Young researcher’s introduction – Leo Raivonen

I am a first-year doctoral researcher working in the Wetland Restoration for the Future – ALFAwetlands project on the economic valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits and related costs of wetland restoration. Before explaining more about what that means in practice, let me share the story of how I ended up where I am now.

Before realizing the importance of the natural world and what it has to offer to humans, I was mainly interested in the interplay of the economy and the people in it. Consequently, I began my university studies in economics. At first it was rather difficult to find the studies very interesting, since they consisted mainly of learning the mathematical tools of analysis. However, as the studies advanced, I got to learn more about more applied topics such as behavioral economics and environmental economics. This coincided with a time in my life when I started to understand the challenges our economic system has in considering the inputs we get from nature and the evident issues with their over-use. I found the concept of environmental economics refreshing and wondered whether it would be possible to do my master’s thesis on the subject.

With a pinch of luck, I got the contact information of my now Ph.D. supervisor from the lecturer of our behavioral economics course and asked whether there was anything for me to work with. As it turned out, there was a survey data set on how people in multiple countries bordering the Baltic Sea value improvements in environmental quality. As it was prefaced for me before taking on the task, analyzing the data was not simple. But with a lot of work put into studying the methods (and some help with doing the analysis), I managed to finalize my master’s thesis. While far from being a perfect display of research, I was very proud of myself and felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After my graduation, I asked around whether there was any work at Luke and got the opportunity to do a literature review on a project focusing on improving the environmental impacts of hydropower. After that, there was no work available, so I started working for a private market research company working in the pharmaceutical sector. I learned many valuable skills in project management, customer work, and problem-solving. All of which has greatly helped me in my current work. However, towards the end of my two-year time there, I felt like I wanted to do something I felt was more important to me and hopefully impactful in the world. When I noticed the job advertisement at Luke, I knew I had to apply and was very happy to land the job.

Landscape from the Pyrenees. What a place for a work trip!

In the ALFAwetland project, our work aims to understand how people use wetlands and value the ecosystem services they offer (e.g. carbon sequestration, biodiversity management, or water purification) and how people value these benefits in monetary terms. To achieve this goal, we have designed three different surveys which are distributed in six European countries: Austria, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Spain, and Sweden.

ALFAwetlands surveys

In the first survey, we focus on understanding how people feel about wetlands and use them on a regional level using PPGIS (public participation GIS) methods. In the second survey, we focus on the national level to study how much citizens value the benefits obtained from restoring wetlands in monetary terms by employing a choice experiment. In the third survey, we take the viewpoint of landowners to understand whether they are interested in the restoration of wetlands on their lands and how much that would cost. 

Various tasks and great people

During the last year I have now worked on the project, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many different types of tasks. I have read and summarized existing literature to form a sound basis for our surveys, discussed with scientists from various fields to have as accurate descriptions of wetland restoration as possible, worked with the legal team on data privacy and management topics, and tried my best to understand the intricacies of wetland restoration.

In addition to working on a really interesting topic, I have got to meet some really smart, friendly, and welcoming people who are working on the ALFAwetlands project from all over Europe. Now that our work is approaching the field work phase, I am very excited to see what people think about wetlands. If you are interested to hear about the results, stay tuned for more updates on our work!

Leo Raivonen, Natural Resources Institute Finland

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