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Waterfront forests

Featuring:Timo Lehesvirta, UPM

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Waterfront forests

key biotopes

Forests around waters provide many benefits.

Waterfront forests grow next to water courses. In forestry, they also refer to tree-covered buffer zones along shorelines. Waterfront forests are important in multiple ways: they are significant for biodiversity; they protect waters by binding surface runoffs; and, they play an essential part in the forest landscape.

The significance of waterfront forests for biodiversity is based on the extraordinary growing conditions that these sites have. Presence of water creates moist soil conditions and a humid micro-climate. Water affects site conditions most strongly in the immediate vicinity of the shoreline and weakens as the distance to water increases. Tree composition and ground vegetation changes accordingly. In some waterfront areas, like steep and cliffy slopes, this kind of gradient can’t be seen.

Waterfront forests often have a mixed tree species composition, with broadleaf trees well represented. Common species in waterfront forests include silver birch, grey and black alders, different willows and aspen. Peat mosses, horsetails and ferns are common in ground vegetation.

Besides being a valuable habitat, waterfront forests are important for water cycles in forest ecosystems. Trees and ground vegetation along water courses slow down and filter runoffs. Vegetation binds nutrients and solid particles before runoffs end up in water courses. Waterfront forests are therefore protective filtering zones, safeguarding water quality.

A mosaic of lakes and forests is the most iconic description of the Finnish landscape. Waterfront forests are integral in this picture and therefore have landscape values too. From the wood production point of view, forests at the waterfront are often less valuable due to their conditions and composition. Leaving buffer zones around waters strengthens other forest values without major economic impacts.

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