1: Celebrating Finland 100
During The Long Spring journeys I encountered many artists, past and present, with close associations with the places I visited. For some, such as Maria Àngels Anglada, the Catalan novelist and poet, and the composer Olivier Messiaen, wildlife symbolised freedom and identity and their works mined deep reserves of personal and cultural connectedness to nature. In Finland, I read some of Elias Lönnrot’s epic Kalevala, the poem that inspired so much of Sibelius’s music. When the poem and the music inspired an independent Finland a hundred years ago this month, wildlife was an inextricable part of the narrative.
In this first in a series of articles, I recall my journey through that young country.
In 2017 Finland celebrates the centenary of its independence from Russia. Artist and broadcaster Minna Pyykkö, and her husband the writer Juha Laaksonen have launched a campaign “to give Finland a centenary gift of birdsong” by installing a million new nestboxes in the country’s gardens, parks and forests, in time for spring 2017.
“We launched the idea in the autumn to give ourselves two springs to reach our target. Already we have 750,000 boxes installed” Minna told me during an exhibition of her paintings at Liminganlahti nature reserve.
The public are encouraged to make or buy a nestbox, and take selfies showing the box in place. There is a website for uploading the pictures, which is how Minna and Juha are able to monitor progress.
The campaign may have popular appeal, but there is a serious side to it. “Finland has more forest cover than most other countries, but it is almost all commercial, and we have lost vast numbers of old trees. Birds like pied flycatchers and redstarts, not to mention Arctic specialities like the Siberian tit, have fewer natural holes in which to make their nests.”
During The Long Spring I arrived in Finland from Sweden, by ferry across the Gulf of Bothnia. Liminganlahti, on the Bothnian coast, was my first stop en route through Finland and into Norway. It is a 12,000 ha. protected area, part of the European Natura 2000 network, comprising shallow brackish sea, saltmarsh and wet forest. 150 species of bird breed there, and it is an internationally-important staging post for waterfowl and waders. Finnish Broadcasting Company’s Areena anchor Minna was there exhibiting a series of watercolours, all native species of owls. The paintings ranged from sensitively-observed portraits to studies of light and landscape in which owls are a semi-fantastical presence.
Minna Pyykkö’s previous exhibitions include a collection of birds portrayed in Finland’s national epic poem, Kalevala. They include the Swan of Tuonela, famously depicted in the Sibelius tone poem, and the long-tailed duck, regarded in Finland as the bringer of spring. Our discussion of Minna’s art, and Kalevala and its birds will be the subject the latest in the Conversations series on our sister website NATURAL LIGHT, and will be posted by 19 June.
Laurence Rose is a conservationist, writer and composer. He has worked for the RSPB since 1983.