Laponian Region in Finland: A Natural Jewel

In this circumpolar region of northern Finland live the Sami, the name the Lapps give themselves. It is the largest and one of the last areas where an ancestral way of life based on transhumance is still practiced. Every summer, the Saami drive their immense herds of reindeer into the mountains in a natural landscape of extraordinary beauty.

The first traces of man's presence in these lands date back to the Paleolithic period, towards the end of the last glaciation, about 10,000 years ago. They were a nomadic people whose presence was detected by the foundations of their houses and homes, who lived by hunting and gathering and whose main source of subsistence was reindeer. The present inhabitants, the Sami or Lapps, arrived in these latitudes from the east some 5,000 to 4,000 years ago. Other peoples from the south arrived at the same time but settled along the rivers and lakeshores. 

Like their predecessors, the Saami began by hunting wild reindeer, which they slowly replaced with domestic herds that accompanied them on their migration. The form of transhumance they practiced led them to the mountains in summer and to the coniferous forests of the east in winter. Today, the Sami continue this transhumance by moving to the mountains in summer and living there in small huts that have replaced the classic moss-roofed goath, the traditional Lappish habitation.

The transhumance groups are made up of between 200 and 250 people each, in charge of a domestic reindeer herd of between 30,000 and 35,000 head. The World Heritage area consists of four national parks (Padjelanta, Sarek, Stora Sjöfallet, and Muddus) and two nature reserves (Sjaunja and Stubba), to which must be added the Sulitelma glacier, the Togolta valley, and the Lake Laitanne delta, altogether covering an area of close to one million hectares. Two types of landscape are clearly differentiated.

On the one hand, in the east is the taiga, which covers more than 100,000 hectares of coniferous forests dominated by Norwegian spruce and Scots pine. The west, on the other hand, is a mountainous region consisting mainly of the Padjelanta National Park with its wide mountain plateaus and lakes. More than 100,000 hectares of this World Heritage site consist of wetlands, mainly located in the Muddus National Park and the Sjaunja Nature Reserve. Alongside the open water lakes and lagoons are marshes, swamps, bogs, and peat bogs. In Sjaunja, the latter form the largest area of peat bogs in all of Europe, with the exception of Russia. More than 600 vascular plants have been recorded in the protected area, some of them endemic to Scandinavia, such as pedicularia lanceolata.

The fauna living in these vast expanses is typical of the boreal forest. Among the ungulates there are reindeer and elk, the latter much less abundant than the reindeer and which has not been domesticated. The Rapa Valley is the only place in Europe where the elk is not hunted, and its specimens can reach unusually large dimensions. Fur predators include bears, arctic foxes, wolverines, and lynxes. 

The Lapland area also shows the great historical geological processes, in particular the glaciations, and those that are still occurring and are illustrated by glacial formations such as moraines or erratic glacial streams.

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