Natural Features of Petkeljärvi National Park

The Formation of Valuable Ridges
A Dead Tree, the Beginning of a New Life
The Fragile Ridges Need Protection
Clear Lakes of Kuikkalampi
The Black-throated Diver Is Seen and Heard Near Lakes
Putkelanharju Ridge along with Petkeljärvi National Park Forms a Valuable Ridge-Lake Landscape Entity
Biosphere Reserves

The Formation of Valuable Ridges

The waters of Petkeljärvi National Park are surrounded by ridges, which are part of a long chain of ridges called Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju. It stretches from Lake Tolvajärvi in Russian East Karelia to Petkeljärvi in Finland and on from there through Putkela into the municipality of Ilomantsi south of Lake Koitere.

The Petkeljärvi National Park's ridges were formed when the continental glacier melted 10 500 years ago. As the ice receded steep-sided low ridges emerged. A typical feature in ridge areas are "suppa" holes, pits left by clumps of ice, which stayed for longer in the ground. The first dry land of what is today Finland was uncovered in Petkeljärvi. At this time southern Finland was still covered by an ice lake.

First the ridges were land bridges, which dissected bodies of water. The habitats of animals and plants moved westward along them. Crowberries (Empetrum nigrum), Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala) and Dwarf Willows (Salix herbacea) were the first plants to invade the area. These days plants that survive in dry conditions, such as shrubs and lichens live there. Birches were the first trees in the area. They have now been replaced by pines, which are better suited for dry conditions. The first animals in the area, after the ice receded were the Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) and Wild Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus). Stone Age people migrated with these game animals. These days moose and wolves wander along the pine filled ridges past waters and mires.

A Dead Tree, the Beginning of a New Life

The majority of the park's trees are 150-year-old pines. At Cape Petraniemi the shield bark pines are 200 years old. Burn marks on the trunk are scars left by forest fires past. Some of the trees continue the cycle of life as dead standing silver-grey trees or decaying wood on the ground. Birds that nest in holes such as wood peckers, tits and flycatchers make their homes there.

Wonders of Petkeljärvi. Photo: Katri Heiskanen

Deadwood is a source of food for many organisms. The death of a tree is the beginning of another life and an essential part of the cycle of life. The forests of Petkeljärvi National Park are not managed in any way, but left to grow naturally.

The Fragile Ridges Need Protection

Even today the largest threat to these ridges is man. Though gravel is not collected from the ridges anymore, erosion is a significant problem. The fragile plants of dry forests wear down and die quickly if they are walked on. This in turn causes trees to grow slower and be more susceptible to diseases. At an old camping ground at Cape Petraniemi, which was used from 1960 to 1978, research is being carried out on how forest plants are recovering. Hikers should keep to marked trails to help protect this fragile environment.

Photo: Heikki Korkalainen

Clear Lakes of Kuikkalampi

The ridges preserve an important natural resource. They filter rainwater into groundwater and also store it in their many layers. Springs bubble up in the ridges' groundwater. Many of the mires and small lakes and ponds in this area are formed by the groundwater. Typically lakes in ridge areas are clear and cold. This also holds true for the Kuikkalampi lakes in Petkeljärvi.

During summer the park's emblem animal the Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica) creates a wilderness-like environment with its cries. The Diver fishes in clear waters and it can dive for distances of hundreds of metres. The beaver thrives in the park's peaceful environment. This is evident from fallen trees found on trails and from the dams and burrows found on shores.

The Black-throated Diver Is Seen and Heard Near Lakes

Right after the ice breaks up from the lakes in the spring, the black-throated diver's territorial call "kuuik-kukuiik-kukuuik" can be heard as far as 11 km away if the weather is calm. These master fish-catchers and myths' magic birds – with ancestors existing 40 million years ago, according to fossil finds – migrate back to Finland after most of them have spent the winter by the Black Sea, and some of them by the Mediterranean or the Baltic Sea.

An Easily Recognisable Shore Dweller

It is estimated that there are some 10,000 black-throated diver couples in Finland, living throughout the country by lakes with clear waters. The largest population is found in the Finnish Lake District, by the rocky shores and rather shallow waters densely dotted by islands. The black-throated diver does not thrive on very small lakes; being a large bird that can weigh as much as 3 kg, it is not built for flying and thus needs 50–200 metres of water surface as a runway to be able to take off, and an even longer stretch if it wants to get above the tree tops. Almost without exception, it also finds its food on the lake where it has settled.

Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica). Photo: Antti Below

An adult black-throated diver in its full plumage looks like a graphic artist's tour de force with its shades, stripes and dots of black, grey and white. With its sleek body and the legs right at the back of the body, it is a skilled swimmer. On land, however, it can only clumsily crawl or take a few steps – that's why the female always builds her nest on the same familiar spot, located not more than 1.5 metres from the water's edge on a shore of an island or islet, or, more rarely, on the mainland, early in May. The only time the bird spends time on dry land is during the nesting season.

Partners for Life

The black-throated diver usually lays two eggs, rarely one, or even more rarely three eggs. The chicks hatch in mid-June and take their first plunge into the water the very next day. Of the chicks, fed first on insects and later on fish by their mother, only one normally grows up. The diver chick is not able to fly until it is roughly two months old. After leaving for their first migration, young black-throated divers live in sea areas for a while, returning to the lake environment in their third year to find a mate and establish their territory. The mating relationship is formed for life, which, in this case, can be very long; based on ringing data, the oldest black-throated diver found in Finland was 27 years old.

Through the summer and autumn you may also see flocks of black-throated divers with dozens of birds. The flock formation is a ritual-like event, but black-throated divers also catch fish in these groups. In early summer, the mateless birds gravitate to the flocks, later joined by couples that did not succeed in nesting. The nesting birds may also occasionally join the flocks for a while.

The Threats to the Timid Bird

The black-throated diver is the visible and audible symbol of the lake scenery, yet it is a timid bird. Disturbed by summer cottage dwellers, boaters and fishermen, the bird easily leaves its nest, which leaves the eggs in danger of getting cold and gives nest robbers a window of opportunity. Nesting by the water's edge, the black-throated diver is also threatened by storms that raise the water level and by the extensive regulation of watercourses in Finland. However, the damage caused by regulation can be reduced by adjusting the permit conditions.

Further Information


  • The black-throated diver was chosen by Birdlife Finland ( as this year's bird for the Bird of the Year 2010 project. The project aims at finding out more about the black-throated diver in Finland, such as the size of the population and factors related to breeding, so that protective measures can be directed appropriately.

Putkelanharju Ridge along with Petkeljärvi National Park Forms a Valuable Ridge-Lake Landscape Entity

Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju is a 15 km long ridge formation located in Ilomantsi and is considered one of Finland's most valuable specimens of ridge landscape in Finland. There are 2,700 hectares of state-owned lands entirely reserved for preservation in the area. The areas which are most have the most valuable natural features have been named Natura 2000 sites. It has been proposed that together with the nearby Puohtiinsuo Natura site the state-owned lands at Putkelanharju should be incorporated into Petkeljärvi National Park. If this proposal is realised it would multiply the size of the national park significantly. This proposal is at the moment under consideration in Finland's parliament the parliament of Finland.

Activities in Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju

In Petkeljärvi National Park there is an outdoor centre. The oldest marked hiking trail in the North Karelia Region, Taitajan taival Trail (31 km) leads from one end of the Putkelanharju Ridges to the other from Lake Petkeljärvi to Lake Mekrijärvi. The trail offers magnificent scenery of ridge landscape and of the waters that surround the ridges. There are four lean-to shelters accompanied by campfire sites along the trail. There are many sights in the area for those interested in nature or history. Picking berries and mushrooms is permitted in the area as is skiing. Although there the ski trails in the area are only maintained while the Pogosta ski event is in progress.

Nature, History and Sights in Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju

The main features of the area is arethe ridges. They can be considered a part of Finland's national landscape: these types of esker ridges are only found in the northernmost parts of the northern hemisphere in Europe, Canada and the United States. In relation to Finland's size there are many esker ridges here and Finland can indeed be considered the ridge-richest country in the world. The Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju ridge formation is one of Finland's most important ridge areas. It is a chain made up of a combination of ridgebacks, delta sediments, ridge mounds, and suppa depressions and within the centre of these there are tens of lakes. The widest point of the ridge formation is at Lake Suuri Tetrijärvi where it measures 3 km across. The ridges are at their narrowest at Putkela where they measure only a few hundred metres across.

The area's lakes vary from clear and rugged barren to murky and filled with hummock humus. The forests along the ridges are for the most part mostly dry. Vegetation in these forests consists of species, typical of the east and the south, which thrive from heat and tolerate dryness – such as the Alpine Milk Vetch (Astragalus alpinus) and the Spotted Hawkweed (Hypochoeris maculata). Especially valuable natural habitats are the area's herb-rich forests along the ridges and sunny slopes, which are home to many threatened species. Typical vegetation species in the herb-rich forests include the Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum), the Mountain Melick (Melica nutans) and the Cinnamon Rose. (Rosa majalis) The southern sunny slopes of the ridges have many lichens.outdoo and insects which thrive in hot environments. The area's suppa pools are home to insects such as the Water Beetle (Graphoderus bilineatus). The Canadian Beaver (Castor canadensis) thrives in the area and near the eastern border there is such an abundant population of large carnivores that they are often seen in the ridges. Birds typically seen at the rugged barren clear lakes are the Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica) and the European Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula). The forests along the ridges which are in there natural state offer a home for hole nesters such as Picidae, Paridae and Muscicapidae species. The shape of the terrain and the species growing in a particular spot determine the conditions of that area.

An Intriguing History

Petkeljärvi-Putkelaharju is a part of a longer ridge formation spanning over 100 km in length. Its beginning point is in Russian Karelia and it ends in the northern part of the municipality of Ilomantsi. The ridges formed during the last Ice Age over a period of 100,000 years. The ridges were formed by erosion and sedimentation caused by moving ice, water and earth. At its deepest the ice layer covering the earth was 2 km thick and the conditions in the ridge area were similar to those of the Greenland glaciers today. As the climate began to warm and the glacier withdrew ridges were formed in crevices left in the ice when meltwaters gathered and shifted sediments into them.

The formation of the ridges in this Natura site ended about 11,500 years ago. About a thousand years after this the first settlers already started to inhabit the area. These settlers came to the area following game. Signs of life in the Stone Age have been found on the shores of Lake Petkeljävi. It is thought that there was a castle fortress from the Iron Age or Middle-Ages on the hill by Lake Linnaliampi.

The last slash-and-burn fires were lit in the area in the 1860's. Old slash-and-burn lands are distinguishable from their surroundings as they have a more abundant number of deciduous trees. Old slash-and-burn grounds can be found in the forest between the Kuikkalammeit Lakes and Lake Joutenjärvi.

There are structures left from the Second World War in the area; such as trenches along the Lake Petkeljärvi shoreline. Potential attackers from the east have had to cross lakes and advance along narrow ridges. This has made the ridge area a very advantageous defence point. The heaviest battles in the area were fought around Lake Taivallampi and Putkela during the Winter War.

Restoration of State-owned Lands at Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju

The mires in the area which have been dried by ditching are not used for commercial forestry. The natural water systems in the mires are restored by filling up and damming ditches. At the same time the natural mire vegetation and other mire species will slowly start to recover. In 2006 some 80 hectares of mires were restored on state-owned lands in Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju. When crossing refilled ditches hikers should be cautious as the peat can be soggy and soft.

In the Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju forests there are obvious signs that the area has been used for commercial purposes. At points trees are all the same age and there is a lack of decaying wood. The area will however in future offer a habitat for those species that live off of dead and decaying wood. In 2005 some 170 hectares of forests were restored on state-owned lands in Petkeljärvi-Putkelanharju. The methods used included burning of forest (5 hectares on the north side of Lake Ahvenlampi), addition of decaying wood and cutting down of individual trees to create more space for other trees to grow. The area gained around 12 cubic metres of decaying wood per hectare. At the same time the living forests in the area are increasing in diversity, as the open spaces created during restoration are starting to sprout new vegetation.

Biosphere Reserves

Internationally important nature values, and the types of environments created by means of livelihood, characteristic to the area, are studied in UNESCO´s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme. The Biosphere Reserve is not a traditional protected area, because the activities of people in it play an important role. The goal of the programme is to develop the living conditions of the area's inhabitants, without compromising the protection of nature and the environment.

In the North Karelian Biosphere Reserve the core areas are Petkeljärvi National Park, Patvinsuo National Park, Koivusuo Strict Nature Reserve and Kesonsuo Nature Reserve. The Archipelago Sea and West Estonian Archipelago Biosphere Reserve include the Southwestern Archipelago National Park. During 2002-2004 an international project is focusing on developing sustainable nature tourism in the area.


Petkeljärvi National Park

  • Established 1956
  • Area 6 km²

The Emblem of Petkeljärvi National Park - Black-throated Diver

The Emblem of Petkeljärvi National Park is Black-throated Diver

Part of the North Karelian Biosphere Reserve

Petkeljärvi National Park is part of the North Karelian Biosphere Reserve (, which also includes Patvinsuo National Park, Koivunsuo Strict Nature Reserve and Kesonsuo Nature Reserve.

The goal of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme is to develop the living conditions of the area's inhabitants while maintaining the protection of nature and the environment.

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