It’s no wonder the Finns have always been forest people. According to the World Bank, over 73% of the country is covered by forest, and Finland has over 10 times more forest per person than any other Western European country. You only have to look at old popular sayings to understand how essential the forest has always been to Finnish life.
The forest answers back the same way you shout into it (Others will treat you like you treat them)
He can’t see the forest for too many trees (He can’t see the big picture)
Listen to the fir tree under which you’ve made your home (You have to respect those on whom you depend)
A recent study by Tuula Laaksoharju suggests, however, that when it comes to urban children, this might be changing. When quizzed, 30% of boys from Helsinki didn’t consider human beings a part of nature at all, while just as many thought they didn’t need plants for their survival. What’s more, half of the children claimed not to recognise the most common forest trees.
Rabbit to the rescue
Juha Latvala, the Sales and Marketing Director of Finnish outdoor clothing company Sasta, wasn’t surprised by the results.
“When you live in the city and everything you do revolves around urban activities, it’s easy to get distanced from nature. Not all of us have grandparents in the countryside or a summer cottage anymore.”
Still, inspired by how happy he’s seen his own two and four-year-old daughters in the forest, he decided to do something. The result is Utelias Jänis (Curious Rabbit), a charity campaign that wants to strengthen the bond between urban children and nature by donating 10 000 euro to daycare centres in the Helsinki region.
Coined together by Sasta and four other companies – Scandinavian Outdoor, Pure Waste, Mellakka Helsinki and Steady Graphics – the campaign is also supported by Finnish celebrities like actor Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, TV presenter Mikko “Peltsi” Peltola and blogger Natalia Tolmatsova.
Going all in for charity
To raise the funds, Utelias Jänis sells T-shirts with a picture of a rabbit, made by Finnish sustainable fashion company Pure Waste and designed by artist Teemu Järvi, as well as auctioning Järvi’s artworks. 100% of the profits go to the daycare centres, who can spend the money on anything from nature guide visits to transport to a nearby forest.
“In Helsinki, you don’t have to go far from city centre to be in touch with nature,” Latvala says. “Children get so excited by everything, from ants to squirrels and wild rabbits. Once they taste blueberries they’ve picked themselves, they’ll realise there is nothing better.”
The campaign couldn’t come at a more opportune time. The Finnish parliament recently passed a much-debated new forest management bill, transferring forest management duties to a state-owned company.
According to the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, this allows forest data to be classified as trade secrets and makes virgin forests more vulnerable to logging for profit – forests, which are home to unique species and attract nature tourists from all around the globe.
To love, honour and protect
“When you grow to love nature, you will want to protect it, too,” Latvala continues. “The one thing is, though, that a close relationship with nature doesn’t come from nowhere. You can’t take it for granted. You have to build it and nurture it, and with children it doesn’t have to be difficult. Just go to the forest, that’s enough.”