Joint-Fact-Finding to Support the ‘Rules’ of Ecological Compensation

Starting in early June, voluntary ecological compensation, as stipulated by the upcoming nature conservation law, requires the scientific assessment of the environmental harms caused by projects, as well as the evaluation of compensations produced through restoration and protection. This assessment includes determining changes in the ecological status of habitat types. To ensure the most reliable on-site determination of the ecological status of each habitat type, the BOOST Consortium and the Finnish Environment Institute’s Ecological Compensation Pilot Project(Finnish) have collaboratively developed assessment metrics for defining the ecological status of habitat types. These metrics were developed in cooperation with over 30 habitat type experts in workshops held between November 2022 and April 2023. The preliminary set of assessment metrics, formulated through these collaborative efforts, was published for expert review in April 2023 (Finnish).

The premise of this work is the understanding that the practical implementation of ecological compensation requires clear guidelines based on the best scientific knowledge. These guidelines need to include criteria for assessing both the environmental harm caused by human activities and the improvement in the natural state achieved, for example, through restoration. The process of formulating these criteria and guidelines began in the fall of 2022 as part of the research projects. Early discussions identified that credible guidelines for determining the ecological status of habitat types require the expertise and input of Finnish habitat type specialists. The goal was to produce rules for ecological compensation that would receive sufficient support from experts in the field.

Guidelines for ecological compensation were developed through a multi-phase process.

The workshop process commenced in November 2022 when a group of Finland’s top habitat type experts gathered to formulate principles guiding ecological compensation in line with the nature conservation law. The Helsinki workshop, organized as an in-person event, defined metrics for assessing the ecological status of disturbance and compensation habitat types. Over 30 experts from organizations such as the Finnish Environment Institute, Metsähallitus, Regional Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres), the Ministry of the Environment, NGOs, companies, and municipalities participated in the workshop, working in groups covering forests, swamps, fells, cliffs, traditional biotopes, and marine habitat types.

Following the workshop, further collaborative work with experts took place in virtual workshops focusing on specific habitat types. These remote workshops included inland water habitat types and all coastal habitat types. During these virtual sessions, the classification of assessment metrics and descriptions of state classes for each habitat type group were finalized. An initial list of possible compensation measures was also produced. The discussion-based development of assessment metrics was further refined by soliciting personal comments from experts on the compiled metrics.

In addition to the assessment metrics for determining ecological status, scientifically credible ecological compensation also requires information on the effectiveness and time delays of different compensation measures (restoration and protection). To determine the response times of these restoration and management measures, experts were called together again in March 2023 in Tampere. During this full-day workshop, discussions focused on the time it takes for restoration measures to result in improvements in the ecological status of habitat types and the uncertainties associated with each measure. Before the workshop, experts were asked to provide their own assessments of the form and time delay of each measure. The pre-workshop responses were presented and further discussed during the group session.

In the final stage of the process, experts were invited to virtual workshops once again to define the grouping of habitat types and consider what kind of exchange between different habitat types could be allowed. This involved examining how flexibly the deterioration of one habitat type could be compensated by improving another habitat type. A draft of this section of the guidelines is planned to be published later in the spring. Overall, the goal is to publish the guidelines for planning ecological compensation for habitat types by the end of 2023.


Figure: The rules for ecological compensation have been developed through a multi-phase process, involving more than 20 workshops.

The process received praise from participants.

The full-day workshops in Helsinki and Tampere, in particular, received acclaim for allowing experts to engage in face-to-face discussions on a complex topic with sufficient time. Through this collaborative effort, experts were able to collectively explore issues using visual aids and graphs, engage in discussions, challenge each other’s views, and reevaluate their perspectives based on shared discussions. The in-person workshops laid the groundwork for easier continuation of the work remotely, as participants had already gathered around a common table, shared work objectives, and gotten to know each other. Following the series of workshops, participants provided feedback such as:

“A huge thank you; I’ve been involved in almost all workshops. The arrangements have been excellent in both remote and in-person workshops. Clear schedules and objectives, discussion guided to stay on topic, and the framework has been in place. The layered process was good, meaning that things recurred at several stages along the way – discussions deepened each time. It was also very good to have different experts involved, and we got different perspectives involved. In this way, and through this process, better solutions have been achieved than if each expert had been asked separately for comments. My understanding of compensation is now completely different than at the beginning.”

“It was also very good to have different experts involved, and we got different perspectives, and for sure, through those long discussions, we got much better solutions than decisions made alone without the process.”

“I was very skeptical about compensation at first, now I feel that this can actually work; confidence has grown that we can get a good tool from this.”

In total, more than 20 workshops were organized, involving dozens of habitat type experts over six months, with a significant portion participating in all stages of the work. The experts involved in the process were highly active and committed, indicating that the development of scientifically credible rules for ecological compensation was considered an important joint task. However, this task was by no means easy. Existing knowledge is limited for several habitat types, and uncertainties may be significant, particularly regarding the effectiveness of certain measures. The collaboration has laid the foundation for continued work and the updating of rules as practical experience and knowledge accumulate.

The work process, relying on expert judgment and mutual understanding, aimed to enable the creation of common guidelines in an uncertain situation. The success of the process has also been influenced by the tremendous effort of researchers in the research projects to produce key content for each situation based on previous workshops. Additionally, the workshop sessions were supported by a large group of project researchers who facilitated small-group discussions and acted as recorders. The process has been a tremendous collaborative effort between research projects investigating and developing ecological compensation and dozens of Finnish habitat type experts, and its soon-to-be-completed results will directly influence how ecological compensations for various habitat types are carried out in Finland.

BOOST is a research project funded by the Strategic Research Council, involving Jyväskylä University, University of Helsinki, Finnish Museum of Natural History, Finnish Environment Institute, and Akordi.

BOOST Project Description on Akordi’s Website: