Protecting Finland´s soils
Soils must be carefully protected in order to reduce soil degradation due to human activity, to safeguard the ecological functions and productivity of the soil, to preserve valuable cultural or archaeological heritage, to ensure that raw materials such as peat, sand and gravel are used sustainably, and to guarantee that contaminated sites are suitably cleaned up.
Three main principles are applied in soil protection work:
- The multiple functions of soils must be sustained.
- Irreversible damage must be minimised.
- Non-renewable resources must be used providently.
Soil protection policies
Widely used policy instruments in soil protection include legislation, land use planning, EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), environmental permit procedures and official supervision and monitoring.
There are no specific laws on soil protection in Finland, but soils are protected and their sustainable use is ensured through legislation controlling the various activities that affect soils, such as construction, sand and gravel extraction, farming and forestry. Legislation on pollution, nature conservation and landscape conservation also helps to protect soils. In all aspects of Finnish environmental legislation, the precautionary principle, the polluter-pays principle, and the concept of shared responsibility are applied.
Finland´s environmental legislation contains various stipulations on soil contamination. According to the Land Use and Building Act, planners must be aware of any contamination wherever land use changes are planned. The Environmental Protection Act prohibits the pollution of the soil or groundwater, and obliges polluters to notify the environmental authorities of any soil contamination, and also take responsibility for cleaning up any contaminated soil. The act also stipulates that whenever land is sold, the seller or occupier must provide the new owner or tenant with the relevant information if the soil has been contaminated, or if wastes or other substances present in the soil may lead to contamination in the future.
Soil conditions in Finland
Hydro-geological conditions in Finland differ considerably from those elsewhere in Europe, and different factors may lead to soil degradation here. Soils are mainly thin - with the bedrock lying just 7 metres below the surface on average. Typical forest soils have low buffering capacity, and are therefore vulnerable to acidification caused by natural processes or pollution.
Water erosion can be a problem in poorly drained farmland, but on a smaller scale than in central or southern Europe. Soil contamination due to industrial and commercial activities as well as waste management is causing local problems.
Pesticides and herbicides are only used moderately compared with many other European countries, because of the cold climate and different farming practices, but due the cold climate, organic compounds break down more slowly than further south. Groundwater resources may be contaminated in places with excess salt due to the deicing or dust-binding treatment of roads, airport runways or other transportation routes and terminals.
Groundwater resources are closely monitored for contamination, since they are particularly sensitive to any pollution and acidification in the soil. The most suitable groundwater reserves for domestic water consumption in Finland are mainly found in permeable sand and gravel features such as the eskers and moraines deposited during the last ice age.