The hearts of the Finnish people lie in the lakes and the forests. As a race, the Finns really do care about their environment and the defence of nature, especially the lakes which are high on their political agenda. There is an ongoing battle to save the country’s greatest assets: their lakes and their forests. As early as 1886, the Forestry Act was passed and was intended to curb the wasteful use of forests. In the early days of independence, the republic introduced legal protection for the forests and threatened species. Nowadays, there are strict conservation laws and everyone is encouraged to take individual responsibility for the protection of their wild life. Green policies are part of everyday life in Finland. There is ongoing research to improve house insulation. Recycling schemes are the norm and not the exception, and the government is committed to ever better public transport.
The Finns have recognised that they are living with a fragile harmony. Their will to preserve what they cherish above all else is almost without parallel. Their concern to do right by their natural environment is deeply anchored in their beliefs. Recently, the Finns have become aware of the detrimental effect the salt that they sprinkle on the roads in winter is having on the water-courses. Research for a better substitute is now underway.
Forests cover 72 per cent of the total land area of Finland. These forests have always been an extremely important source of the wealth of Finland. This is the country’s largest resource and a major export. Potentially, forestry, timber processing and mining can do the greatest environmental damage. However, these industries add up to a considerable portion of the country’s income.
Forests are also an important source of recreation in Finland. There is a law called «Every Man’s Right» which means that anyone is allowed to pick berries and wild mushrooms in any forest, private or public. It is also a right of access and is an important part of Finnish traditions as the picking of berries and harvesting of mushrooms is a national summer/autumn pastime.
About three-quarters of the forests in Finland are owned by ordinary private families. All forest owners are under legal obligation to replace anything they cut down. So it is in everybody’s interest to maintain healthy forests, and trees are carefully managed and harvested. Sustainable forestry is high on the political agenda. Protected zones now account for one-third of the area of Lapland and there are 30 national parks and nature reserves. These areas have been created to encourage natural forestry; this means there is no extensive tree felling, few roads and natural regeneration.
To the outside world, Finland still represents a supremely unspoiled environment, with 350 types of birds and about 65 different species of mammals. However, Finland has its problems. It was the first Western country to notice the disastrous affects of the Chernobyl catastrophe. This meant that hundreds of reindeer had to be slaughtered. It suffers from air and water pollution arising from the activities of its Russian neighbour. Poland and East Germany are contributing to the pollution of the Baltic Sea. By comparison with some areas in Europe which are really polluted, Finland is relatively unspoilt. However, the country is aggressively pursuing energy conservation policies, trying to limit the despoliation of its natural landscape and trying to create new and environmentally-friendly waste management systems. All these initiatives have meant that the Finns have developed a great deal of expertise in environmental matters. They have offered their technological know-how and clean air and clean water industrial technology to their neighbours, Russia and Eastern Europe, in the hopes of slowing down the pollution process.
Even the national anthem and the blue and white flag of Finland are linked to the people’s love of their landscape: the national anthem was written to celebrate the country’s summer landscape; the flag is supposed to represent the white of the snow and the blue lakes of summer. (See Chapter Seven: Enjoying the Culture for Flag Raising Days). Literature, fine art, design and architecture are all expressed in terms of their environment.
Good design is a passion for the Finns. Although their design can be put under our generic term of ‘scandinavian» or «minimalist», the Finns have created their own style. This style has had many threads of influence. From the original Byzantine designs that came with eastern invaders, the geometric designs of Chorale have developed. From Sweden came designs originating from the west. There has been a strong heritage handed down from traditional textile art which can often been seen on their pottery, textiles or in interior decoration. On the whole, Finns prefer natural products, but they bring together both natural and artificial products in a way which stamps modern Finnish products with a unique character. Whether creating a product for glassware or textiles or industrial design, the Finns pursue their obsession for things to be of aesthetic beauty. The Finns long ago discovered that good design was not only something that was aesthetically satisfying, but also commercially profitable.