In 2013–2016, the ownership of forest land changed so that the forest area owned by forest funds increased rapidly, and the number and area of jointly owned forests increased, while undistributed estates of deceased persons decreased. Natural persons alone, with their spouse or through undistributed estates of deceased persons or partnerships form the largest forest owner group in Finland, in which forest property entities of at least two hectares were owned by a total of 620,000 persons at the end of 2016.
According to information available from the Tax Administration, private persons owned three-fifths of Finland’s forest area in 2016. In total, there were more than 344,000 forest property entities of at least two hectares owned by a person alone or with their family. These property entities, with an average size of 30.5 hectares, had 620,000 private forest owners.
Of the total forest land under private ownership, 74 per cent were owned by a person alone or with their spouse (i.e. 252,000 forest property entities) and 17 per cent were owned by a partnership (54,000 forest property entities). If the minor increase in the area included in the statistics is taken into account, ownership by a person alone or with their spouse has remained unchanged, while ownership by partnerships has increased slightly.
The number of undistributed estates of deceased persons and the area of their forest land have continued to decrease. At the end of 2016, there were 39,000 undistributed estates of deceased persons which owned forest land of at least two hectares, accounting for nine per cent of privately owned forest land.
“The average age of forest owners is relatively high, and in four per cent of all forest property entities owned by a person alone or with their spouse, one of the two owners has died. In addition, at least one partner has died in approximately one-fifth of all partnerships. However, the number and total area of such forest land clearly decreased in 2013–2016”, says Jukka Torvelainen, senior statistician at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).
Forest funds have rapidly expanded their forest ownership
Entities other than private persons owned two-fifths of all forest land in 2016. In this group, clearly the largest forest owner was the state, followed in a descending order by limited liability companies, jointly owned forests, municipalities and parishes.
In recent years, the expansion of forest funds has been the most significant factor in changing forest ownership. Most of the forests they acquired in 2013–2016 came from limited liability companies, whose forest ownership decreased. During this period, the area of the forest land in forest property entities owned at least in half by forest funds increased tenfold from 26,000 hectares to more than 260,000 hectares.
“In the Tax Administration’s data and in the actual statistics, forest funds are not listed as a separate owner group, as their forest ownership takes place through four different legal entities: limited liability companies, limited partnerships, non-UCITS funds and jointly owned forests. However, we identified the number of forest funds and the forest area they own. Forest funds differ significantly from one another, and they may own forest property entities in full or in part”, says Jussi Leppänen, researcher at Luke.
Jointly owned forests form another forest ownership group which has grown in the long term. In 2013–2016, their number increased by 94 jointly owned forests and their forest land increased by nearly 54,000 hectares. Some of this growth resulted from forest funds, operating as jointly owned forests. However, the majority of new jointly owned forests are relatively small, which is why their area has grown less than their number.
A completely new way to compile statistics
The statistics of forest land ownership are now much more accurate than before, and they have been compiled on the basis of regions, independent of forestry organisations and their distribution of area.
“Now that the division pertaining to the Finnish Forest Centre is no longer valid and forestry fees are no longer collected for forest management associations, we were forced to rethink the whole way of how to compile these statistics. Luke’s role as a statistical authority presented new opportunities to obtain and calculate the Tax Administration’s unit-specific data and, for example, to examine forest funds separately”, says Vilja Koski, researcher at Luke who was in charge of data processing.
Background to the statistics
The statistics cover the forest ownership of every owner, owner group or legal person in the form of forest property entities or forest holdings. Forest property entities are examined on the basis of the owner’s domicile, and each owner’s ownership in the whole of Finland is presented in their domicile, regardless of the location of their holdings. The owner categories used and other definitions have been explained in detail in the quality description available from the home page for the statistics.