“Metsän puolella” initiative


“Metsän puolella” funding awarded for 16 forest-related projects

Photo: Minka Virtanen

Kone Foundation’s Metsän puolella initiative diversifies discussions around forests through research, art, activism and journalism. In the third round of funding, a total of €3 million was awarded to projects that look to the future and provide solutions to today’s problems.

“The initiative has already awarded funding for more than 50 projects or working groups. This is a significant contribution, especially as the Finnish government has shown that nature conservation and stopping the climate crisis are not on its list of priorities. On the contrary, cuts are still being made from the previously inadequate funding,” says Mari Pantsar, Change Manager of the Metsän puolella initiative.

Among the projects now receiving funding, for example, researcher Jan Saijets’ team is using artificial intelligence to map unprotected forests in the Sámi region. The funding continues Kone Foundation’s long-term support for mapping primary and old-growth forests, which has not been the focus of government investment.

However, tackling the climate crisis and stopping the loss of biodiversity is not just about money, but also about insight, values and hope.

“The Metsän puolella community brings together researchers, artists, activists and journalists. We hope that the enthusiasm and courage that comes from action will overcome anxiety and doubt. We want to show that a positive counterforce for a good future exists and is growing stronger all the time.”

Metsän puolella funding is aimed for projects that include multidisciplinary research, art, journalism, and activism in various combinations, or delve into a single discipline. All the funded projects should have a connection to academic research or art. A total of 214 applications were submitted in the third funding round, of which 16 were awarded funding. The Kone Foundation Board of Trustees makes funding decisions three times a year.

Knowledge to support forest conservation

A project led by Jan Saijets, PhD in Technology and researcher, is mapping unprotected natural forests in Sápmi and training in the use and application of artificial intelligence for mapping so-called continuum forests in different parts of Finland and Sápmi (€175,000).

The project is a continuation of the mapping of unprotected state forests in Sápmi, which was mainly carried out on a voluntary basis between 2021 and 2023. The aim is now to produce a map presentation of these forests and criteria for the protection of forests that are considered to be primary and old-growth forests under the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

The working group will also learn how to use and apply of an algorithm developed in Sweden to identify so-called “continuum forests”. A continuum forest is a forest that has remained covered with trees for a long period of time and has been spared intensive logging or natural disturbances that destroy the trees. The continuum of trees of different ages and at different stages of development creates diverse habitats for species that have become endangered in Finland due to intensive logging-based forestry. The project will compare the results produced by the algorithm with the terrain data collected by the project team. In addition, the method will be further developed to suit the conditions in Finland by comparing the analyses produced with existing terrain data in different parts of Finland, in forests of as different types as possible.

A project by The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC) and The Finnish Nature League (€265,000) offers ordinary people ways to defend their local forests. Municipally-owned forests play an important role in halting the loss of forest habitat, and their role is highlighted in the current situation where national forest protection efforts are threatened with being weak.

The project will train citizens in Finland’s largest municipalities to identify the natural values of their local forests and to develop and implement a local action plan. The aim is to convince municipalities to save valuable areas from logging and construction based on comprehensive nature surveys. The long-term objective is to encourage municipalities to contribute to the 30% conservation target of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. In the run-up to the 2025 municipal elections, local forests will also be highlighted as a health issue in a communication and advocacy campaign to mobilise people nationwide.

Forest microbes affect humans, and vice versa

Human activities, such as forest management and urbanisation, are transforming forest habitats at a speed to which organisms have no time to adapt. These changes can also affect forest microbial communities. However, we do not know how these potential changes will affect the health of people roaming in the forest or other species living there. For example, an increase in the disease of other species is also detrimental to humans, as it may increase the risk of zoonoses, i.e. diseases transmitted from wildlife to humans.

A research project by Esa Koskela‘s team is studying the interaction between forest microbial communities and humans (€432,000). The project will provide new data on how human activities shape the diversity of forest soil microbial communities, the well-being of other species living in forests and the resulting disease threat to humans. The project will also provide environmental and arts education to increase the understanding of current and future generations of the complex interactions of forest ecosystems and to strengthen children’s and young people’s relationship with nature.

Forest microbial communities will also play an important role in a project lead by visual artist Nina Rantala (€276,600) that will design and implement a miniature forest in the courtyard of a new psychiatric hospital under construction in Turku, Finland. This “micro forest” will be one of the hospital’s sensory rooms and part of psychiatric nursing care.

Soil microbial communities have evolved and transformed over thousands of years in close interaction with other species. When old-growth forests are destroyed, their diverse and unique microbiome is also lost. The new micro forest aims to introduce and root the microbiome of the old forests of Southwest Finland into the urban environment by imitating the forest floor.

Community workshops will be organised at different stages of creating the forest, targeting mental health patients, hospital nursing staff, third sector organisations and school groups. The workshops will create experiential connections with the soil, introduce scientific knowledge and open up the potential of the forest for healthcare staff. This will broaden the understanding of why it is important to protect old-growth forests.

Read more about Metsän puolella funding

See a list of all funded projects (project descriptions mostly in Finnish)