Since joining the Green City Accord initiative, the city of Turku is currently drawing up a practical programme to protect the diversity of nature. The city has also implemented a progressive forest strategy and is working to conserve the Baltic Sea.

The Green City Accord is a new European Commission initiative whose purpose is to encourage cities to take environmental action. By signing the initiative, cities are committing to improving air and water quality, protecting biodiversity, reducing noise pollution and promoting the circular economy. The cities report on their actions on a regular basis; the idea is to also spread good practices throughout the network.

Turku is one of the first European cities to sign the agreement. Mayor of Turku Minna Arve emphasises that Turku’s status as a pioneer in environmental work goes hand in hand with environmental protection and the promotion of the circular economy.

“We are hard at work building a city whose residents can continue to live, move and breathe freely even in the future. Turku wants to take on responsibility and set a good example in tackling challenges. That’s why I see Turku being among the first cities to join the Green City Accord as an important and organic development,” Arve says.

Turku wants to take on responsibility and set a good example in tackling challenges.

Action programme for protecting biodiversity

Turku is already working towards many of the goals included in the Green City Accord.

According to Environmental Protection Director Olli-Pekka Mäki, protecting biodiversity is part of the city’s strategy. Turku is currently working on a practical action programme to support this goal.

“In addition to establishing nature reserves, the planned measures include the active maintenance and restoration of important natural areas.”

One such restorative measure is eliminating tree species that overshadow oaks in hardwood forests. Efforts are also being made to keep traditional Finnish natural sites open, such as meadows and dry meadows.

“Streams are being restored to their original state. Restorative work is also being performed on the Pomponrahka swamp, which is located on city grounds.

Warding off invasive species that encroach on native wildlife is also part of the programme.

“For example, Turku has been successful in weeding out hogweed, an invasive plant species that has spread to Finland.”

Environmental Protection Director Olli-Pekka Mäki

Turku’s special environmental values

Some measures to protect biodiversity, such as pulling out hogweeds, require a lot of manual work. Other measures mean making conscious changes to existing work methods.

“We are used to mowing the lawns very short in the city’s parks. Now, we want to convert some green areas into natural, meadow-like habitats for butterflies and other pollinating species.”

Naturally, protecting biodiversity is important everywhere. However, Turku also has special environmental values it wants to cherish.

“The City of Turku covers less than 0.1 per cent of the entire area of Finland. However, around 12 per cent of Finland’s endangered species can be encountered here.”

Turku is located right in the northernmost range of the oak tree. The old oak trees on Turku’s Ruissalo island are home to the endangered hermit beetle, among other species.

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The old oak trees on Turku’s Ruissalo island are home to the endangered hermit beetle, among other species. Photo: Matti Landvik

A forest plan that takes the many values of forests into account

Senior Specialist Miika Meretoja from the city’s climate team says Turku has already drawn up a forest plan for the years 2019 through 2029. 

“The forest plan plays a part in safeguarding biodiversity. The plan takes into account the fact that forests act as carbon sinks – and that they act as a site for recreational activity and significantly improve the well-being of the citizens.”

For example, the forest plan prohibits clear-cutting on city grounds. The forests are managed according to the principles of continuous cover forestry and no more than 40 per cent of the annual new growth is cut down. The trees have been cut down sparingly in the past as well.

“Forests do have economic value, but it does not hold much significance in the scope of the city’s budget as a whole. The other kinds of value attached to forests are much more important.” 

The City of Turku owns almost 5,000 hectares of forest. Of that, almost 4,300 hectares is covered by the forest plan. The Ruissalo island is not included in the forest plan, as it follows its own maintenance and usage plan.

Senior Specialist Miika Meretoja from the city’s climate team

Work on the ground, in the air and at sea

According to Mäki and Meretoja, Turku has been working hard in other areas as well. Mäki brings up the conservation of the Baltic Sea as a special point of interest.

“Turku has drawn up a Baltic Sea action programme. Its goals include, for example, preventing eutrophication, reducing pollution and protecting the biodiversity of sea areas. Education and communication also play an important role.”

Turku is currently drawing up the first city level plan in Finland for transitioning the entire region to the circular economy.

The city has also been measuring and monitoring air quality for decades.

“We have reduced air-polluting emissions, particularly from industrial operations. In winter, gravel is spread on the streets of Turku to prevent slips, which creates street dust in spring. However, we are working on developing our street cleaning methods,” Mäki says.

Turku also monitors the amount of noise pollution in accordance with EU directives.

“We build noise barriers where possible. The amount of noise has also decreased as a result of lowering speed limits in the city centre area for traffic safety reasons,” Meretoja mentions.

Text: Matti Välimäki
Main Photo: Emma Kosonen (Ruissalo oaks)