News Forestry

International Day of Forests 21 March

What is this tree species? How can the age of a tree be determined? Why is wood construction such a good thing? These are just a few questions that specialists from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) are often asked by visiting groups of schoolchildren and students.

In Finland, diverse information about forests and other natural resources is already shared at daycare centres and comprehensive schools. Like other organisations engaged in forestry, Luke also provides forest education. Many young people may also make decisions on their future careers when visiting Luke.

In 2018, Luke reached more than 1,400 young people at forest-related events and expert lectures, during visits and hiking trips, as well as in conjunction with various training and work practice programmes. This figure becomes many times higher when large events, such as exhibitions, that cover all age groups are included. Demonstrating research and working with children and people of all ages is also productive for researchers.

On a forest trail

When determining the age of pine trees, the way trees gain height was explained in a fun way to young participants: If I forget my hat on a branch and come back after five years, at what height will the hat be? The children determining the age of young pine trees with Ville Koukkari. Photo: Marja-Leena Päätalo, Luke.

The annual “Forest trail” learning event of Timonkoski nature school in Oulu attracted a large number of participants in autumn 2018. Luke and the Finnish Forest Centre set up their activity point by the trail. The aim was to identify tree species, determine the age of trees and share information about the different uses of wood. The activity point was visited by more than 500 fifth- and sixth-graders, i.e. children of 10 to 11 years, who strengthened their relationship with forests.

“We tried to make the identification of tree species as concrete as possible. We used the carved stems of our five most common tree species: pine, spruce, birch, aspen and alder. Schoolchildren were given one branch, which they then tried to connect to the correct stem. This was not an easy task for everyone, as we saw when we examined the results. The age of a tree was determined by calculating growth rings from a drilling sample. The age of young pine trees was determined by calculating the whorls of their branches”, says Marja-Leena Päätalo, research scientist at Luke.

According to Päätalo, the educational trail had a positive impact on most students. Teachers enjoyed the assignment where the aim was to identify different tree species, and they have also used it to some extent as part of their teaching methods. Päätalo also considers it important that she can increase young people’s forest-related interest and knowledge.

Analysis of treasures hunted from forests and peatlands

Luke also offers customised educational events to students. The students of 16 to 17 years of the “Advanced chemistry and biology applications” course from Parkano upper secondary school showed interest in how the by-products of forest biomass, such as bark and raw materials collected from forests and peatlands, can be used in new products.

“We demonstrated all the things that can be studied from different natural raw materials and all their current uses. Students were also able to witness the analysis of samples collected from forests and peatlands using different laboratory methods and to test the transfer of sundews onto a Petri dish. They were even able to keep their dishes as a reminder of their visit”, says Tytti Sarjala, principal scientist at Luke. 

According to Sarjala, the visit gave researchers an opportunity to inspire students to study chemistry and biology and to become future specialists in the bioeconomy. During the visit, researchers were able to share information about research and bring it closer to everyday life.

“Luke could offer similar small-scale packages to demonstrate research and supplement school education, for example, attached to advanced chemistry and biology courses.”

Surprised by wood construction

Metla House. Photo: Jussi Tiainen.

When talking about forests, the binding of carbon in woods and wooden structures and products is also often mentioned. Metla House, Luke’s office in Joensuu, is a massive carbon storage. When completed in 2004, Metla House was the first large timber-framed office building in Finland. Representing modern architecture, Metla House is a popular attraction where information about wood construction and Luke’s research is shared naturally. Young people who visit Metla House are usually students of forestry, the environment or architecture.

“The excellent fire safety of large-scale wooden buildings always comes as a surprise to students from all countries. Another surprise is how few tree species other than spruce are used in the construction process. Educating student groups often leads to further activities, such as theses. These are effective low-cost ways to produce research results. In addition, theses tend to result in extended cooperation with educational institutions”, says Henrik Heräjärvi, senior scientist at Luke.

Luke produces diverse research data in the field of natural resources. Research covers not only forestry, but also agriculture and the game and fisheries industry.