Natural Features of Kevo Strict Nature Reserve

An arctic fox walking in the snow. The fox has a white thick coat and is smaller than a fox.

The Kevo Strict Nature Reserve is Finland's largest gorge valley, where you can see Lapland nature in its full glory. Visitors to the reserve must stay on the marked trails in order to preserve the fragile fell environment.

Taking care of nature

A Canyon cuts through it

The last Ice Age and its meltwater shaped the landscape at Kevo. However, the 40 kilometre long canyon at Kevo is much older, as it was formed 70 million years ago. At the bottom of the canyon, the Kevojoki River carries water from the fells over several waterfalls to the Utsjoki and Teno Rivers and out to the Arctic Ocean. The canyon is fed by the Fiellujoki River, which dives into the canyon over the Fiellu Waterfall, which drops 26 metres in two steps.

An aerial photograph of the canyon and the surrounding cliffs. The canyon is partly covered in forest.

The highest fell in the Strict Nature Reserve is Guivi, which rises to an elevation of 641 metres. The talus from fell slopes and cliffs are the result of weathering. There are patterned grounds formed by frost here and there on fell heaths. These appear as ringed or, on slopes, grooved formations. 

A Conglomeration of Northern Species

A majority of the strict nature reserves are fell heaths and birch forest, but due to destruction caused by the autumnal moth in the 1960s, there are also permanently destroyed fell birch stands in Kevo. Pine forests only grow in Kevojokilaakso river valley. However, extensive mires can be found, particularly in Vuogojávri and Sávzajávri. There are small groves along the Kevojoki River and its nutrient-rich estuaries. Particularly during the autumn colour show called 'ruska', there are clusters of aspen here and there. Some of these clusters may even be the same individual, with the branches extending beneath the surface of the earth in the same way they do above. 

Narrowleaf Hawksbeard grows on the rocky slope.

The flora and fauna found in the canyon is far richer than the surrounding fell plain. Rock cliffs, which are nearly snow-free in the winter, warm quickly in the sun and are fertilised by runoff water and birds, are a unique growing environment. Fell snowbeds, which do not melt until late into the summer, and nutrient-rich eightpetal mountain-avens heaths also have very unique plant species. Indeed, Kevo is one of the more important habitats for many rare northern species. 

There are an exceptionally large number of threatened plant species in the canyon that have few growing sites in Finland. For example, fragrant wood fern (Dryopteris fragrans), true narrowleaf hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum ssp. nigrescens), Arctic arnica (Arnica angustifolia) and deflexed bur forget-me-not (Lappula deflexa) thrive on cliffs and under crags. Kevo is also the site of Finland's northernmost marsh saxifrage (Saxifraga hirculus). The only instances of rufous beard-moss (Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens), orthotrichum moss (Orthotrichum laevigatum J.E.Zetterst.) and ja bloom moss (Schistidium subjulaceum) in Finland are also found at Kevo.

Kevo is an important place for many bird species, and a large percentage of the nesting population in Finland can be found here. Many birds of prey nest in the canyon, such as the rough-legged buzzard (Buteo lagopus) and merlin (Falco columbarius). Commonly found waterfowl in the canyon are the merganser and common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula). The white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus) also thrives in the running waters of Kevo. Lakes and ponds are also prime habitats for such species as the long-tailed duck, scoter and velvet scoter. Mires are vital to northern bird species, such as the bar-tailed godwit, jacksnipe, broad-billed sandpiper and phalarope. Common inhabitants of Kevo's pine forests include the brambling and common redstart as well as the grey-headed chickadee or pine grosbeak. The more lush river valley forests are also welcoming to southern species, such as the wood warbler or dunnock (Prunella modularis). Visitors climbing the fell may encounter the ptarmigan, Eurasian dotterel and, in birch stands at lower elevations, perhaps the common redpoll, willow grouse or bluethroat. One of Kevo's specialities is the ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus), which is Finland's northermost thrush.

Three Rough-legged Buzzard chicks in a nest, the mother brought a Grey Red-Backed Vole.

Kevo is also home to the wolverine, otter, lynx and brown bear. Count yourself as being very fortunate if you happen to catch a glimpse of the extremely rare Arctic fox. You might even spot a salmon in the Kevonjoki River.

The Kevonsuu Meadow

The Kevonsuu field is part of the Kevo Strict Nature Reserve and Metsähallitus maintains it by mowing. The rest of the field is privately owned. The University of Turku Kevo Subarctic Research Institute has been monitoring vegetation in the area. 

A close-up of the vegetation on a meadow.Some of the meadows in the Strict Nature Reserve contain a wide variety of species, primarily made up of dry and, in some places, fresh hay meadow. The near-threatened lesser meadow-rue (protected) as well as the common moonwort and leathery grapefern grow in the meadow. Other noteworthy species include the Alpine milkvetch, Alpine bistort, harebell, hoary whitlowgrass, wild ryegrass, marsh grass of Parnassus, Alpine cinquefoil, little yellow-rattle, globeflower and garden speedwell.  There may also be sweetgrass in the meadow. 

The Arctic Fox at Kevo

The Arctic fox is an Arctic species, which has adapted extremely well to the cold climate and scarce food supply. Its thick winter fur and ability to survive for long periods of time without food help the fox cope with the harsh conditions of the far north. The Arctic fox has two distinct coat colours, both of which can be found in Finland. The white winter coat is most commonly found among Arctic foxes, with only one out of every foxes having a dark winter coat. 

An arctic fox sitting in the snow looking at the camera.

The Arctic fox is Finland's most endangered mammal, with only 5-10 individuals reported in the northernmost fells each year. The last confirmed den in Finland was reported in 2023 and 2022 and erlier than that in 1996. Climate warming is the biggest threat to survival of the Arctic fox throughout its area of distribution: the Nordic countries, Russia and North America. Warm winters also make it easier for the red fox, a competitor to the Arctic fox, thrive in the fells.

Arctic foxes have no understanding of national borders, which is why their protection is being promoted as a joint Nordic effort. Protection measures include providing food and hunting red foxes. In addition to this, Arctic foxes raised on farms in Norway and Sweden are being released into nature. 

Even though the Arctic fox is occasionally quite fearless and can approach people, no wild animal should ever be approached. It is always better to let the fox decide how familiar it wants to be. 

Science and research since 1962

The Kevo Strict Nature Reserve was founded in 1956 for the purpose of preserving pristine nature and conducting scientific research, with research having been done in the area since the 1950s.

Research was further established at Kevo in 1962. Read more on the University of Turku Kevo Subarctic Research Institute website (