A comprehensive international management effectiveness evaluation (MEE) of the Finnish protected area system was commissioned by the Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services (NHS) in 2004. The evaluation was conducted in the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) framework, but was adapted to the conditions of Finland. The elements of the management cycle considered were context, planning, resources, process, outputs and outcomes. The evaluation team reviewed literature and the NHS conducted a rapid self-assessment on 70 protected areas. Drawing on these, the team developed a series of specific questions based on the WCPA framework. The questions were answered by the NHS and they formed the core of the assessment and the subsequent report. The MEE was finalised by a field assessment, which included visits to representative protected area sites as well as meetings with NHS staff and representatives of directing and financing ministries, local stakeholder groups and NGOs.
The evaluation gives the general rating that Finland's protected areas are well managed, and with some exceptions, they appear to be achieving their aims of conserving biodiversity. However, the evaluators give a number of recommendations for improvements, summed up into ten areas of suggested action.
Ecosystem approach in planning is suggested to integrate protected areas with the land and water mosaics surrounding them to form effective ecological networks. Regional landscape plans for conservation should involve innovative partnerships with private land owners, local communities and other state land managers. System planning is recommended to be supported by national strategies addressing invasive species and climate change. In addition a gap analysis of threatened species is suggested to see whether current conservation actions are adequate. Site planning for management is falling behind schedule; strategic targets and milestones are required to finish and update this process. Periodical risk assessment would help to focus planning on sites in greatest need of action.Conservation outcomes should be emphasized in management of protected areas. Certain declining habitats deserve greater attention. More areas where hunting and fishing is prohibited are needed as are efforts to reduce impacts of overgrazing by reindeer in the far north. Community outcomes: specific efforts should be made to poll opinions and build arguments for protection with rural local communities to reduce still continuing antipathy for protected areas.Visitor outcomes: visitor impacts should be assessed and impact reduction looked into by raising public awareness of service costs and environmental effects.Financing provided by the Finnish government is in general seen adequate in international comparison. Exploration of options for other kinds of support are recommended. Annual audits should check against delivery on objectives, especially on those related to conservation.Global role of Finland's protected areas and the significance of conservation work was seen not fully to be comprehended by all NHS staff. Better understanding of the Convention of Biological Diversity and Natura 2000 targets was suggested as a potentially motivating factor for staff.Assessment of cultural values requires a strategy. Terrestrial and underwater habitat inventories are to continue. A Natura 2000 master plan for monitoring is needed. Assessment and monitoring systems should be worked into a coherent framework and resources concentrated on a suite of key indicators to sum up biodiversity and cultural outcomes in protected areas. State of the Parks reporting is recommended on a regular five-year basis to analyse and communicate management effectiveness and support a culture of adaptive management. Reporting should involve external review.