Finland's unspoilt forests are still home to wild bears, wolves and other predators - as well as elk, beavers and many more animals and birds that have vanished from other parts of Europe. Woodland wildlife may be hard to spot, however, since most animals and birds are wary of humans.

Elk. Photo: Metsähallitus/Martti Rikkonen

Bears and wolves are rarely encountered, for instance, although special bear-watching trips are organised in eastern Finland. Elks are more commonly seen, and can cause serious road accidents. Drivers in Lapland also have to watch out for reindeer.

Hunting is a popular pastime in rural Finland, where elk, hare and grouse are still traditional local dishes; but gun licences and the seasons and quotas for different game species are strictly controlled to ensure hunting is sustainable. It is difficult for foreign visitors to obtain hunting permits. During the autumn elk-hunting season anyone out in the forests should wear something red to make sure they are clearly visible to any hunters in the area.

For the Birdwatchers

Keen birdwatchers flock to Finland to see woodpeckers, owls, eagles, cranes and many other species that are rare elsewhere. Finnish birdwatchers (www.birdlife.fi) are particularly active in April and May when Finland's national bird, the whooper swan (Cygnus Cygnus) and many other winged migrants return north. Good places to watch migrating birds include Siikalahti in Eastern Finland, the Gulf of Finland National Park, and Laajalahti Nature Reserve just west of Helsinki.

National parks and nature reserves are naturally good places to see wildlife. Bogs and undeveloped lakeshores are particularly rich in flora and fauna.

The national parks of Linnansaari and Kolovesi are home to the endangered Saimaa ringed seal.

See Also