North Karelia is located in Eastern Finland. Traditionally a homeland of the Sámi, Karelian and Savo-Karelian peoples, today the region is a modern province of Finland where natural resources play a significant role in the local economy and society.
Timber and forestry products are the most important resources, but a range of mining practices from open cast historical mines to underground gold harvesting and surface peat extraction can be found in the region.
In the 2010s Finland emerged as a 'land of opportunity' for international and domestic mining. This is due to legal reforms that have favoured mining company access, combined with downscaling of independent environmental authorities and the lack of existing social and legal rights of local communities to address mining.
The trend of increasing ease of access to mineral resources is expected to grow during the 21st century, due to the geopolitical interest in the boreal and Arctic peripheries. These regions still contain most of the planet’s untapped mineral wealth today. New sea routes to get these minerals out of the Arctic at lower cost are opening up due to climate-change-induced losses in sea ice.
In North Karelia, resistance to mining has emerged in many forms, for example:
- Regional fisheries and village bodies have been trying to resist large-scale peat extraction since 1970s, especially in Koitajoki River catchment and in Ilomantsi;
- Public movements against Uranium mining in 2006-2013, in Eno and the Pielisjoki catchment area;
- Village and NGO opposition to Australian, US, Irish and other international companies wishing to harvest Zinc, Iron, Nickel and rare earth metals;
- Quartz mining companies from Italy, that have been driven out of the village of Selkie.
North Karelia has been central to Finnish mining history whether it has been peat or minerals. After WW2 (and at some scale since 1910s) one of the local communities, Kuusjärvi, underwent a transformation, turning into 'Outokumpu' (meaning Strange Mound), a state-led mining town which has a severe pollution record, impacting, for example, the nearby Lake Sysmäjärvi.
“Despite all of the damages, it’s still a paradise.”
The Jukajoki River catchment and Linnunsuo Marshmire, a former peat mining site, are located in the village of Selkie, home to around 300 people, which has the status of a national landscape in Finland.
Selkie is the second oldest recorded village in North Karelia. In pre-historic times, Selkie’s first inhabitants were the Indigenous Sámi people. Later, and up until the 1640s, the village was occupied by Karelians. Due to the Swedish-Russian Rupture Wars and subsequent transfer of territories, most Karelians left for Tver, Russia. The village population was replaced with an ethnically Savo-Karelian population who still live in the village today.
The traditional ways of life in Selkie have, and to some extent continue to, revolve around fisheries, hunting and traditional small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture, which transformed into modern, small-scale farming post-WW2. Selkie is one of the western-most of the Karelian villages where Kalevala-style epic songs and incantations have been recorded in the ancient tradition of Finnish rune-singers.
Through a restoration programme bringing together traditional knowledge and science, Linnunsuo has enjoyed a dramatic and rapid return to health. It has quickly become a highly regarded wetland habitat for rare birds and mammals, including sandpipers, northern pintails and wolverines.
185 bird species have been recorded in the area, and over 20,000 geese at a time have flocked to the wetland, resting on their migrations to and from Siberia.
Improvements in water quality and reductions in iron sulfide contamination from the site are substantial. Local people have discovered aquatic species such as brook lamprey- an indicator species for good water quality- in the wider catchment, affirming the dramatic recovery of freshwater habitats.
Linnunsuo is now recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention, an Important Bird Area and Finland's second ever Community Conserved Area.
But the benefits of co-management go far beyond these measurable environmental outcomes.
The development of the co-management council has changed how local-traditional knowledge is recognised and valued in environmental management of the area. This knowledge is now recognised as equally valid to science-based and institutional knowledge by all actors in the council. The local community is seen as a valuable partner in on-the-ground monitoring and restoration.
Since the Linnunsuo wetland was re-wetted in 2013, Selkie and the Snowchange Cooperative (which has since purchased the Linnunsuo site from VAPO) have built on their success, initiating an effort to revive and re-wild the entire Jukajoki River catchment. This project is the largest of its kind in Finland.
In the short term, the goal is to restore the entire Jukajoki catchment area using traditional knowledge and science as equally valued forms of knowledge production. By 2025, the aim is to have restored Lake Jukajärvi and inflowing river bodies, allowing the return of lake trout, grayling and salmon.
In the longer term, the vision is to establish a ranger program providing economic opportunities to local communities, establish a stable governance and co-management system for the entire watershed, including a monitoring program that incorporates traditional knowledge and science.
Beyond North Karelia, the successes of the Linnunsuo and Jukajoki restorations to-date has stimulated a national programme of landscape rewilding in Finland, supported by Rewilding Europe, to alleviate the damage caused to Finnish marshmires and wetlands by extractive activities.