Helmi Habitats Programme – safeguarding biodiversity through cooperation

The Helmi Habitats Programme, run jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Ministry of the Environment, strengthens the biodiversity of Finnish nature and secures the vital ecosystem services offered by nature. This also contributes to climate change mitigation and promotes adaptation to it. 

The responsibility for the implementation of the more than 40 measures included in the Helmi Programme rests with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Ministry of the Environment. Organisations in the administrative branches of the ministries and other actors, such as municipalities, associations and local communities, participate in this work as well.

Actions are targeted to sites both within and outside the protected areas. The perspective on habitats adopted in the Helmi Programme is broad and comprehensive and the necessary restoration and management measures are carried out in collaboration between numerous stakeholders. Restoration and management measures are focused to specific areas and sites to maximise their impact on biodiversity. Landowners participate in the programme on a voluntary basis.

The processes to implement the Helmi Programme at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry include the Sotka project concerning gamebird populations and Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland METSO. The measures of the Sotka project include building of wetlands and a network of resting areas, restoring mires and catchments, and capturing small carnivores. The purpose of the METSO Programme is to protect forests and undertake nature management measures. 

Read more about forest biodiversity and protection, protection of mires and peatlands and biodiversity.

Helmi Programme has ambitious objectives

By the Government Decision of 2021, objectives extending until 2030 were adopted for the Helmi Programme. The Programme sets down 40 measures to boost the restoration, management and protection of different kinds of habitats. The Helmi Programme is a highly important package of measures for the work that aims to halt the loss of biodiversity in Finland. (Helmi Habitats Programme 2021–2030: Government Resolution; in Finnish, abstract in English)

The objectives of the Helmi Programme are:

  • To protect 60,000 hectares of mires. 
  • To protect forests under the Forest Biodiversity Programme METSO. The aim of the METSO Programme is to conclude environmental support agreements and carry out nature management work on 82,000 hectares of commercial forest by the end of 2025. (Now that the METSO Programme period continues in 2021–2025, no new objectives for overlapping measures are set in the Helmi Programme.) 
  • To restore and maintain 200 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) referred to in the Birds Directive and other valuable waterfowl sites in the network of protected areas, and to establish and maintain 500 high-quality bird wetland sites outside the network of protected areas.
  • To increase the area of managed semi-natural grasslands to 52,000 hectares and ensure their high-quality management. 
  • To restore 600 km of brooks, 1,050 springs and spring complexes and 80 lagoons shaped by land uplift along the coast (flads and glo-lakes).
  • To restore shore habitats in 200 sites.

Work under Helmi Programme off to good start

The Helmi Habitats Programme was launched in 2020 with an action plan, reports and inventories, and protection, restoration and rehabilitation measures were also started. The measures taken in 2020 included:

  • 5,578 hectares of mires were protected (voluntary protection and rehabilitation of mires).
  • Aquatic bird habitats were restored in about 20 sites, and bird population inventories were made in about 90 sites. 
  • In woodland habitats management work was done in about 80 nature sites, including restoration of forests inhabited by white-backed woodpecker, herb-rich forests and sun-exposed slopes. 
  • About 420 hectares of semi-natural grasslands were restored. 

In the second year 2021 (first full year):

  • More than 12,000 hectares of mires were protected (voluntary protection and rehabilitation of mires).
  • Aquatic bird habitats were restored in 55 sites; 220 hectares of wetlands were restored and capturing of small carnivores under the Helmi Programme was started in 45 water areas inhabited by aquatic birds.
  • In protected areas in woodland habitats management work was done in e.g. forests inhabited by white-backed woodpecker, herb-rich forests and sites with certain hardwood trees. In total, measures were taken in about 300 nature sites.
  • Management work was done on a total of 255 hectares of herb-rich forest and 341 hectares were treated with prescribed burning. 
  • 120 barriers to migratory fish were removed and management work was done on about 9 hectares of sun-exposed habitats. 
  • The national inventory of semi-natural grasslands was continued, and restoration work under the Helmi Programme was carried out on about 900 hectares. Restoration of small water bodies and shores was carried out in 60 sites.

In the third year 2022, progress was again made towards the targets

  • Mires were restored to 1,578 hectares of multi-purpose forests in Metsähallitus, so nearly half of the target has already been reached.
  • SPA areas and other valuable bird water sites in the conservation area network were restored with 37 sites, of which 20 were completed.
  • Continuous management of bird waters was organised on 12 sites either through agri-environmental agreements or funding from the Helmi programme.
  • 20 bird wetlands outside the conservation area network were established or restored.
  • Power hunting of invasive predators was launched or continued on 73 sites – the overall target has thus already been exceeded.
  • The network of bird protection and resting areas was supplemented by 8 sites.
  • The area of managed traditional biotopes was increased by 742 hectares.
  • The quality of traditional biotopes was improved by renovating 183 sites with a total of 1,065 hectares, of which 232 were complementary sites.