Communicating biodiversity to forest owners in Estonia

Changing strategy: How did a biodiversity communication strategy move from one of informing forest owners to one of supporting specific changes in forest management? Frits Hesselink, IUCN CEC Special Advisor, tells the story.

Communicating Forest Values

Reprinted from arborvitae 42: Communicating Forest Values

In combating forest biodiversity loss, it is not always necessary to educate forest owners about all the ‘ins and outs’ of biodiversity. Greater success can be achieved by identifying the most strategic behavior change needed and focusing communication efforts on bringing about this change.

This was the case in Estonia. Forest legislation here stipulates that commercial logging operations must leave a certain amount of biomass in the felled area to help maintain biodiversity levels. However
implementation of this regulation has been weak and clear-cutting operations generally leave no biomass behind. The Estonian authorities recognized the need for awareness-raising efforts to encourage forest owners to change their management practices, and contacted the Union of Estonian Private Forest Associations (UEPFA) for help.

After some time UEPFA realized that its efforts to inform and train land owners about biodiversity and the law were not leading to changes in logging practices. With communication advice from IUCN and management advice from the Swedish Environment Institute, UEPFA switched tactics and began a consultative process to identify key stakeholders, hear their views and learn about the motivation behind their current forest management practices.

From an initial consultation, it became clear that the main loss of biodiversity occurs on holdings where logging operations are outsourced to foreign harvesting companies, and much would be gained by focusing on the attitude of operators of harvesting and skidding equipment. So UEPFA brought together representatives from the forest school that trains forest managers, the large foreign machinery supplier and a large forest management company to discuss what needed to be done to encourage this attitude shift. UEPFA then partnered with
these and other stakeholders to conduct a pilot training programme for the machinery operators on biodiversity-sensitive logging (i.e. reducing the environmental impact of logging and leaving sufficient biomass in place). The results of this pilot scheme served as the basis for developing a new element in the curriculum of the forest school. The foreign supplier of equipment also committed to promoting these forest management changes in its regular training courses for operators. As a first step, the training and awareness-raising efforts are focusing on the large logging operations (1000 of Estonia’s 60,000 forest owners own more than 100 hectares) as these are the ones employing outside contractors.

The consultations with forest owners also revealed some important gaps and contradictions in the current legislation, and this led UEPFA to organize a short seminar for the Ministry of Environment to address
these issues. Thus the initial communication strategy has grown into an integrated effort to tackle policy and practical issues as well as raising awareness of the importance of biodiversity in commercial forests.

This article is based on a paper Communicating Biodiversity to Private Forest Owners in Estonia, by Ants Varblane, Kaja Peterson and Frits Hesselink, published in: Communicating Biodiversity to Private Forest Owners, edited by Piotr Tyszko, IUCN 2004 (p. 58-68).

Contact: Frits Hesselink,

Frits is a communications management consultant and member (and former Chair) of IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication.

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