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The Finnish Shepherd Weeks concept is pursuing the award for the best European landscape project

Press release 2017-02-14 at 15:51
Sheep by a traditional landscape farm at Hiidenmaa, Finland. © Photo: Mirja Nylander / Metsähallitus

Press release from the Ministry of the Environment and Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland

The Shepherd Weeks concept established by Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland was selected as the best landscape project in Finland in 2016 and will now be in the running for the Landscape Award of the Council of Europe this spring.

The Shepherd Weeks, which attract thousands of applicants each year, are a truly unique way to organise landscape management and conservation efforts. The concept is a combination of nature conservation and management, strengthening relationships between people, nature and landscapes, and enjoying an unforgettable holiday experience.

The Landscape Award of the Council of Europe is part of the European Landscape Convention, which Finland joined in 2006.

“Finland’s application has been happily received by the parties involved in the European Landscape Convention,” says Senior Environmental Adviser Tapio Heikkilä at the Ministry of the Environment. “The applicants from all participating countries will be evaluated over the course of the spring. Whatever happens, the Shepherd Weeks concept will remain an international example of a successful landscape management project.”

The Council of Europe’s award is granted as an acknowledgement for actions or operating principles aimed at ensuring the sustainable use, conservation or planning of landscapes. The winning projects promote the goals of the Landscape Convention and can be used as examples across Europe. The previous award was won by Hungary with a project that focused on maintaining the village landscapes of Hetés at the border of Hungary and Slovenia and developing their sustainable use through cross-border cooperation.

The Shepherd Weeks are a big help in maintaining valuable traditional landscapes

The decrease in traditional grazing-based cattle farming has resulted in meadows and their abundant flora and fauna becoming increasingly rare in Finland and throughout Europe. Grazing animals are required for maintaining the traditional landscapes by keeping the meadows open and securing the biodiversity of these habitats. The Shepherd Weeks concept developed in Finland can be implemented in all European countries as a new way of nature management.

The arrangement involves volunteer shepherds travelling to the locations for a week each to care for the sheep that maintain the landscapes. The shepherds provide the animals with fresh drinking water, keep an eye on their general condition and herd them from a depleted patch of pasture to the next. The weeks are subject to a fee, which is used to cover each location’s maintenance costs and nature management expenses. The most important motivations for becoming a volunteer shepherd are caring for the sheep and experiencing the tranquillity of nature.

“The popularity of the concept has been quite astounding: this year we received more than 4,000 applications, and last year we passed the 3,000 application mark,” describes Customer Service Manager Tiina Hakkarainen of Metsähallitus. “This year we will also be incorporating cow herding weeks in the Evo region of Hämeenlinna into the concept. Volunteer shepherding activities will be organised in 12 separate locations for a total number of 142 weeks. The lucky winners will be selected by lottery by the end of February.”

During the Shepherd Weeks, the landscapes and nature are managed in an exemplary and effective manner that respects traditions and benefits all parties involved. The sheep owners and sheep gain access to quality pastures that may be hard to find, and the shepherds help the farmers with caring for and keeping an eye on the animals. The operations also strengthen the volunteer shepherds’ relationship with landscapes and nature, providing them with new experiences and improving their well-being.

In organising the activities, Metsähallitus has considered all factors, from safety and responsibilities to problem situations.

“Right now, we are keeping our fingers crossed for some success for our concept in the tough European competition!” Senior Environmental Adviser Heikkilä says.

More information:

Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland, Customer Service Manager Tiina Hakkarainen, tel. +358 (0)40 767 3038;  firstname.lastname@metsa.fi

Ministry of the Environment, Senior Environmental Adviser Tapio Heikkilä, tel. +358 (0)2952 50166, firstname.lastname@ym.fi