Koli – the national landscape

Last week we were at the Koli National Park in Eastern Finland at lake Pielinen. This landscape has been called the ‘National landscape’ of Finland since the late 19th century when the national romantics – including Jean Sibelius – ‘found’ Koli and its beautiful landscape, including the views from ‘Uko-Koli’ to lake Pielinen (picture).

At that time farmers in Koli were still using slash-and-burn methods for growing rye, barley and turnip. Turnip (Brassica rapa) was the most used root vegetable in Finland before potato and also happens to be the same species as Nordic rape seed (B. rapa ssp oleifera). Slash and burn was an important element in the Finnish landscape because as a result birch was much more common than it is today. In the natural succession of the forest birch is the pioneer species so all the slash and burn areas turned into white birch forest (picture).

Since the mid 1990’s the Koli National Park has reintroduced slash and burn farming of rye and turnip in order to revive the old farming methods and its effect on the landscape. The picture is of the old ‘Toivo’ variety of rye that grows a much longer stem – often 2 m – than modern varieties.

The abundance of wild bilberry was amazing in the Koli forests.