Dr Matti Helminen's legacy to WCPA as a protected areas pioneer

It is with great sadness that IUCN records the passing of Dr MATTI HELMINEN. Dr Helminen was a pioneer in many respects for protected areas and nature conservation from Finland to China, and has inspired generations with the beauty and secrets of nature.

Dr Matti Helminen

In Memory of Dr Matti Helminen

Dr Matti Helminen passed away on 9 October 2015, just before his 84th birthday. Dr Helminen said many times that he was fortunate to have been able to work with matters that were closest to his heart and to be paid for doing was he loved best, nature conservation.

His career was long and impressive. Already as a school boy, Matti was an ardent nature enthusiast, and attended a nature camp in the Netherlands, having ridden his bicycle through occupied Germany in 1950. He built Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife of Finland, from its early days, to be a significant protected area management agency for state-owned protected areas. During his tenure, the number of Finland’s national parks grew from nine to twenty-eight. Among his contributions, he encouraged and nurtured many young and dedicated staff members with increased freedom and responsibility.

He helped the American national park ideal to take root in Finland and encouraged his staff members to study national park management in the United States. He also introduced the novel idea of undertaking protected area management planning in a participatory way.

His early study tours of China helped to open doors that resulted in the establishment 20 years ago of official cooperation on nature conservation between Metsähallitus and the Forest Department of Hunan Province of China. He was awarded a special medal earlier this year by the Forest Department. Matti Helminen was WWF Finland Council Member and later Vice-Chair and held many other similar positions in Finland during his career. He was one of the long-time and beloved nature experts on the popular radio and television show educating the Finnish public on the wonders and secrets of nature. The international nature conservation community knew Matti for his work as Council member of the EUROPARC Federation and the host of the EUROPARC Conference in Finland in 1992. He was awarded the esteemed Alfred Toepfer Medal. He was also a member of IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and involved in drawing up practical guidelines for IUCN Protected Area Management Categories for European conditions. He was also a long-time member of the IUCN National Committee of Finland.

He worked in game research for some twenty years. When Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published in 1962, Matti had just finished his studies on game biology and population ecology at the University of Wisconsin focusing on the adverse effects of environmental poisons on nature. He later studied he failure of Bald Eagle and Pelican nesting at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre in the USA.

He was the first researcher in Finland to pay attention to the adverse effects of environmental poisons on populations of White-tailed Eagle. He also held a key role in translocating the Wild Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) from north-eastern Finland to the central parts of the country to strengthen the population. An ardent nature enthusiast already as school boy, Matti attended a nature camp in the Netherlands, having ridden his bicycle through occupied Germany in 1950.

Matti was a friend of Estonia. Nature and culture were central themes on his many travels, with his wife Anja, in different parts of the world. But most important was the second home in the iconic landscape of Kuusamo, close to the Russian border.

(Adapted from an obituary published by Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland October 2015)

Work area: 
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Protected Areas
Protected Areas
Protected Areas
Protected Areas
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