Finnish Museum of Natural History
21 December 1999
Concerning the value of the avifauna of the proposed Vuotos reservoir area in northern Finland
The proposed Vuotos Reservoir on the upper course of the River Kemijoki in northern Finland would cover 242 km2. This would include about 100 km2 of aapa mires (the Kemihaara mires') originally proposed by the Finnish Ministry of the Environment for the Natura 2000 network. Unfortunately, after objections were voiced, the Finnish Government dropped the Kemihaara mires from the final Finnish Natura proposal. These objections were based on information about the value of the Vuotos area given by the power company Kemijoki Ltd, which is responsible for the planning of the proposed reservoir. The company has belittled the avifaunal significance of the area on the basis of data presented in the book Muuttuva pesimälinnusto (Distribution, numbers and population changes of Finnish breeding birds; (Otava, Helsinki 1998), by applying statistics that I am responsible for. I wish to here correct the conclusions distributed widely by Kemijoki Ltd.
According to Kemijoki Ltd, 22 bird species given in Annex I of the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) breed in the Vuotos area. The company related the population estimates of Vuotos to the total population of each of these species breeding in Finland, arriving at low values, mostly below 1%. From this Kemijoki deduces that the Vuotos area cannot be of significance for the preservation of these species.
This is an incorrect interpretation of the data. The fact that 22 bird species listed in the Birds Directive are to be found breeding in an area covering only 0.08 % of Finlands land surface indicates the high value for conservation of this site. Also, species listed in the Birds directive are bioindicators of the overall conservation value of a site within the European Union. Areas rich in bird species of conservation concern are usually important for other groups of flora and fauna.
Of the species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, 17 breed regularly in the Bay of Liminka (Liminganlahti), long regarded as the finest internationally important coastal wetland for Finnish birds. Applying the technique of Kemijoki described above one would come to the conclusion that this site similarly is of little conservation value, as almost all said 17 species form only a small fraction of their total Finnish population also there. The value of Vuotos is highlighted by the fact that it in fact holds more breeding bird species and larger numbers of individuals of conservation concern than does Liminganlahti. It is the best or the second best breeding area in Finland for three such species, namely smew Mergus albellus, hen harrier Circus cyaneus and crane Grus grus.
The conservation values of Finnish bird sites have been scored by a point system which sums the products of pair numbers and the conservation index of each species (a speciess conservation index is calculated based on its vulnerability, national population size and reproductive potential). The conservation value of a site is especially increased if it holds decreasing and vulnerable species, and/or those for which Finland is regarded as particularly responsible (species still relatively common here but rare or extinct in most other European countries). Large populations of e.g. the following species raise the conservation score of Vuotos: whooper swan Cygnus cygnus 18 pairs, bean goose Anser fabalis 50, smew 52, hen harrier 27, peregrine Falco peregrinus 4, capercaillie Tetrao urogallus 650, crane 71, spotted redshank Tringa erythropus 70, wood sandpiper T. glareola 1700, siberian jay Perisoreus infaustus 150, and little bunting Emberiza pusilla 620 pairs.
According to data published by The Finnish Environmental Agency SYKE the following are examples of mire areas with a notably high conservation value score (area and municipality of the site in parentheses):
Martimoaapa 4006 (122 km2, Simo)
Patvinsuo 3229 (91 km2, Ilomantsi)
Vuotos 2113 (242 km2, Pelkosenniemi)
Kauhaneva 1384 (32 km2, Kauhajoki)
Veittiaapa 1279 (23 km2, Kuivaniemi)
Vuotos is among the finest IBAs (Important Bird Areas) of Finland and has a clearly higher conservation index than e.g. Liminganlahti, the best coastal wetland of this country (1247 points from breeding birds, area 100 km2); Liminganlahti has, however, additional benefits as a feeding and resting area for birds during migration. Within the EU, the breeding birds of mires and old taiga forests form the most original part of the Finnish avifauna; it is exactly these species that are numerous in Vuotos.
The construction of the Vuotos reservoir would cause irreparable damage to the environment that the EU cannot afford. A corresponding top class breeding area for mire birds does not exist elsewhere in Eastern Fennoscandia. About 30 years ago the one other such area, located some 100 km north of Vuotos, was drowned by Kemijoki Ltd. under the Reservoirs of Lokka and Porttipahta.
Risto A. Väisänen
Dr, Senior Curator