8. November 2007

Baltic Sea - sick from Finnish forestry?

Drained peatlands causing huge phosporus releases from bottom of the seas

The Finnish Association for Sustainable Forestry has called upon the
Finnish government and the Baltic Marine Environment Protection
Commission – HELCOM to study the impact of forestry on the state of the
Baltic Sea and the inland waters of Finland. This request is based on an
assessment that tiny particles of suspended humus in the effluent from
drained peatland in Finland have caused oxygen depletion near the bottom
of the sea and inland watercourses, triggering the phenomenon known as
internal loading. This pollution phenomenon arises when the bottom
sediment of these waters releases the phosphorus that causes eutrophication.

More than five million hectares of peatland have been drained in

Finland, while large quantities of nutrients and humus have also been
discharged from over ten million hectares of clear-cutting and soil
cultivation sites.

The Finnish Association for Sustainable Forestry believes that these

actions devastate the natural water cycle and have a decisive impact on
the origins of eutrophication.

“It’s odd how forestry is overlooked when considering the gigantic flow

of humus and its consequenses” observes Association legal advisor Mikko
Vartiainen, criticising current methods of compiling statistical records
on discharges.

“This is an unfair practice when comparing the responsibility of various

activities for the state of the water system. There are plenty of lakes
that suffer regularly from algal blooms, even though there is no human
habitation or agriculture anywhere near them.”

The Finnish Association for Sustainable Forestry is also surprised at

the generally poor state of knowledge of humus discharges and their

“It seems that during the golden age of mire drainage it was not even

possible to make measurements during the most severe flooding so that we
would know the quantities of humus that were released at these times,”
explains Association information officer Hannu Hyvönen.

“We do know, however, that over the years following the first mire
drainage projects the rate of humus discharge increased to levels
corresponding to the natural leachate of several hundred years.”

In its communication to the Finnish government and HELCOM the Finnish

Association for Sustainable Forestry calls for the appointment of an
independent international research team to study the effects of forestry
operations on the state of the Baltic Sea.

“One reason for the lack of information and attention in this area is

that mire drainage is regarded as a heroic accomplishment in Finland,
and conditions have not been auspicious for researchers to go out and
study the negative impacts of this work,” arques prof. Erkki Lähde the
justification for insisting on an independent international study.

New mire drainage poses a threat to water system

While the Association believes that humus discharges from forestry will
cause sustained problems in the water system, the latest threat comes
from current projects to renovate existing mire drainage ditches. The
humus discharges from these projects will almost match the scale of the
original mire drainage.

“They say that special drainage arrangements could be used to stop

discharges to the water system, which would be a plausible argument if
it wasn’t for the flooding season. The huge mass of water flowing at
this time carries the greatest discharge volumes, and these discharges
will not be trapped in settling basins,” Hannu Hyvönen explains.

The communication from the Association calls for the suspension of

remedial drainage projects until studies of the effects of drainage have
been completed. The Association is also insisting on a moratorium on
clear-cutting and soil cultivation in areas where there is a high risk
of nutrient leaching.


1. Communication to the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission

2. Article by Pekka Viherä on oxygen depletion and phosphorus loading

Video interview:
The video interview of Pekka Viherä and Mikko Vartiainen is available in
(The video is untill now only in Finnish. We hope to get english version soon in this address:
The footage with full resolution is available for broadcastings if needed.

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