According to the recent international assessment on peatlands, biodiversity and climate change, peatlands are critical for biodiversity conservation; they support many specialised species and unique habitat types, and may provide a refuge for species that are suffering as a result of climate change. Moreover, peatlands are the most efficient terrestrial ecosystems that can act as carbon sinks. Within the European Union, the great majority of boreal peatlands are found in Finland.
The greatest threats for the Natura 2000 peatlands of Finland are related to ecological degradation, habitat destruction and lack of social appreciation. On a global scale, degradation of peatlands is recognised as a major and growing source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. In Finland drainage is the major cause of ecological degradation of peatland habitats and drainage for forestry has affected almost two thirds of the original peatland area. Habitat degradation has been most intensive in southern and central Finland where only 25% of all peatlands remain intact. Peatland drainage fundamentally changes the water table levels, flow paths of the waters, peat accumulation, acidity and nutrient conditions. These changes have decreased the representativeness and diversity of species in the Natura 2000 habitat types. Moreover, according to a recent national assessment, drainage is the most common threat to peatland habitat types in Finland. Drainage and habitat degradation are also major threats for many Habitats Directive Annex II, IV and V, and Birds Directive Annex I species. These include peat producing Sphagnum species, a plant species Saxifraga hirculus, bird species Grus grus, Philomachus pugnax, Pluvialis apricaria, Tringa glareola, Tetrao tetrix tetrix and large carnivore species Canis lupus, Ursus arctos and Gulo gulo. Along with many other priority species, these can be found in the project areas.
The objective of the Boreal Peatland Life project was to enhance the habitat quality of 54 Natura 2000 sites in the unique Finnish peatland network. In total, these Natura 2000 sites cover 211 260 hectares. Eight of the sites are designated National Parks. Within each of these Natura 2000 sites the project would choose a project area. The total area of the project is 7704.55 hectares. The focus would be on the prioritised habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. The three most abundant prioritised habitat types [Aapa mires* (7310), Bog woodlands* (91D0), Active raised bogs* (7110)] cover altogether 77% (6 597 ha) of the project area.
The Boreal Peatland Life project achieved or exceeded all of its objectives. It drew up 35 restoration plans (29 were foreseen) and three management plans. A total of 596 ha of land in six Natura 2000 areas were acquired permanently for nature conservation, exceeding the target of at least 371 ha.
An important aspect of the project was the filling and damming of drainage ditches ? 1 183 527 m in total at 51 project sites. As a result, the hydrology was restored on 4 790 ha (exceeding the objectives of 4 279 ha through 1 078 696 m of ditches) Other conservation measures included the removal of trees at 46 sites on an area of 3 313 ha ? of which 1 295 ha was tree cutting and 2018 ha was clearing of ditch lines. (The objective was 3 143 ha.)
Furthermore, dead wood was created at six project sites in an area of 103.2 ha, exceeding the target of 61 ha, and 3 590 m of forest roads were demolished with excavators at three sites (the distance foreseen was 2 100 m at 2 sites). The beneficiary and its partners? experience of carrying out restoration measures in a cost-efficient way was crucial to the success of the project.
In order to foster understanding of the project actions, duckboards and a bird-watching tower were renovated and information boards were installed at Kilpisuo. Additionally, a media campaign was carried out consisting of 24 press releases and 11 media excursions. An exhibition about mire restoration was opened during the project and was scheduled to continue to tour nature centres across Finland until 2016. Tours of the peatland were also organised: 21 for disabled attracting 405 people and 102 for children reaching 3 558 children. The project also produced a DVD in Finnish and English that was shown at nature centres and uploaded in segments on YouTube where it has been watched nearly 3000 times by the end of the project. Also, a mire restoration guidebook was published in Finnish and English, a picture database produced and mire-related quizzes devised.
The successful outcomes of the project were monitored, recording its positive impact on vegetation, hydrology, butterflies, dragonflies, golden plover and rich fens. Analysis of monitoring data showed that natural habitats are already beginning to recover as a result of the restoration activities. Though the monitoring period was too short to make long-term assessments, it can be assumed that the flora and fauna will continue to improve in the project sites.
In general, the project represents a good demonstration of how to implement the Birds and Habitats Directives. Its results have also made a significant contribution to implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, especially the target of restoring at least 15% of degraded ecosystems. Furthermore, the project played a role in drawing up a new Peatland Protection Programme in Finland by providing data on the cost and effectiveness of restoration actions and expert opinion on setting conservation priorities. It also facilitated the Boreal Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process, which is being led by Finland.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).