Wild Trippers

A morass-like wetland with a few stunted trees. The ground is covered with tussock cottongrass.

Photo: Mika Honkalinna

Baltic Circle became a supporter of the independent Snowchange Cooperative’s programme Landscape Rewilding in summer 2020. Restoration work and the theatre festival share the construction of alternative narratives, imagining the future and the goal of strengthening community culture. Snowchange Cooperative focuses particularly on the community of ecosystems, while Baltic Circle’s expertise lies in bringing people together. Climate change requires urgent dialogue and action between communities, based on understanding and respect. Together, players can rearrange ways of understanding reality and finding its shared forms.

2020 Summer: Baltic Circle receives its own dedicated nature restoration location, Oravasuo in Ähtäri, Southern Ostrobothnia, along with the conjoined Siltaneva and Rasinneva areas.

2021 November: Baltic Circle produces its first event for peatlands, showcasing the environment and Finnish land use to festival guests in collaboration with Snowchange Cooperative

2022 September: Baltic Circle and Snowchange Cooperative start rewilding work with volunteer help at Rasinneva, Ähtäri.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC perceives the field of culture and art as a central distributor of climate change information, as it can convey research information in an understandable form and reach large groups of people. In this project, Baltic Circle sets an example in progressive work on creating new culture from sustainable premises.

The project have been funded by Snowchange Cooperative (2021 onwards) and Nordic Culture Fund (2022)

Wild in change

When I imagine the bog, my boots sink into the ground and the sounds around me grow silent. The bog breathes, absorbs and releases gases. It is a home to water and wind, birds, moisture, to translucent and deep tones of green, yellow and red, to mosses and shrubs, to cottongrass and butterflies. Navigating the bog is a specific motion, a weightless push and pull, up and down. It is special to breathe in the bog air, it is special to breathe in the bog, together with the bog.   

Landscape Rewilding is an extensive restoration programme for peatlands and forests. Its mission is to combat the effects of climate change, to stop the loss of ecological diversity, and to rewilden and restore drained wetlands. The programme was initiated in 2018 by the Snowchange Cooperative, the European Investment Bank, and the Dutch organisation Rewilding Europe.

The scope of Landscape Rewilding is based on quick and concrete restoration and protection efforts. The programme purchases peatlands and forest on the free market that have sustained environmental damage. These lands are allowed to develop into new carbon sinks either by leaving them be, or through active rewilding efforts. As of autumn 2020, the programme owns 1,000 hectares of land in Finland and Samiland.

Misty lake landscape with three whooper swans in the lake in the foreground. The lake is completely calm.
Swans at Linnunsuo, the first protection site of the Landscape Rewilding programme, that is now the habitat of many birds. Photo by Mika Honkalinna.

Wellbeing and ownership of the land

There has been intensive industrial use of land in Finland since the country’s independence in 1917. Some 1.7 million hectares of biological peatlands have been lost, along with more than 90% of old forests below the Arctic circle. Aggressive land use methods such as peat extraction for energy use, draining peatlands and forests, an accelerating forest industry, and the contamination of bodies of water have led to a disappearance of wildlife populations and to ecotypes becoming endangered.

Landowners decide on land use. More than 60% of Finland’s land area is privately owned. The Finnish state owns about 30% of land, and municipalities, parishes and corporations own the remaining 10% (source: National Land Survey of Finland). In the Sámi region, the state owns most of the land. Purchasing land for protection against industrial use is currently seen as the most powerful way to ensure ecological diversity. 

The Landscape Rewilding programme aims to buy land for protection purposes, and also to restore the ecological value of water and forest areas that have been damaged through land use. The status of the soil and its impacts on its surroundings are examined, and the quality and quantity of trees as well as vegetation, insects, birds and other natural life are charted in the areas, information that forms the basis of the restoration and rewilding plans. The plans are made location by location by a group of experts including geographers, ecologists, limnologists and ornithologists.

Effective rewilding methods have included the drainage of ditches, building living environments for salmon offspring, and building wetlands for areas that have suffered from peat extraction. In addition, the levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide released and absorbed by the rewilding locations are measured.

First come the insects, then the grass that creeps upwards and folds as nests for water birds flying above it, who then neutralise the acidic waters with their excrement and invite the fish to return. Then it is green and lush for a while, new plants push through, new species appear, as do new colours. There are rare birds (and I don’t remember the name of any, but I do remember their beaks and coats). Nature revives, returns, repairs itself by itself. It is never again constant. It is new and alive until something tips over again. 

Rewilding divides opinions in the biologist community because nature also rewildens independently with time when it is left in peace. The rewilding processes can however speed up the recovery of nature and create living environments for species that function as safe harbours in the midst of intensive land use. Perhaps we owe the land a certain level of care.

An aapa bog during the day. A few stunted pines grow in the swamp.
A view over Oravasuo. Photo: Mika Honkalinna.

Baltic Circle at Oravasuo  

Baltic Circle’s protection site is situated in Ähtäri in the South Ostrobothnia region. The peatland called Oravasuo was purchased by the Snowchange Cooperative in June 2020 to protect it from the threat of peat production. The peatland measures around thirteen hectares in area and was selected as Baltic Circle’s protection site due to its size, accessible location and natural state as a good fit for the Helsinki-based festival.

Oravasuo is a concrete place that we have been invited to. I think of it as a new stage for Baltic Circle, where each species gets a role, where the complexity of carbon sinks is allowed to become visible and addressable in all its difficulty, where no solutions are reached through shortcuts but rather through slowing down enough to at least find a common vocabulary. I want to learn to have patience and to notice, to make space and to create a support structure for the most vulnerable. I think of it as a place that also teaches and where one can become empowered. 

Oravasuo hosts six distinct natural habitat types, such as flark fens, meaning treeless open peatland. More than half of its area is quagmire that yields to the step, low-sedge pine fens, with tussocks dotted here and there with small pines and Sphagnum fuscum bogs, which have bumpy patches where wild rosemary, tussock cottongrass, sedges and lychen grow. The peatland is also home to endangered golden bog-moss, and is the habitat of many birds.

Oravasuo is currently classified as level 3 on the natural state classification system which means that the peatland has been drained and its natural state has been damaged to some extent by human actions. Level 5 on the same scale would mean a completely natural state and 0 would imply irreparably altered peatland.

Baltic Circle participates in the protection and rewilding work of Oravasuo and related areas by donating funds to the programme’s work on site and by monitoring the progress of the rewilding work and reporting on it. At the moment, the festival will publish stories, images and observations on its website about Oravasuo and its inhabitants.       

Snowchange Cooperative

The non-profit cooperative Snowchange (Lumimuutos) was founded in 2000 and has its homebase in Northern Karelia, Finland. It is an international network of natural economies with a broad science programme surrounding climate change and ecological diversity. Results from the science programme have been published in journals such as Science, Ambio, Biological Reviews, One Earth, PNAS and BioScience. The Snowchange Cooperative was selected as the best ecological initiative in Finland by WWF in 2002 and it has been awarded several human rights and environmental prizes for its work in the High North and globally.

The Landscape Rewilding programme’s national science coordinator is Adjunct Professor Tero Mustonen (Geography, University of Eastern Finland) who is one of the best-known climate change researchers of his generation and one of the main writers of the United Nations climate change report AR6.

Kaisu Mustonen (M.Sc. Geography) is in charge of the programme’s diversity. She has taken part in numerous natural environment protection and rewilding initiatives in the Arctic and Borealic regions and in New Zealand. She is specialised in the knowledge of women within environmental diversity and has published several peer-reviewed articles and monographs.

In addition, the rewilding group also includes around 20 experts and contractors.

Text by Tero Mustonen, Hanna Parry & Johanna Salmela, English translation by Simo Vassinen.

A photo of an aapa bog taken in the evening sun, showing tussock cottongrass, hay and other vegetation.
Oravasuo. Photo: Mika Honkalinna.