An ancient forest, shaped by fire
The man has hardly ever disturbed the ecosystems in Pyhä-Häkki. The forest is known as the most remarkable old-growth forest of the Southern Finland. Most of the forest is naturally developed, only affected by forest fires and storms. The average age of pine forests with their ancient living Pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees, and dead standing trees is often over 250 years. The oldest trees are from the end of 1500s.
Getting older, the pines bark turns into shield bark, resembling the pattern on the back of a turtle. The shield bark means that the tree is at least 200 years old. In Pyhä-Häkki the old pines, which have already stopped growing upwards, signify the age of the old-growth forest. They keep standing - dead or alive - for 500 years and survive the forest fires because of their thick bark. Sometimes the fire leaves a scar on the trees bark, which can be still seen by the next generations.
Ice and Fire
Marks of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago are still visible everywhere in the landscape of the Central Finland. One sign of it in Pyhä-Häkki National Park area is the alteration of mires and forest soil. The eskers formed by the melting ice run almost regularly from north-west to south-east.
In the last thousand years the forests have been shaped by fire. The history of the forest fires in Pyhä-Häkki is known since 1508. Altogether 44 forest fires have separately and together affected the success of the different species of trees in the National Park area.
Most of the fire scars which can be seen on the pine trees now were made by the forest fires in the 1700s, when some the forest burned about every 9 years. During a great fire in the long, hot summer 1858, most of the park was on fire. Also the 1855 forest fire had a remarkable effect on the landscape, when the whole treestand on one about 1-km-long ridge was burned down at once. Nowadays, at that place grows a beautiful pine forest of even age.
In the end of 1800s, when slash-and-burn agriculture was no longer practised and fire-guarding became more common, the forest fires became rare. The last forest fire was in 1921, when about 0,1 sq.km. of forest burned.
A mosaic of forests and mires
Half of the National Park area is mire, the other half dry forests and ridges. In mire ecosystems many different habitat types are represented. Some of the mires are Low-sedge bogs, dominated by the Sheathed Cottonsedge (Eriophorum vaginatum) and the Sphagnum moss, which is typical for barren watershed regions. There are also luxuriant types of mire, such as herb-rich hardwood-spruce swamps, dominated by the spruce. The most common type of mire in the National Park is the Dwarf-shrub pine bog, growing pines and the Marsh tea (Ledum palustre). The mires of the park have not been ditched, except in the north-west corner of the area. The ditched mires are mostly restored. The trails on mires and wetlands have duckboards.
The forests in Pyhä-Häkki are in their natural state. The spruce is taking over areas formerly dominated by the pine, now that there are no forests fires holding it back. The deciduous trees cannot succeed in this competition any more, there are only a few Aspens (Populus tremula) and Goat willows (Salix caprea), which have been able to conquer space between the spruces. The Birch (Betula ) has almost disappeared in the spruce forests.
Pyhä-Häkki is home to birds that prefer the ancient forest
Nowadays the old-growth forest sets special requirements for its inhabitants. One of them is the ability to fly! The old-growth forests are fragmented, like little islands between commercial forests, fields and villages. The typical creature of Pyhä-Häkki gets about flying, were it bird, bat, beetle or butterfly.
Dead standing trees offer fantastic nesting and feeding place for many bird species. The largest hole-nesting birds, such as the national park's emblem bird the Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) , the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and the Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)fly side by side with smaller songbirds with no altercations. All the Paridae species can be seen and heard here year-round. The Great Tit (Parus major), the Blue Tit (Parus caeroleus), the Willow Tit (Parus montanus) and the Crested Tit (Parus cristatus) all thrive in the forests of Pyhä-Häkki National Park.
The Common Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris ) is a typical inhabitant of the old forests and the chipper song of the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)can sometimes be heard from dense spruce forests. The most vocal of the migrating birds in the area are the Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) and the Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). A sharp-eared bird enthusiast can also recognise the song of the Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides).
A very lucky night-time visitor may be rewarded by the clear noted song of one of the rare Red-flanked Bluetails (Tarsiger cyanurus), which have visited the park on several occasions. The Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) visits each summer migrating all the way from Africa. It is not a well-known specie as it is quite plain looking though it does sing strongly during flight.
A Flurry of Activity on the Owl Front
There is a lot of activity within the area's owl population especially during March mornings and evenings. The diverse terrain is a home to many species. The Ural Owl (Strix uralensis)is easy to distinguish because of its size. During years when there is a large vole population in the national park the Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)may stop by from time to time. Additionally the Tengmalm's Owl (Aegolius funereus) and the small but feisty Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) also call the park home.
Inhabitants of the Mires and Sandy Heathland Forests
Open bogs attract such species as the Common Crane (Grus grus), the Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) and the Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) to nest in the national park each year. Forest tetraonids thrive in the vicinity of sandy heathland forests. The Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), the Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix), the Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia)and even the Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) may cross you path.
Many busy feet
The spiders with their eight legs, mice and voles with four, and birds and men with two, in the numbers of the individuals they cannot outdo the six-legged insects. In Pyhä-Häkki, like in many other places, the six-legged Red ant (Formica rufa) is the greatest species in number. With however many legs, all the creatures can walk around in the National Park in peace.
Moose and Bears Stay Away
Four-legged animals are a distinct minority in Pyhä-Häkki National Park in terms of population size. Now and then a Moose may wander to the edge of the mires, but will soon realise there is no food to be found. A moose eats new fresh leaves which grow on the very ends of branches of deciduous trees; these are not found in the area's old-growth forests. For this very same reason Bears the kings of the forest stay away from the national park. They follow the moose's' tracks and quickly catch on that their prey is systematically avoiding the national park and is instead heading for newer forest land.
Numerous Little Critters
The Common Lizard is a little critter which visitors see each summer lounging on the trail's duckboards. The Common Toad (Bufo bufo) can be found waddling over the trail in the shade of spruce trees and sometimes a legless traveller in the form of the European Viper (Vipera berus) may cross your path.
Then there are the inhabitants of the moss beds which are rarely seen but are just as important as any other animal. The Bank Vole (Clethrionymus glareolus) and the Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) are a significant part of nature's cycle and the food chain. The most beautiful inhabitant of the moss bed is the Wood Lemming (Myopus schisticolor) which can be distinguished from the area's mice and voles by its stubby tail and the brown spots on its back.
Wintry Paw Prints
Winter's snow banks reveal the existence of other four-legged inhabitants. The bouncing tracks of the Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) run across the trail here and there. The infamous Pine Marten's (Martes martes) has a very distinct set of prints that often follow squirrel tracks.
The Stoat's with his black tipped tail is rarely seen, but his tracks are unmistakable. The European Otter's (Lutra lutra) paw prints and tail tracks are the easiest to spot in the snow. Also the fox's (Vulpes vulpes) tiny prints crisscross over mires and on top of ridges.
There are also species which do not move - at least not by looking with the naked eye. Growing on wood and forest litter the polyporous fungi are a varied group of shelf fungi, the amount and quality of which were estimated in the national park in autumn 2005. The results of the research showed that the old growth forest of Pyhä-Häkki is one of the most valuable forests in Finland.
A treasure-trove for bracket fungi
The polyporous fungi family are a varied group of fungi, which grow on wood and forest litter. They cause wood to decay and differ from other mushrooms appearance-wise in that they have a very sturdy fruit body, the under side of which is covered by a dense network of gills. The most common polyporous fungi are Phellinus igniarius, which grows on leafy trees and Fomes fomentarius, which has been used since prehistoric times as an aid in lighting fires.
Polyporous fungi have proved to be valuable tools even today; now as a gage for determining the conservation value of old-growth forests. It has been noted that the presence of the more demanding polyporous fungi is an indicator of a forest being in its natural state and being a sign that there is a diversity of other species in the area. For example many threatened beetles are dependant on polyporous fungi and many hole-nesting birds find a perfect place for their nests in tree trunks which polyporous fungi has caused to decay.
Mapping the bracket fungi
The polyporous fungi in Pyhä-Häkki National Park have been inventoried several times; most recently in autumn 2005. During these inventories researchers have found 11 nationally threatened and 14 near-threatened polyporous fungi species. Additionally there are several dozen other rare fungi species growing in Pyhä-Häkki National Park that are not found at all in commercial forests. The results of these inventories mean that the old-growth forests at Pyhä-Häkki are now classified as an unique forest area and extremely valuable; the highest possible classification.
Over 70 species of polyporous fungi have been found in the National Park. This amounts to one-third of what is found in the entire country. Although some of these species grow on the under-side of fallen trees under layers of moss and are hidden from us, there are others that grow in clear sight on tree trunks. An Oligoporus lateritius with a rust brown tinted root grows on the trunk of a pine which has died standing and then fallen. An Antrodiella citrinella shines a bright yellow on the trunk of a spruce and the Leptoporus mollis can be recognised by its light pink colour. Those with a keen sense of smell can find the Haploporus odorus by following the wonderful fragrance it spreads.
Many polyporous fungi in Pyhä-Häkki National Park brighten up the autumn forest with their colours and bring a new perspective for attentive nature lovers on their forest trips.