out light and acidifying the soil would be removed, while in the yellow marsh saxifrage sites scrub would be cleared and meadows mowed. Small-scale transplants of seedlings would also be part of the project, and be based on the project's seed bank results. Land acquisition would be necessary for the rehabilitation and management measures and to ensure that the areas are under single ownership. The project also intended to experiment with forestry in the lady's slipper sites. This option had not previously been explored. The beneficiary would train forest owners and forestry professionals to take account of lady's slipper and yellow marsh saxifrage as part of forest management, both inside and outside the Natura 2000 area. The project would also poduce forest management guidelines and support the objectives of sustainable forestry and forest certification. Finally, it was intended to establish two nature trails for educational purposes. The results would be monitored and there would be cooperation with, among others, the Swedish authorities.
Thanks to this project, a considerable amount of information on location and status of the two species is now available through inventories. Especially for Saxifrage hirculus this was the first time in Finland that systematic information on location, size and status of populations was gathered. The project produced two comprehensive status reports on the target species. These reports are important document to assess the favourable conservation status of these species and they propose measures to be taken to improve the conservation status. They were prepared using the most recent guidelines of the European Commission about favourable conservation status assessment. The reports cover the species over the whole of Finland (except the Aland Islands), which increases their value, facilitates the conservation work of the authorities and prioritises protection needs. These species are currently one of the few FFH species in Finland for which there is so much information available. The beneficiary concludes that without the LIFE-Nature project similar work would have taken 20 years to complete. The project drew up a plan for an experiment to compare different forest management practices in the lady's slipper distribution area. These forests were state-owned, commercially-used forests outside pSCIs. Natura 2000 sites nearby were selected as control areas. The management work mainly consisted of removing spruce and other trees blocking out light and acidifying the soil. According to the beneficiary, the project could have experimented with even rougher measures, but these were considered too risky, because many sites contain other threatened species; like Calypso bulbosa. Based on the experience gained, the project produced forest exploitation recommendations which support the objectives of sustainable forestry and forest certification. After the LIFE project, the beneficiary continued promoting inclusion of the recommendations as part of national forest management guidelines. The experimental forest management measures in economically used forests outside Natura 2000 areas yielded good foundations for future practices in forests containing lady’s slipper. The direct involvement of forest professionals and forest owners in the project gave a good opportunity to train them to manage such forests correctly. The beneficiary trained forest owners and forestry professionals to take account of lady’s slipper and yellow marsh saxifrage as part of forest management outside the Natura 2000 areas. Training courses and educational material were produced, both for private landowners and forest professionals. The landowners were also actively informed about the existence of these flagship species in their land. The project promoted actively the idea that forest centres conduct systematic lady’s slipper and marsh saxifrage inventories in privately-owned forests. It drew up two restoration plans in co-operation with forest centres, which was a new activity for the forest centres. The Forest Centre of Northern Ostrobothnia created its own project to deal with lady’s slipper and yellow marsh saxifrage, to complement the work done under the LIFE project. This project was funded by national forest improvement funds, and mapped the lady’s slipper and yellow marsh saxifrage sites in privately-owned forested areas of Kuusamo, planning the required restoration work following the example of the LIFE-Nature project. This project included partners from both the nature conservation and forestry sectors. These participants had not previously worked closely together on species protection, but the 5 years LIFE project work together gave an excellent opportunity to share opinions, compare working routines, exchange information etc. The partners from the forestry sector concluded that building a network between nature conservation and forestry through the project was the most important result of the project for them. The project implemented a seed bank study for lady’s slipper and saxifrage, to help plan management actions and possible restoration of extinct populations. The project duration was rather too short to gain substantial results, but the results for marsh saxifrage indicated that marsh saxifrage seems to have at least a short-term seed bank and thus restoration measures for recently extinct populations may be successful. During the project, it was agreed between Metsähallitus and the Ministry of Environment that Metsähallitus will have the monitoring responsibility for lady’s slipper in northern Finland and for marsh saxifrage over the whole of Finland. The monitoring experience of the project should be useful in organizing national monitoring schemes for other FFH plant species as well. The monitoring guideline for marsh saxifrage has already proved to be useful in monitoring Primula nutans. The project’s employment impact was 26 man months during 5 years. The project area has a high unemployment rate, so the employment effect of the project can be considered significant. Two persons from the temporary project personnel were employed at Metsähallitus after project end. The forest workers who were involved in nature management work gained special experience which may help them to adjust to future needs in their sector, as the work description of forest workers may change in future more towards nature management.