Nature-Based Activities

Hetta is an age-old Lapp and Sámi dwelling place, where the traditional culture – which has centred around reindeer husbandry for the last few hundred years for both the original Lappish inhabitants and the semi-nomadic Sami inhabitants, is still very much alive. Natural livelihoods are still practised, handicraft skills are passed on from one generation to the next, and the tradition of the Joiku (traditional Sámi lyric poems) continues to flourish.

In this pristine Arctic environment, those interested in nature-based and cultural-based tourism will find plenty of things to do, as you will see from this section.

The best way to see and fully understand the uniqueness of the natural features in the Hetta Area is from the look-out point at the top of Jyppyrävaara Hill. The village of Hetta and the surrounding fell landscape astound visitors with their beauty time after time. Jyppyrävaara Hill itself is covered by pine dominated forest, dotted with birches as well as aspen and mountain ash. There are only a few lone spruce trees in the area, as the northern growth line of spruce is 20 km south of the area.

Lake Ounasjärvi is located between the Pallas-Ounastunturi Fell-chain and the village of Hetta. The lake is the source for the River Ounasjoki, which is one of Lapland’s longest free-flowing rivers. A small isthmus at the west end of Lake Ounasjärvi separates Lake Ounasjärvi and Lake Muotkajärvi. Together these long lakes make up a narrow almost 20 km long stretch of lake landscape that the Hetta-Muotkajärvi road runs alongside.


The 8 Seasons of Lapland
Arctic Animals
Arctic Birds
Arctic Flora
Berries and Mushrooms
Fishing
Northern Lights
Traditional Livelihoods/Arctic Bushcraft and Survival


The 8 Seasons of Lapland

Lapland can be described as the land of 8 seasons: deep winter, late winter, spring, early summer, summer, late summer, autumn, early winter. In the north we live in firm connection with the nature and also the changing seasons bring remarkable changes also into people's daily routines.


Arctic Animals

Nature is always near when you are in Hetta or in its surrounding area. Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are obviously the most common mammals in the area but squirrels, hares and foxes are also very common – we have fox living just meters from our house, in between the house and farm. From time to time we spot moose / elk (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and dwarf deer on the roads or forests. (Thanks to winter feeding by locals the roe deer’s population has grown.)

Other animals that thrive in the area are the otter (Lutra lutra), the stoat (Mustela erminea), the least weasel (Mustela rixosa), the pine-marten (Martes martes), the American mink (Mustela vison), the muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) and many types of moles and shrews. Some years we seem to be inundated by Lemmings in the Spring (Lemmus lemmus). Frogs and lizards are common in the area but there are no viper snakes in the Hetta Area, as their northern-most habitat is at the Hannukuru-Pahakuru Ravines in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

In Finland there are four large carnivores; bear, lynx, wolverine and wolf. We have bear hibernating just 2km from our farm. However, it is extremely unlikely that you will catch a glimpse of a bear, wolverine, wolf, lynx or arctic fox. The arctic fox is near endangered and most wolves are sensible enough to keep themselves in the remote areas although in 2009 we had to protect the dogs from marauding wolves for a number of weeks.

Wolves
The wolf is the second largest carnivore after the bear in Finland.The wolves (Canis lupus) are social members of the dog family and live many together in packs. They have excellent senses of hearing and smell, and can communicate using posture, facial expressions, scent and a variety of barking and howling calls. The howling call of a wolf in the night is impressive and is started by a single wolf, who may then be joined by a chorus. Wolves howl to communicate with each other and to define their territories. The chances to hear wolves howling in Lapland are really small.

They mainly move around during the twilight hours and they can move over distances of tens of kilometers in a single day. An old traditional story tells that a wolf could move over nine treeless bogs (valleys) in one night. In a pack only the dominant alpha pair actually breed, but the pack help to raise the cubs. Three to six cubs are born to a pack each year. Females become sexually mature at the age of about two years, while males typically mature a year later. Wolves mate in February or March, and their cubs are born a couple of months later. Cubs usually leave the pack at the age of 1-2 years. They go far away from their birthplace searching for a mate and a territory of their own.

In Finland there is approx. 140-155 wolves at the moment. They were counted in February 2014. Most of the wolves live in the eastern parts of Finland. About 5-10 wolves were found in the Lappish area; that is a few more than last year. The wolf is an endangered species in Finland and hunting is prohibited since 1973. Hunting is a subject to licence only.

The wolf is the largest member of the dog family living in wilderness. The length of the body is 100-140 cm, the tail is 35-50 cm. Weight is usually 20-50 kg, but there has been found also bigger individuals. The male wolf is lager than the female.

The coat is mainly yellowish-grey, but there are variations. People often mistake big dogs for wolves, and wolves can be most easily distinguished from wolf-like dogs by their slanting eyes – if you come so near you can see the eyes – and the way they hold their tails at a downward angle. Their tracks are very hard to tell apart from dogs’ tracks. Wolves often walk straight, while dogs tend to wander more. The wolves’ footprints are often larger than the footprint of dogs.

Wolves hunt deer and elk and in Lapland reindeer. They hunt in packs. They kill and eat almost every part of the kill; they even biting larger bones into pieces and all that is left could be a few scraps of the skin. They sometimes hide their kill.

The wolf has never been really wanted in Finland. In the Sami language the wolf isgumpe.The Sami people were afraid of the wolf and still are, due to that the wolves kill their reindeer. The ancient story about wolves tells that the wolves had the magic skills to make people sleepy. The Sami people use to yoik as they are watching the reindeer. Their yoiks are about the nature, people and animals. The wolves are frightened as they come near the people and the reindeer, when they hear the yoik. But soon they get used to the yoik and the Sami has to sing a new yoik. They have to come up with new yoiks all the time to keep the wolves away from the reindeer.

A long time ago the wolf was also a valuedanimal. There is an old yoik about the wolfSuologievra.The name means “the strong on the island”. In the ancient days people used to think the world was like an island in a big sea.

Once upon a time Stuorra-Jownna, or Jouni the Great from Utsjoki in the North of Lapland wanted to become a wolf. The witches had told that, if you go around a curved tree counterclockwise several times you finally become a wolf. So did Jouni. He walked around the tree until he was changed into a wolf. Then he run around in the shape of a wolf and he visited many reindeer ranges. He could stay as a wolf for two weeks at a time. One day he noticed his time was ending; actually on the same night, and he still had nine valleys ahead to run. If he could not make it to the tree in time, he would be doomed to stay as a wolf for the rest of his life. There is an old saying: “The wolf always finds his way”. And that night he run over nine valleys and reached the tree, where he had changed into a wolf, in time. This time he run around the tree clockwise and during the run he little by little changed back into a human being.

Wolverine
Every year a large amount of the Lappish reindeer become victims of these carnivores. And every year a large amount of money is paid by the government of Finland for losses on the reindeer herds in Lapland.

A Government decree on the payment of compensation for damage caused by carnivores came into force in Finland in 2000, stating that payments should be made from budgeted government funds for damage caused by bears, wolves, lynxes or wolverines to people, traffic, farmland, livestock, reindeer, pets or property. Last year, in 2013, the amount of damage compensation for damages caused by carnivores in Finland was about 8,5 million euro. 94% of the damages was made by wolverines. There has been a huge increase in the last years.

The Finnish Forest and Park Service (Metsähallitus) explains why it is important for nature to have these carnivores on the page telling about the Finnish carnivores

“Large carnivores are a valuable and integral part of the natural environment in Finland. In ecological terms, large carnivores play a vital regulatory role maintaining the natural balance in ecosystems. Large carnivores have evolved to keep the populations of larger herbivorous mammals in check. They also generally tend to prey on weaker individuals, thereby improving the genetic stock of their prey species through the processes of natural selection.”

Reindeer are easy prey for the wolverine to kill (in winter the wolverine mainly lives on reindeer), to tear up into pieces and hide for a “rainy day”. The wolverine does not sink into soft snow nearly as much as a reindeer does. The weight of a reindeer per cm²of its base is 8 – 10 times that of a wolverine. The wolverine does not always kill reindeer for food, but does it for “fun”, too. To read more about reindeer herding and predators, visit the site of the Reindeer Herders’ Association.

Wolverine fur is generally dark brown, but some individuals are paler brown or blackish. Theirtracks are surprisingly large, and resemble the footprints of a small bear. Their large paws enable them to move around in the snow easily without sinking into drifts.Wolverines most commonly move in leaps and bounds, leaving their tracks in pairs or groups of three.

Today wolverines mainly occur in the open fell regions of northern Fennoscandia, and nearby coniferous forests. The most growing population lives in the border regions between northern Sweden and Norway. In Finland the approx amount of wolverines is 230-250 specimen.

Here is a map of Finland indicating the amount of wolverines in 2008.Darker regions in the map show high number of observations and on the lighter regions amount of sightings is lower. The Upper North of Finland as I call it is in the so-called “arm” of Finland.

The Wolverine has been an endangered species in Finland for the last 30 years and theFinnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute supervised between 1984 and 1998the introduction of about 20 wolverines into parts of their former ranges around Finland. Wolverines have been removed from areas where reindeer are raised, and introduced into parts of Central and Western Finland. The wolverine population now thriving in Ostrobothnia and northern parts of the province of Central Finland is largely the result of such introductions.

However, the population of wolverines in regions where reindeer are raised has increased from 40 specimen in 1980 to 180 in 2010, and the Government has to take into consideration giving permissions to the Lappish people to hunt the wolverine again. It is a protected specimen and hunting is not allowed at the moment. You can find out more, here


Arctic Birds

There are obviously many species of bird passing through here so it is a bird lovers' delight. The best time of year to visit for this reason is probably between mid May and the end of June. Hetta has two bird observation towers near to the village and others in the wilderness areas.

People visiting from abroad are generally interested in the Whooper Swans (Finland's national bird), Siberian tits, Siberian jays, and the various eagles, falcons, hawks and owls that are found here. White-tailed Eagles, Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzards, Ospreys, Hawk owls, Tengmalm's Owls and Pygmy Owls and more rare Snowy Owls, Great Grey Owls and Gyr Falcons can all be spotted in the wilderness. Also Long Tailed Skua, Waxwing, Bluethroat, Arctic Tarn and Black-throated Diver are found in Enontekiö. Willow Grouse are one of the emblems of the region since they have brought income to the people living here and been part of their traditional ways of life for many years and Capercaillie, Black Grouse and Ptarmigan are three of the other forest hens that are common in the area.

There are two bird-watching towers in the vacinity of Hetta: Yrjö Kokko Bird Watching Tower and Sotkajärvi Bird Watching Tower.

Yrjö Kokko bird watching tower is situated approximately 10 km east of the village, by the side of road 956. The tower (and an adjacent lean-to shelter that many cyclists use as a temporary lunch stop) is situated by a pool where the river Vanhajoki flows into the River Ounasjoki. While there visitors can also learn more about the birdlife in Joentekiäinen, the quiet pool in the River Ounasjoki and about Finnish writer and scientist Yrjö Kokko by reading the boards there.

Sotkajärvi bird watching tower is situated at Sotkavuoma about 18 km from Hetta. This is an excellent bird watching spot during both migration and nesting time. The tower is situated on the shore of Lake Sotkajärvi by road 93m, between Hetta and Palojoensuu. Lake Sotkajärvi is a great bird wetland and so many interesting sightings have been made there that bird sighting competitions are frequent events. This tower also has an adjacent lean-to shelter and both the shelter and lower platform of the tower are accessible by wheelchair.

The landscape and vegetation in the Hetta Area are very diverse. There are old pine forests as well as vast mires, both barren and lush lakes and fells. In late April/early May you can head to Yrjö Kokko bird watching tower to watch as the first swans, ducks and geese arrive. Bird feeders are busy places as birds, such as the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), the Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) and the Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) migrate to the area for the summer and join the birds already there.

After winter when ice melts bird watchers should head quickly to Sotkajärvi bird watching tower. At Lake Sotkajärvi there have been sightings of almost all the water birds which nest in Finland and of those which regularly migrate through Finland. There have also been sightings of several rarities such as the American Wigeon (Anas americana) and the Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis).

Towards the end of May there are birds almost everywhere and during summer we recommend visitors hike into the Enontekiö wilderness or south of Hetta to Pyhäkero Fell for bird watching excursions. At Pyhäkero you can find most of Finland’s fell birds such as the Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), the Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus), the Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus) and the Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus). In Hetta Village some of the lead singers during a summer morning’s concert are the Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), the Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), the Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) and the Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla), but occasionally one may hear the song of Lapland’s version of the nightingale the Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica).

As winter nears and the area’s shallow lakes freeze, you should point your binoculars in the direction of the unfrozen spots in Lake Ounasjärvi. In his time the Finnish author Yrjö Kokko wrote about the area’s Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula), Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) and Smews (Mergellus albellus), but with some luck among the normal species found at the lake you may be able to spot a rarity such as the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) or the Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). The Periläkoski Rapids, located between Lake Ounasjärvi and Lake Periläjärvi, is also an interesting bird watching destination. Finland’s most northern sighting of a Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) was made on the rocks along the shore of the rapids where it was wandering around amongst a flock of White-throated Dippers (Cinclus cinclus).

Many of the bird species that inhabit the Hetta Area at different times of year may come as a surprise to visitors. The rarest birds seen in Hetta are the Bee-eaters (Meropidae), the Great Skua (Stercorarius skua), the Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) and the Dusky Thrush (Turdus eunomus).

The closeness of the Arctic Ocean brings its own twist to the area’s bird population; thus adding the Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) and the Little Auk (Alle alle) to the list of birds seen there. Even during the darkest part of the year in mid-winter there is life in the area. Between 2002 and 2005 twenty-two species were sighted during winter on the bird watching route, which runs through Hetta Village. The most populous species seen were the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), the Great Tit (Parus major), the Common Magpie (Pica pica), the European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) and the Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). Of Lapland’s common bird species, for example the Willow Grouse (Lagopus lagopus), the Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) and the Siberian Tit (Parus cinctus) are of course seen regularly during winter in the Hetta Area. Species such as the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone), the Willow Tit (Parus montanus), the Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), the Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) and the Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) can be found in small numbers in urban spots during winter.

Here is the website where you can look at the latest bird sightings in the area.


Arctic Flora

Approximately 1,700 species of plants live on the Arctic tundra, including flowering plants, dwarf shrubs, herbs, grasses, mosses, and lichens. The tundra is characterized by permafrost, a layer of soil and partially decomposed organic matter that is frozen year-round. Only a thin layer of soil, called the active layer, thaws and refreezes each year. This makes shallow root systems a necessity and prevents larger plants such as trees from growing in the Arctic. (The cold climate and short growing season also prevent tree growth. Trees need a certain amount of days above 50 degrees F, 10 degrees C, to complete their annual growth cycle.)

Tundra vegetation is characterized by small plants (typically only centimeters tall) growing close together and close to the ground. A few of the many species include:

Arctic willow: A dwarf shrub that is food for caribou, musk oxen, and arctic hares. The Inuit people call it the “tongue plant” because of the shape of its leaves.

Purple saxifrage.This plant grows in a low, tight clump. It is one of the earliest plants to bloom. The tiny, purple, star-shaped flowers (1 cm wide) often can be seen above the melting snow.

Arctic poppy.This plant is about 10-15 cm tall, with a single flower per stem. The flower heads follow the sun, and the cup-shaped petals help absorb solar energy.

Cottongrass: Named for its fluffy, white tufts, cottongrass is an important food source for migrating snow geese and reindeer.

Snow Buttercup: Ranunculus nivalis

One of the first plants to flower after the snow melts, it has basal leaves with three to five lobes. A single yellow flower occurs at the tip of a 5 to 10 cm stem. It grows in wet areas such as snow bed zones.

Lichens grow in mats on the ground and on rocks across the Arctic. Lichens provide an important food source for reindeer in the winter.

Adaptation to the Polar Environment:

First, the size of plants and their structures make survival possible. Small plants and shallow root systems compensate for the thin layer of soil, and small leaves minimize the amount of water lost through the leaf surface.

Plants also grow close to the ground and to each other, a strategy that helps to resist the effects of cold weather and reduce damage caused by wind-blown snow and ice particles. Fuzzy coverings on stems, leaves, and buds and woolly seed covers provide additional protection from the wind.

Plants have also adapted to the long winters and short, intense polar summers. Many Arctic species can grow under a layer of snow, and virtually all polar plants are able to photosynthesize in extremely cold temperatures. During the short polar summer, plants use the long hours of sunlight to quickly develop and produce flowers and seeds. Flowers of some plants are cup-shaped and direct the sun’s rays toward the center of the flower. Dark-colored plants absorb more of the sun’s energy.

In addition, many species are perennials, growing and blooming during the summer, dying back in the winter, and returning the following spring from their root-stock. This allows the plants to direct less energy into seed production. Some species do not produce seeds at all, reproducing asexually through root growth. Websites that can help you with plant identification are as follows (and the first also has an iphone and android app which can be downloaded).

Luontoportti
blueplanetbiomes
athropolis
beyondpenguins


Berries and Mushrooms

Thanks to the pure and Arctic air, the natural produce found in Enontekiö – wild berries, mushrooms, herbs, fish, reindeer and game birds – are all pure and aromatic.

During late summer the area’s berries and mushrooms are ripe for picking.

In late fall astute berry hunters may also find some cranberries. Mushrooms which are abundant in the Jyppyrä area during a normal autumn are the variegated bolete (Suillus variegatus), the tall russule (Russula paludosa), the orange birch bolete (Leccinum versipelle) as well as different types of milk caps (Lactarius).

The first berries to arrive are the cloudberries (lakka: Rubus chamaemorus) around the middle of July. They are still out until the end of August but they are in such high demand that it is not likely that you will find too many if you wait too long.

They are followed by blueberries (mustikka: Vaccinium myrtillus) towards the end of July. Black crowberries (variksenmarja: Empetrum nigrum) come next and then lingonberries (puolukka: Vaccinium vitis-idaea), in the second half of August. The last berries to arrive are the cranberries (karpalo: Vaccinium oxycoccos) at the end of September.

High on the hills, grouseberries (riekonmarja: Arctostaphylos alpina) can be found at the end of August - this is the plant that paints the fells red with the Autumn colours. The berries are dark, like crowberries and lie close to the ground. Bog whortleberries (juolukka: Vaccinium uliginosum) can also be found around this time and these – as well as cranberries – are likely to gain in socio-economic importance throughout Europe in the coming years.

Mushrooms are abundant in the Jyppyrä area during a normal autumn are the variegated bolete (Suillus variegatus), the tall russule (Russula paludosa), the orange birch bolete (Leccinum versipelle) as well as different types of milk caps (Lactarius). The main berry picking season is in the Autum ‘Ruska’ season.

Enontekiö Mountain Grain is a one-woman company run by Sari Keskitalowhich specialises in activities relating to natural products (mushroom-hunting, berry picking, making jams and other produce from sustainably produced or collected products etc).

Picking berries is such an important persuit that Finland has been forced to address the working rights of international pickers: A court ruled earlier this year that the pickers do not have an employment relationship because they are independent entrepreneurs. You can find out more, here


Fishing

Fishing possibilities are almost endless in the crystal clear lakes and fresh sparkling waters of the mountain rivers and streams of Enonteio. Both angling and ice fishing are considered Everyman’s Rights in all but flowing waters in the wilderness area. All other forms of fishing and any fishing in the wilderness areas need the landsowner’s permit, payment (for those between 18 and 64) of an annual state fishing fee and fishing permit 1551 for Enontekiö. If you have a provincial lure fishing permit, you can fish in the wilderness area’s lakes. More information about this can be gathered from the Fell Lapland Nature Centre, the Skierri.

During winter you can ice fish for example at Lake Ounasjärvi or Lake Muotkajärvi. During summer fishing destinations near the village of Hetta include the Rivers Ounasjoki and Närpistöjoki. If you like lure fishing in boat, you can rent a boat from one of the local enterprises and try your luck at Lake Ounasjärvi. For lure fishing you should buy the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry lure fishing fee for the Province of Lapland in addition to the national fishing management fee. Every fisher also needs a Hetta shareholder association permit, which can be bought from private tourist services. If you are planning on hiking further into the wilderness you should get the Enontekiö fishing area permit 1551. Fishing is forbidden in most parts of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

The best time for for salmon fishing, between the start of July and mid August and for fly-fishing is between the end of June and the end of August.


Northern Lights

Early spring and early autumn are the best seasons for occurrences of the Northern Lights and Enontekio is one of the best regions in Scandinavia to see them in because it is far from light pollution. The best times to see Northern Lights are the hours both sides of midnight.

Auroras Now! is a space weather service maintened by Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) to help watching auroras in Finland.

Northern Lights Hunting Link Hints is just that - a website providing hints about figuring out the solar activity and your liklihood of seeing the lights.


Traditional Livelihoods/Arctic Bushcraft and Survival

Since people in Enontekiö still live close to the land, this is a great place to visit for those interested in either bushcraft or survival techniques. More information can be found on the activities section of this website.