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Luonnontila has been updated but continues to be renewed


Aapo Kahilainen, Luonnontilan ylläpito

Luonnontila development team: Päivi Sirkiä, Aapo Kahilainen and Ari-Pekka Auvinen (photo: Aapo Kahilainen)

The role of knowledge related to nature and its biodiversity has been continuously growing both in the media and political discussion. However, it is challenging to find compiled and interpreted information on biodiversity, and it is even more difficult to sythesize information from various sources. The new “Luonnontila” web service aims to meet this need by presenting indicators related to the state of Finnish nature, pressures, and commitments, categorized into nine main habitat types.

Time for nature and diveristy related information

Finnish people consider nature important and are concerned about its condition. According to a survey commissioned by Sitra and published in 2021(you are switching to another service), nature is important to 87 percent of Finnish people. Similarly, over half of the respondents to the 2022 Nature Relationship Barometer (information in Finnish only),(you are switching to another service) commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke), were worried about the state of nature in Finland. The barometer also indicated that awareness related to biodiversity has increased, possibly due to the growing discussion about biodiversity and environmental change in the media and politics.

The role of measuring biodiversity has also been emphasized in international agreements. The European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aims to halt the decline in biodiversity within the EU and put it on the path to recovery. Meanwhile, the UN’s global biodiversity framework aims to expand natural ecosystems and halt human-caused species extinctions by 2050. Achieving both goals requires the measurement of biodiversity and the human activities related to it.

Although information on nature is clearly important and timely, accessing comprehensive, up-to-date, and understandable data on the state of Finnish nature is difficult for both individuals and politicians. Finland has a long tradition of collecting nature-related data, but the datasets are spread across various organizations and their projects. Furthermore, interpreting the data can require considerable expertise.

The new Luonnontila did not emerge in a vacuum

While the role of nature information has become more pronounced, the problems described above are not new. For largely the same reasons, “Luonnontila” was first introduced to the public over 13 years ago. Although the site was initially closely linked to the reporting and dissemination of information related to the UN’s biodiversity agreement, it also aimed to communicate the state of biodiversity through numerous indicators from the very beginning.

However, the indicator calculations in the first version of “Luonnontila” required a significant amount of manual work. Consequently, compiling the data and keeping it up to date has been challenging. Over a little more than a decade, the technical solutions of the site also gradually reached their end.

The idea of updating and renewing “Luonnontila” has been particularly motivated by the fact that in recent years, more and more datasets related to biodiversity have moved from researchers’ desk drawers to the data repositories openly available for any one to use. Many datasets have become accessible through various databases and their interface solutions, which has opened opportunities for the automation of indicator calculations.

The update has focused on three things

The basic principle of “Luonnontila,” classifying indicators by habitat type, has remained unchanged in the renovation. The update focuses on three main areas of development:

The goal for the first point has been in the automation of indicator calculations wherever possible. In practice, this means that during the indicator calculation process, datasets are retrieved from the data providers’ interfaces, after which statistical models are applied, and the necessary information for the indicator is compiled. However, many datasets do not update very frequently and, in such cases, automation does not bring significant benefits. Nevertheless, also for the less-frequently updated indicators, ready-made and easily repeatable analysis systems can be developed, which can be executed each time the dataset is updated.

Flowchart for indicator automatisation
A generalized flowchart representation of the automatic calculation of an indicator.

The goal of the second development point is to present all indicators in a single x-y graph, where one axis is associated with the current state of the indicator and the other the recent direction of development. Such a presentation would be desirable, as it would allow for the examination of several indicators at once and the formation of an overall picture at a glance.

This goal is ambitious for several reasons. While it is relatively straightforward to calculate a numerical value for the direction of an indicator’s development with modern statistical methods, given that sufficient time-series data are available, numerical assessment of the current state is typically more challenging. The current state is defined relative to a reference value for the indicator, the determination of which requires special attention. So far, we have used a few different approaches for this, which are listed on the “Information about the site” page.

Another challenge in the second development point is the standardization of the states and development directions of indicators that vary on different scales. We have approached this challenge by dividing both the condition and the rate of development into five categories. We have tried to perform this categorization with the same criteria for numerically comparable indicators on varying scales. However, categorization is almost inevitably somewhat subjective, and we trust there will be much discussion about it, as a result of which classifications may change.

The indicators now published focus mostly on species (especially breeding birds) and assessments of the conservation status of species listed in the annexes of the EU’s Nature Directive. These two sets have been selected as indicators partly because their interpretations are fundamentally different, and focusing on them provides an appropriate number of challenges for outlining the classification criteria for status and development direction.

The goal of the third development point has been to ensure the broadest possible expertise for the indicators through cross-organizational collaboration. At the same time, we aim to expand the group of experts communicating publicly about biodiversity. For each indicator, we have sought contact persons from different organizations to ensure as wide a perspective as possible.

Luonnontila is not static

The online service has now been launched, but this is just the beginning. The most obvious work is with the indicators themselves. The 15 indicators completed by the release date showcase the system’s functionalities, but since the goal is to form some kind of overall picture of Finland’s nature, the collection of indicators should be almost an order of magnitude larger. Achieving this goal requires the participation of a wider group of experts in the design of the indicators as well as in their calculation and interpretation.

We think that the now-published system is a proposal for a sort of framework for organizing and standardizing indicator information related to nature. Nothing on the site is set in stone, and we invite experts to participate both in ideation and in implementation.

Aapo Kahilainen, Päivi Sirkiä, and Ari-Pekka Auvinen