Table of Contents

  • This project was initiated by the Terrestrial Ecosystem Group (TEG), a working group under the Nordic Council of Ministers. The project's overall aim has been to describe and document possible effects of increased harvesting of bioenergy on biodiversity, landscapes, outdoor recreation, and the cultural heritage in Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Erik Framstad of the Norwegian Institue for Nature Research (NINA) has coordinated the project and edited the report. Håkan Berglund (Swedish Agricultural University, SLU) and Raimo Heikkilä (Finnish Environment Institute, SYKE) have been mainly responsible for effects on biodiversity in forests, Martin Weih (SLU) has had main responsibility for effects on biodiversity on agricultural land, Vegard Gundersen (NINA) has been responsible for effects on landscapes and outdoor recreation, whereas Ole Risbøl (Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, NIKU) has been responsible for effects on the cultural heritage. Other contributors have been Taru Peltola and Noora Lankinen of SYKE. In addition, Nicholas Clarke (Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute), Göran Lundh (Swedish Forest Agency), Lars Nesheim (Bioforsk), Svein M. Søgnen (Norwegian Forest Owners' Association), and Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson (NINA) have kindly provided information or reviewed various sections of earlier drafts of the report. The main contact for the project at TEG has been Gudrun Schneider (Norwegian Ministry of Environment) up to 1 Sep. 2009, and Jannica Pitkänen-Brunnsberg (Metsähallitus) thereafter. The project has been financed by contributions from the Nordic Council of Ministers (over TEG's budget), the Norwegian Ministry of Environment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and the participating institutes.

  • As part of a strategy to combat climate change, the Nordic countries intend to greatly increase the production and use of renewable energy. Bioenergy is one important form of renewable energy where Finland, Norway and Sweden in particular have considerable potential. Greatly increased use of biomass for energy may, however, have wide-reaching consequences for our land management and for associated environmental values. The aim of this review is to present an overview of current knowledge on the effects of biomass harvesting for the purpose of bioenergy on biodiversity, landscape amenities (especially outdoor recreation), and cultural heritage values in Fennoscandia. The review is based on existing studies and general knowledge of the production and harvesting systems and their effects.

  • The European Union and its member and associated states have committed themselves to a significant reduction in the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses by 2020. As part of the strategy to meet this objective, these countries will greatly increase the use of renewable energy, including bioenergy and biofuels, to reduce the use of fossil energy. The underlying assumption is that the various policies and measures to increase the use of bioenergy will be efficient measures to reduce CO2 emissions and the associated effect on global warming.

  • The Nordic countries as well as the European Union have ambitious objectives for sustainable development, where further social and economic development should be well balanced with the objective of protecting and, where necessary, improving the environment. In tackling the challenges of global climate change, the need to balance the various societal and environmental interests become especially acute. Many measures to reduce the emissions of green house gases or to adapt to the consequences of climate change may conflict with other important environmental concerns, such as preserving biodiversity, landscape amenities or our cultural heritage

  • As we have seen in chapter 2.2, a substantial part (78-89%) of the foreseen new supply of bioenergy in Finland, Norway and Sweden will come in the form of biomass from forests and farmland. The different types of biomass harvesting are likely to affect forests, agricultural landscapes and their ecosystems in varied and complex ways. In chapters 4-6 we will discuss such consequences in considerable detail. Here we will first identify the types of environmental values that are likely to be affected by the changes in forest and agricultural landscapes as a consequence of increased harvesting of biomass for energy. The mandate of our assessment specifies that the environmental values of concern here include biodiversity, the landscape, outdoor recreation, and cultural heritage values. Each of these themes will be discussed in turn.

  • If more biomass from forests shall be used for bioenergy, certain measures must be implemented to produce and harvest this additional biomass. Here we will briefly describe relevant measures that may be used to get more wood-based biomass out of the forests. These measures may address

  • Agriculture in Fennoscandia has undergone revolutionary changes over the last 150 years or so (Gjerdåker 2002). Up until the advent of industrial fertilizers at the end of the 1800s, the production of arable fields was entirely dependent on organic fertilization from manure or plant matter. This had the consequence that large areas outside the arable fields and other intensively managed infields, in forests, mires and mountains, had to be mobilised for grazing and fodder for livestock. This harvesting of biomass for the purpose of food production - as well as the extensive needs for woody material for buildings, fences and energy - had a profound effect on the landscape (Birks et al. 1988, Christensen 2002). In parts of western Norway, for instance, woody biomass was a very scarce resource that was exploited to an extreme degree, leaving a denuded landscape with very few bushes and trees. During the last 100 years the situation has changed profoundly. Thanks to the extensive use of industrial fertilizers, new animal and plant breeds, machinery and chemical pest control, the productivity on the best arable land has increased tremendously. The use of biomass resources from forests, mires and mountains for food production is greatly reduced (although, more sheep are grazing in forests and mountains in Norway than ever before (SSB 1995, 2000)). On the other hand, extensive areas of marginal agricultural land, especially much of the unimproved grasslands but also marginal arable land, have been converted to forest through active afforestation efforts over the last 50 years or more, or simply through a process of spontaneous re-growth of bushes and trees. Much of the agricultural land around cities and towns has also been occupied by urban and suburban sprawl. Due to a parallel process of cultivation of new agricultural land, the total amount of arable land has been fairly stable over the last 100 years in Norway (SSB 1995, 2000), whereas Finland and Sweden have had a reduction in agricultural area over the last few decades (Table 7, Figure 7).

  • Apart from the biomass from forests and farmlands, bioenergy may also be harvested from other types of land. We have already discussed the possibility of harvesting woody biomass from marginal agricultural land (chapter 5) and woody resources under power lines and along roads (chapters 4.1.1, 4.2.1). Remaining areas for the harvesting of biomass for bioenergy are mainly associated with mires and wetlands. There is already extensive harvesting of peat for energy purposes in Finland and to some degree in Sweden (cf chapter 2.2, Table 2). In addition, there are potentials for harvesting reeds from cultivated mires or from natural growth in wetlands (cf below). Such plans seem to be most developed in Finland.

  • Increased use of energy from biomass, for heat, electricity generation or fuel, is an important element in the strategy of the Nordic countries and the European Union to reduce emissions of CO2. However, these countries also have ambitious objectives for sustainable development, including the maintenance of biodiversity, landscape qualities, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and the cultural heritage. The increased harvesting of biomass from forests, farmland and other land will affect these other environmental values. Hence, to be sustainable, harvesting of biomass should not have unacceptable effects on biodiversity, landscape values and outdoor recreation, or cultural heritage values.