By Peter Marten, April 2009, updated February 2010
Get closer to nature – dive in online with NatureGate, a service that shows Finnish wildlife in living colour.
When people speak of "experiencing nature", they typically mean getting closer to the natural world: smelling flowers, tasting berries, observing animals, feeling a fresh breeze, picnicking by a river, swimming in a lake, walking through a meadow or skiing through the woods.
You get the picture. Actually, if you do any of the above, you're already in the picture.
The website NatureGate makes another kind of picture available. You won't smell, taste, feel or hear nature when you visit this online service, but the photos they post let you experience nature visually, and perhaps get a closer look at many species than you ever would in the wild.
The extensive site, accessible in English, Finnish, Swedish, French, German, Spanish, Danish and Norwegian, represents the better part of the life's work of producer Eija Lehmuskallio and her photographer husband Jouko. For two decades they have steadily built an astounding collection of wildlife photos, categorising them and now making them available in what amounts to an online identification guide to plants, butterflies and birds. They also maintain a growing landscape section where you can see near-panoramic views of various areas of Finland.
You can browse butterflies and birds alphabetically or search them by name. To identify a plant you can also click on icons representing several dozen different criteria, such as leaf shape, month of flowering and number of petals, to generate a list of thumbnail pictures. The process is more intuitive and immediate than flipping through a guidebook.
More information about each species is just a click away, including a selection of larger photos, and this is where the nature experience comes in – it's easy to lose yourself in the fascinating detail that these close-up pictures contain.
A number of organisations, including the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, lend support to NatureGate. One of them, telecommunications giant Nokia, sees several ways that NatureGate could intersect with mobile communications services. Users can check the NatureGate site on mobile devices to identify species conveniently while in the field. And by the same token, a service can be developed to allow users to register sightings, contributing to efforts to map the territories and seasons for various plants, birds and butterflies.
The Lehmuskallios have always thought big when developing NatureGate, adding to their collection of photos and information over the years and translating the site into more languages. It seems that technology has finally caught up with them, allowing them to make their product more accessible than ever to users.
In addition, NatureGate is attracting international attention and can look forward to versions being founded for other countries. The International Union for Conservation of Nature is one organisation that is taking an interest. Eija and Jouko's work and optimism are paying off.
See more NatureGate photos in our slideshow:
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