Historic Rewilding and Restoration Breakthrough in Koitajoki

Koitajoki flowing in wilderness. Photo: Phillippe Fayt

Koitajoki flowing in wilderness. Photo: Philippe Fayt

Koitajoki basin in North Karelia has received a large restoration grant from Endangered Landscapes Programme from the UK. A 1,5 million support will enable action on over 6  restoration landscapes that will rewild 1000 hectares of peatlands, create biodiversity hotspots, keep carbon on the ground and help migratory fish. 

Koitajoki altered landscapes are massive. We need to acknowledge that one project cannot do all. Therefore the initial restoration six landscapes can establish connectivity and demonstrate system functions returning quickest.

elpPeatland restoration is the most effective and low cost measure to affect change in a speedy manner for water quality, biodiversity and climate change actions and therefore will be priorised. Ecological corridors will be established for re-connection between fragmented habitats. Traditional knowledge needed for backcasting and baselines. Project will work with Metsähallitus (Parks and Wildlife Finland), Tornator, Municipality of Ilomantsi and many other partners on the restoration.

Key Assumptions of the Project:

  • We are dealing with heavily altered system. We cannot change it back to full recovery in a single project and in all parts at once.
  • Peatland restoration, ecological connectivity and corridors have to be priorised outside and around the remaining core areas. Lake Koitere catchment is a number 1 priority but also the headwaters region and Lower Koitajoki for Atlantic Salmon habitat and water quality.
  • The project will not be able to control all land uses. Therefore extensive communications and planning between the partners will be enabled.

Measurable Effect of Actions

  1. System level planning and partial restoration of at least a thousand hectares of peatlands water quality, biodiversity and climate change actions. These peatland systems will be important on their own, but extremely important has habitats of the European Bird Flyway areas, flood mitigation and drought control sites and climate-preserving CSAs – Carbon Stabilisation Areas. Wider benefits will include keeping large tracts of Co2 on the ground, and stopping soil-based GHG emissions on restored peatlands.
  2. Rivers and streams in the Koitajoki system will benefit greatly. Four species of high value fish – migratory whitefish, trout, grayling and land-locked Atlantic Salmon will benefit from newly restored hydrology in streams, spawning areas, flow dynamics and juvenile fish habitats. Dam removal in rivers Suomujoki and Hattujoki will benefit the anadromous-type fish habitat connectivity. Wider benefits will include restoration of connectivity of aquatic ecosystems in those parts of the Koitajoki basin that will be restored in the project, for the first time since 1945.
  3. Restoration of first ecological corridors / “Webs of Life” will enable, especially in the headwaters area, including Lietoja corridor, the connectivity of remaining old growth and natural forest habitats to benefit. Additionally the project will develop mechanisms to install several of these ecological corridors with the land owners, once the planning proceeds, expected directions include at least Keljonsuo peatland and Tarassiinsuo peatland. Wider benefits will include re-establishing terrestrial connectivity of ecological corridors for wildlife and natural forests in high priority areas and demonstrating the capacity of the approach in the wider basin (future potential of actions).
  4. Koitajoki cultural heritage and traditional knowledge will benefit. This project is the first one of its kind to directly support revitalization and valorization of traditional knowledge in monitoring, management and backcasting. Schools, tourist operators, villages and contractors in the region will benefit greatly.

Additionally, a new portal, Koitajoki.org has been opened to showcase and document all actions.

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