Saimaa well placed for inclusion in UNESCO Global Geoparks Network

Press release 2018-01-25 at 10:11
kalliomaalaukset saimaalla
The Astuvansalmi rock paintings in Saimaa date back to more than 4 000 years. © Photo: Esa Nikunen, Image bank of the environmental administration

Finland has submitted an application to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO concerning the establishment of a Geopark in the Saimaa region in the counties of South Savo and South Karelia. The aim is to display the unique geological values of the region and create new opportunities for various activities, including nature tourism.

To date, 127 areas in 35 countries have been accepted to the Global Geoparks Network. The only Geopark within Finland accepted to the network is in Rokua in North Ostrobothnia. The threshold for being included in the network became even higher in 2015 when UNESCO created a specific Geoscience and Geoparks Programme (IGGP). As popular nature tourism attractions Geoparks are similar to national parks and UNESCO World Nature Heritage Sites. They are not conservation areas, but certain geological values that are significant on the global scale, measures to preserve such values, and promotion of nature tourism based on them are required. Most Geoparks include some conservation areas as well.

“The incentive to the Saimaa Geopark application came from the observation that the unique geological history of the region, including the Ice Age, had not been utilised in the best possible way for sustainable tourism and the related business. South Karelia is also the only county in Finland that does not have a national park because there are not enough state-owned lands. A Global Geopark in the region would be an excellent option”, says Heli Rautanen, Executive Manager of the Saimaa Geopark Association.

Geoparks must have a locally-based administration of their own. The association to promote the Saimaa Geopark established a year ago comprises nine municipalities: Imatra, Lappeenranta, Mikkeli, Savitaipale, Taipalsaari, Juva, Sulkava, Puumala and Ruokolahti. The application to UNESCO, submitted at the end of 2017 by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, took a great deal of effort. It was prepared in cooperation with the municipalities and the regional councils of South Karelia and South Savo, with expert assistance provided by the Ministry of the Environment.

Key elements in the application and approval process include the on-location assessment of the sites and audit of the operations, scheduled to take place next spring. The whole application process is expected to take about two years. Besides the geological values, the evaluation covers the potential of the local municipalities to create new business, services and products around the Geopark, and how it is to be boosted and promoted.

“The conditions for being accepted exist, but the criteria are very strict. Based on a preliminary evaluation by UNESCO, the Saimaa region fulfils the requirements, but to gain the official status all the smallest details must be in order”, Rautanen says.

The proposed Saimaa Geopark comprises an area of 6,000 square kilometres which in the north borders on Vekaransalmi, in the west and south on Salpausselkä and in the east on Lohilahti. About two-thirds of the area is land, including thousands of islands and more than 8,000 kilometres of shoreline.

The bedrock of the Saimaa area was formed from ancient seabed about 1,900 million years ago, and about 8,000 years ago Saimaa became a separate watercourse. The latest Ice Age about 12,500 to 11,500 years ago left the Salpausselkä ridge system which splits the Saimaa area. The monumental margin formations can even be seen from space.

The most significant programmes to protect the biodiversity of the Lake Saimaa freshwater environment are the National Shore Conservation Programme, Esker Conservation Programme and Natura 2000. The most important individual species to be protected is the critically endangered Saimaa ringed seal.

At the moment there are at least two other ongoing Geopark projects in the Finnish counties: Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas, with the main focus on mires, and Salpausselkä project, which is based on a large terminal moraine formation and comprises territories of several counties.


Heli Rautanen, Executive Manager, Saimaa Geopark Association, tel. +358 40 572 0797,

Sanna Poutamo, Environmental Manager, Regional Council of South Savo, tel. +358 40 724 9618,

Jukka-Pekka Flander, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 295 250 064,