The Pope Owns a Piece of Forest through the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation

Mrs Irja Askola, the Bishop of Helsinki, visited the Vatican on 18 January 2016 and gave Pope Francis a thousand square metres of the primeval Tomteskog forest in Porvoo as a gift.

The forest, located within the Helsinki diocese, is one of the 51 conservation areas owned by the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation. Mostly coniferous, this forest of five hectares is over a hundred years old, and we managed to obtain it in April 2013, when the heirs of the local Ärlig family decided to sell it. There is a minor wetland with old downy birches at the western edge of the forest and a rocky hill rising in the southwest corner together with its shield-barked pines. This thick and dark place has an atmosphere of a primeval forest with fallen trees lying on the ground here and there and the creaking noise of the half-fallen trees echoing in the ears as the wind blows through the area. There have been observations of the great grey owl and the three-toed woodpecker made in the forest, and we know that the place has also been a nesting site for many other owl species as well as the European honey buzzard and the northern goshawk.

The Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation was founded in 1995 by Mr Pentti Linkola, a Finnish fisherman and author. The purpose of the foundation is to purchase valuable natural areas, mainly forests, in order to place them under a permanent protection according to the nature conservation act. There are already 50 areas containing primeval forest and swamp in natural state located all over Finland.

The foundation operates mainly on private donations. A Piece of Primeval Forest is a popular form of donation, which enables us in a way to re-use some of our funds already invested in the existing conservation areas to create new ones. The pieces that we sell will naturally remain under the foundation’s control, but we follow their growing number on a regional basis. In some cases, they already cover over a half of the entire conservation area.

As Bishop Askola handed over the present, she said to Pope Francis: “We wish to inform you that there is not only a place for you in the hearts of the Finnish people, but also that there is now a concrete place as well.” Anneli Jussila, the executive director of the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation, tells that the gift to the pope will be recorded on the Tomteskog map and the signpost that will be placed in the vicinity of the conservation area during the course of the spring.

Photo: Anneli Jussila.