Impacts of the EU’s proposed restoration regulation on habitat and peatland targets in Finland

EU’s Nature Restoration Law proposal sets targets for restoration. Initial assessment of the potential impacts for Finland have been published by the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). Large-scale restoration mainly in wetlands, forests, and inland waters must be conducted to halt biodiversity loss. However, the state of the ecosystems and needed restoration actions are still uncertain.

Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has estimated the required restoration area and costs of restoration measures in Finland according to the proposed EU restoration legislation. The initial assessment focuses on the articles of the proposed regulation concerning habitat types and peatlands in agricultural use.
According to the Nature Restoration Law proposal, 30% of the degraded area of the Habitats directive habitats should be restored by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. Luke estimates that the habitat restoration target would mean the restoration of around 2-6 million hectares and a cumulative intervention cost of €13-19 billion by 2050.

However, these numbers are extremely uncertain, mainly because a large proportion of the habitats are currently in an unknown condition. Therefore, it is not yet known how much there is need for restoration and what kind of restoration methods are needed in each area. Thus, researchers argue that it is currently more important to improve the knowledge of the state of habitats and ecosystems than to concentrate on estimating the potential costs of restoration. The cost estimate can be refined once the necessary measures are known.

The wide range in the area estimate is mainly due to the fact that the status of the habitats is not known precisely. In slightly degraded areas, cheaper and simpler measures than those estimated may suffice.

Aleksi Räsänen
Senior Scientist, Luke

Peatland and wetland habitats

The uncertainties can be illustrated with the example of peatland and wetland habitats. In the Habitats Directive reporting, there are in total 5 million hectares of peatland and wetland habitats in Finland, of which 1-3 million hectares should be restored. The cumulative cost of restoring is ca. €2-5 billion.

Habitat types overlap to some extent, meaning that the same area may be covered by the assessed area of several habitat types. In Finland, all undrained peatlands (ca. 4 million hectares) are part of Habitats Directive habitats and some of the habitats overlap geographically with each other (e.g., one area can be a part of bog woodland and active raised bog or aapa mire). Therefore, probably only a part of the 1–3-million-hectare area with a restoration need is ditched and requires traditional restoration by ditch-blocking. Less intensive and less expensive forms of restoration (e.g., returning water flow routes) are sufficient in the majority of the area.

Also, in the case of peatlands, there is a need to improve the knowledge of the state of the peatlands, as the habitat condition is poorly known particularly outside protected areas.

Agricultural peatlands

According to the proposed legislation, 30% of the agricultural peatland area should be restored by 2030, of which a quarter should be drained, i.e. restored to wetland. The corresponding restoration targets would be 50% by 2040 and 70% by 2050, half of which should be rewetted. These targets can be partly met by restoring areas that have been drained for peat production or forestry purposes.
This would mean restoring 100,000-200,000 ha Finnish agricultural peatlands by 2050, half of which should be rewetted. There is a considerable range in the areal coverage because part of the target can be met by restoring and rewetting cut-over peatlands and forestry-drained peatlands. According to the GIS analyses, there are enough agricultural peatlands that are suitable for rewetting and restoration.

To meet the 2040 and especially 2050 peatland water retention targets, more ambitious water retention measures in peatland fields would be needed, as well as financial incentives for farmers to implement them.
The impact assessment shows that peatland restoration and rewetting measures will not undermine food security in Finland if the potential for flexibility and regional targeting of measures is exploited.

Future work should address the state of ecosystems and required restoration actions in Finland. ALFAwetlands is Horizon Europe funded project, and it aims to improve the geospatial knowledge base of wetlands, to evaluate the pathways of wetland restoration that incorporate a co-creation process, and to provide information and indicators for sustainability to maximise climate change mitigation, biodiversity, and other benefits.

Aleksi Räsänen
Senior Scientist

Photos: Hannu Nousiainen

Disclaimer: The Nature Restoration Law, proposed by the European Commission in June 2022, has multiple other objectives not assessed in the Luke’s report.

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