Barents specialists in Oulu in June, 2017

Watch a video! The high moments from the 9th HCF on video by Valentina Khoteeva.

The 9th International Contact Forum on Habitat Conservation in the Barents Region was arranged in Oulu, Finland, on 6-8 June. The event, known as Habitat Contact Forum or HCF, has usually been held every second year and focuses on nature conservation and preservation of biodiversity in the Barents region. Participants of the forum represent national and regional authorities, research organizations and the civic society (NGOs) from Norway, Sweden Finland and Russia. In Oulu, more than 40 participants discussed especially the impact of climate change on biodiversity and the need to establish well-connected networks of protected areas.

The programme can be seen here.

On the first day, climate change and protection of boreal forests were in focus. Climate is changing rapidly and this is particularly obvious in northern regions. Migrating birds are arriving earlier to their breeding places, and the distribution patterns of several species are changing. More research is needed about the impact of climate change on the northern ecosystems. However, at the same time active counter measures are necessary. Protected areas are crucial for preservation of biodiversity and may also have an important role in slowing down the negative impacts of climate change. The challenges are global, and require joint efforts for instance with regard to the connectivity of protected areas.

The BPAN II phase project on high conservation value forests has been running since 2015. It was regarded by the participants as one important step in the efforts to safeguard biodiversity in the Barents Region. The project has now reached its final phase and results and conclusions are expected to be published in autumn 2017. In the session about forest protection the participants also discussed the possibilities to establish a dialogue with logging companies in order to find viable solutions regarding protection of old growth forests in the Barents Region. The forum highlighted the need to develop co-operation between different sectors and to exchange views of good practices. In addition to protected areas on land, marine protected areas or MPAs are important with regard to preservation of biodiversity. The BPAN work on coastal water areas has shown that there is a need to strengthen the network of marine protected areas in the Barents Region. Furthermore, there is a need to improve stakeholder engagement and strengthen the transboundary cooperation.

Ecosystem services and wetlands were in focus on the second day of the forum. Wetlands display important features of biodiversity and also have a role in combatting negative impacts of climate change. Further implementing Ramsar Convention would strenghten the status of the protection of wetlands.

Implementation and planning of new projects was another main theme of the forum. Several international funding programmes provide opportunities to develop the co-operation on nature conservation in the Barents Region, and the forum urged the participants to make use of these possibilities. The HCF offers an excellent opportunity for exchange of information on ongoing projects and the development on new international initiatives in the field of nature conservation.

On the concluding day a group of participants also visited the Liminka Bay, an internationally important bird area south of Oulu. Liminka Bay is one of the sites included on the international Ramsar list for protection of wetlands. At the Liminka Bay Visitor Centre the participants of HCF learned more about protection of wetlands, the former use of the Liminka Bay and the land uplift, a phenomenon that since the last ice age has greatly influenced the nature around the Bothnian Bay.

The participants of the excursion exchanged views on restoration of wetlands close to the sea shore. Professor Anne Tolvanen and her colleague Anna Laine from Nature Resources Institute Finland presented restoration research project sites in Siikajoki.