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The peat sector introduces a new entrepreneurial approach to mowing coastal reeds

The peat sector introduces a new entrepreneurial approach to mowing coastal reeds – mowing aims to protect the Baltic Sea and biodiversity

Ruovikoitunut rantaniittymaisema, josta on niitetty järviruokoa
Photo: Ilkka Vuorinen

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Eeva Tähtikarhu Project Manager, on parental leave

Mowing coastal reeds can prevent nature loss, remove nutrients that cause the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea and produce climate-friendly raw materials to replace peat in applications such as growing media, including garden soil products. It is hoped that machine entrepreneurs and processors from the peat sector will bring a new entrepreneurial approach to the business.

The spread of reeds on Finland’s marine coasts has been strong in recent decades – there is more than enough to mow to provide plenty of raw materials for further processing. The John Nurminen Foundation seeks to accelerate the utilisation of the common reed and the emergence of a market for reeds with the Coastal Reed Project. The project brings together parties that engage in mowing and processing companies interested in utilising the common reed.

To start up the utilisation of reeds, both mowing entrepreneurs and reed processors are needed in the sector. Reeds can be mown with machines designed for use on soft ground – like those used in peat production.

“This year, we’ve been delighted to see that new entrepreneurs have entered this business from the peat sector. Processors are also increasingly interested in utilising reed material,” says Eeva Tähtikarhu, Project Manager of the Coastal Reed Project.

Companies such as Biolan Oy, Kekkilä Oy and Kiteen Mato ja Multa Oy are testing out the utilisation of reeds mowed in the John Nurminen Foundation’s Coastal Reed Project in their soil products.

“We’re proactively researching a variety of raw materials suitable for growing media. We’re especially interested in rapidly renewable and circular economy materials. It’s especially important to ensure the good quality, purity and safety of growing media materials. We’re constantly acquiring research data on different raw materials,” says Sales & Development Manager Toni Luoma from Kekkilä.

Mowing and utilisation of the common reed can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The common reed can replace raw materials that have an adverse climate impact. Mowing might also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of reeds. However, the climate impacts of mowing haven’t been researched comprehensively yet and the phenomenon is poorly understood,” says Tanja Myllyviita, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute.

Ruovikon niittoa
Photo: Ilkka Vuorinen

Utilisation of reed material can help the Baltic Sea

Mowing and collecting the common reed for utilisation can reduce the eutrophication of shores, as the reed biomass contains a substantial amount of nutrients that cause eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.

“Mowing and collecting reeds that grow in water is the only method apart from management fishing that has been proven to be a cost-effective way of removing nitrogen and phosphorus from the Baltic Sea,” says Miina Mäki, environmental expert at the John Nurminen Foundation. “In addition to nutrient removal, mowing can at its best also be beneficial to diversity, heritage landscapes and the recreational use of shorelines in many other ways.”

The challenge is that the collection of reed mass substantially increases the cost of mowing – for this reason, reeds are often crushed at the growth site without being collected. “This leads to a loss of good raw materials and the nutrients contained in the reeds are released back into the coastal waters. There is emerging demand for reeds. We hope that in future, the market will set a price that covers the costs of mowing and collection,” says Mäki.

As a sustainable and market-based system is still being established, this work has been partly carried out with donated funds. For instance, Ålandsbanken, one of the John Nurminen Foundation’s main partners, is involved in making the Coastal Reed Project possible alongside the Foundation’s other protection projects.

“The protection of the Baltic Sea is the responsibility of all of us and companies have a significant role to play in enabling the necessary measures. The Ålandsbanken’s Baltic Sea project is a good example of this, and over the years we have already supported environmental projects with more than three million euros,” says Anne-Maria Salonius, Head of Finland Division at Ålandsbanken Abp.

Mowing prevents nature loss

The restoration of coastal meadows overgrown with reeds supports biodiversity first and foremost.

“Many species and habitats in open coastal areas have become endangered – the removal of reed growths helps these species,” says William Velmala, Waterfowl Habitats Coordinator at the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment of Uusimaa.

The planning of mowing also takes into account the species living in the reeds, the diversity of the reed environment and the ability of the reeds to bind nutrients in the bottom sediment. As part of the Coastal Reed Project, the John Nurminen Foundation has compiled ground rules for the sustainable utilisation of coastal reeds. These ground rules will be helpful to all those interested in mowing and utilising reeds. They can be read on the John Nurminen Foundation’s site.

John Nurminen Foundation – Baltic Sea protection and marine culture
Founded in 1992, the purpose of the John Nurminen Foundation is to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage for future generations. The Foundation is an award-winning communicator of information and producer of marine cultural content. The goal of the Foundation’s Clean Baltic Sea projects is to improve the condition of the Baltic Sea with tangible measures that will reduce the load and environmental risks directed at the sea. Our work is steered by measurable results and impact.

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