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Finland has some of the most celebrated natural wilderness in the world, much of it unchanged since ancient times. Covering most of the country, it is made up of a combination of forests, lakes, sea, tundra, and bogs. Here are some facts about this panoply.
National parks are scattered throughout the country, from the Archipelago National Park covering thousands of islands to the Pyhä-Luosto on the Lapland fells. The most recent piece of land to be given national park status was Hossa National Park in the northeast, to coincide with Finland’s centenary year.
Finland has the highest percentage of forest cover of any country in Europe, 16 times greater than the average. Around 75% of the country is covered in forest and there are 30 indigenous tree species. Despite the lumber industry increasing by 60% since the beginning of the millennium, tree cover is kept sustainable and has even grown slightly each year.
Barely any non-native trees grow wild in Finland. This makes the forests ideal subjects for study by scientists and environmentalists. Pine is the most common tree to be found, with other common species being spruce and birch.
Finland’s reputation as ‘the land of 1,000 lakes’ is highly justified, as water systems take up so much room that cross-country road trips seem to go forever. It is even more intense in the Lake District to the east, where water covers a third of the land in some municipalities.
The lake systems in Finland are so huge that it can be difficult to know where one ends and another begins. In terms of size, Finland’s lakes are second only to their neighbour, Russia. Lake Saimaa is the biggest in Finland, the fourth largest in Europe, and the second largest in the European Union at 1,700 square miles. Finland has nine more lakes which stretch to over 100 square miles.
For their sheer size, most of Finland’s lakes are surprisingly shallow, having been formed from glaciation during the last ice age. Only three lakes in Finland are deeper than 300m.
There are approximately 95,000 islands off Finland’s coast, most incredibly small and making up the extensive archipelagos. This creates a huge navigational challenge for sailors, and has contributed to more shipwrecks than can be counted.
Almost all of Finland’s coastline is dotted with islands. Many districts of the capital Helsinki sit on islands separate from the mainland. The Turku archipelago in the south-east, stretching towards Sweden, is the largest in the world and made up of over 20,000 islands.
The iconic reindeer are a staple of Finnish life and cultural identity. Almost all the 190,000 reindeer in Finland live in the Lapland region to the north and are domesticated. However, their herds still wander over wide areas, and sometimes even onto roads and into people’s gardens.
Large predators such as bears, wolves, lynx, and wolverines are also quintessential additions to Finland’s wildlife, with adventure holidays offering rare chances to spot them. However, decades of over-hunting have led to their numbers dropping dramatically. The wolf population is only around 300, bears are at 1,500, lynxes, 2,500, and wolverines, 150.
Finland’s flora is made up of over 1,000 species of flowering plants. The summer growing season is short, only three to four months long, but even in the north, plants, flowers, fungi, and berries grow in abundance.
It’s easy to overlook the bogs in Finland, even though up to a third of the country’s landmass is made up of marshland. The country’s Finnish name Suomi even comes from the Finnish word ‘suo’ meaning ‘bog’. The soil is incredibly damp and frequently needs to be drained in farming and forestry areas. Some of the national parks cover these bogs, with miles of plank paths set up to help cross them on foot.
This article is part of Culture Trip’s Finland 100 campaign, celebrating everything Finnish on the country’s centenary.