Estonia – a leading protector of Europe’s natural heritage
Although Estonia is small, about the size of Denmark or Holland, the country has a fraction of its population – about 1.3 million. About 50% of the land is forested, and bogs cover another chunk; that doesn’t leave much room for people, but it does mean more space for wildlife!
Beginning early in the 20th century, when one lone nature lover began to protect birds and improve their breeding conditions on small islands off the western coast, Estonia has continually expanded its parks, nature reserves, and protection for individual trees, marshes, meadow communities, forests, lakes, and unique landscapes. In fact, it’s one of the few European countries which has officially and progressively recognized the strong bonds between species and their habitats, acting to make them more resistant to disturbances and negative influences that threaten their survival.
This northern-most Baltic State lies directly across the Finnish Gulf from Finland to the north, is bordered by Russia on the east (the border cuts through Lake Peipsi, Estonia’s largest water body), and Latvia to the south. The majority of the population is centered around the capital, Tallinn, and three other cities: Tartu, Narva, and Pärnu.
Estonians are surrounded by nature, and their long, close connection with the land has prompted them to value and preserve its many forms, diverse features, and inhabitants.
We have also made a summarising overview of the 8 Best Nature Sites in Estonia.
At present, 368 bird species (below or click Birding Highlights) have been registered in Estonian nature and more than 220 breed here. Of the high number of species, a great number can be seen in 24 hours of birdwatching.
Herons and Storks: Bittern, Grey Heron, White and rare Black Storks
Cranes and Crakes: Common Crane, Corn, Lesser Spotted and Spotted Crakes
Waders: Avocet; Ringed, Grey, Golden Plovers; Temminck’s Stint, Ruff, Broad-billed Sandpiper; Common, Jack and Great Snipes; Bar-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Red-necked Phalarope, Grey Phalarope
Raptors: White-tailed Eagle, Goshawk; Golden, Lesser Spotted and Greater Spotted Eagles; Montagu’s, Hen, and Marsh Harriers; Osprey
Game: Hazel Grouse, Black Grouse, Capercaillie
Wildfowl/Divers: Mute and Whooper Swans, Black and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Smew, Shellduck, Gadwall, Pintail, Wigeon, Shoveler, Pochard; Taiga Bean, Tundra Bean, Pink-footed, White-fronted, Lesser White-fronted, Barnacle, Brent, Red-breasted and Greylag Goose
Divers and Grebes: Red- and Black-throated Divers; Great Crested, Little, Slavonian, Red-necked Grebes
Owls: Eagle, Pygmy, Ural, Tengmalm’s Owls
Woodpeckers: Three-toed, Black, Grey-headed, Great Spotted, Medium, Lesser Spotted, White-backed Woodpeckers, Wryneck
Passerines: Crested Tit, Northern Nuthatch, Common and Parrot Crossbills, Hawfinch,Wood Lark, Citrine Wagtail, Savi’s and Blyth’s Warblers, Greenish Warbler, Tawny and Rock Pipits, Bluethroat, Thrush Nightingale, Black Redstart, Golden Oriole, Northern Wheatear, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Penduline Tit, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrike
Estonia is a cross-point for Arctic waterfowl migrating along the East Atlantic Flyway. Over 50 million water and coastal birds are attracted by the abundant Estonian coastal wetlands. Many of these birds stop to prepare for the long journey to their Russian Arctic breeding grounds. At the peak time, usually the first two weeks of May, every small inlet swarms with coots, grebes, ducks, geese and swans.
The largest coastal wetland in Estonia is Matsalu, a large bay surrounded by various coastal habitats – coastal, alluvial and wooded meadows, reed-beds and islets. During the spring migration, more than two million waterfowl pass through Matsalu, primarily long-tailed and other Arctic diving ducks. In addition, nearly the entire population of Bewick’s swans – about seventeen thousand birds – travel through Estonia, many of them staying in the Matsalu area – along with about 50,000 Barnacle Geese, more than 10,000 Bean and White-fronted Geese, and thousands of wading birds.
At peak time, more than 50 000 Barnacle Geese can be seen in Matsalu. Fewer appear during the autumn migration, but more than 300,000 do pass by. Spectacular flocks of common cranes feed on the fields and gather to overnight in sheltered wetland areas.
In Estonia Western-taiga forests alternate with huge bogs and semi-natural habitats. Human population is sparse and over 50% of land area is covered by forests.To preserve this diverse nature, an extensive network of protected areas has been created and 22% of Estonia’s land area is protected.
This provides excellent living conditions for big mammals- around 800 Brown Bears, 200-300 Grey Wolves, 500 Northern Lynxes,10-12 000 European Elks, 16 000 European Beavers, 1500 Ringed Seals live in Estonia. It is extreme density of wildlife for a such a small country. It makes encountering some of these beautiful creatures in Estonian nature easier.
European Mink is the one of rarest mammals in Europe, Siberian Flying Squirrel, reaching its western limit of distribution and isolated population of Baltic Ringed Seals can be seen in few other European countries.
Overall 65 different species of mammals have been spotted in Estonia:
Hedgehogs: European Hedgehog , Southern White-breasted Hedgehog
Moles: European Mole
Shrews: Common Shrew, Laxmann’s (Masked) Shrew, Eurasian pygmy shrew, Eurasian Least Shrew, Eurasian Water Shrew
Bats: Pond Bat, Daubenton’s bat, Brandt’s Bat, Whiskered Bat, Natterer’s Bat, Common Long-eared Bat, Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, Common Pipistrelle, Northern Bat,Parti-coloured bat (Rearmouse), Common Noctule
Rabbits and Hares:European (Brown) Hare, Mountain (Arctic) Hare
Squirrels: (Eurasian) Red Squirrel
Flying Squirrels: Siberian Flying Squirrel
Beavers: European Beaver
Dormice: Garden Dormouse, Common (Hazel) Dormouse
Jumping mice: Northern Birch Mouse
Mice and Allies:Common (Brown) Rat, Black Rat, Yellow-Necked (Field) Mouse, Ural Field Mouse, Striped Field Mouse, House Mouse, Eurasian Harvest Mouse
Hamsters and Allies:Muskrat, European Water Vole, Bank Vole, Tundra (Root) Vole, Field Vole, Sibling Vole, Common Vole, European Pine Vole
Canids: Grey Wolf, Common (Red) Fox, Raccoon Dog,
Martens, Stoats, Weasels: Common (European) Otter, European Badger, (European) Pine Marten, Stone (Beech) Marten, European Polecat, European Mink, American Mink, Common Stoat, Least Weasel
Cats: Eurasian Lynx
Seals: Grey Seal, Ringed Seal
Dolphines: Harbour porpoise
Pigs: Wild Boar (Wild Pig)
Moose, Deer: Eurasian Elk (Moose), Red Deer, Sika Deer (Spotted Deer), Roe Deer
Natural and Unregulated Rivers, Floodplains
Unlike rivers in much of Western Europe, Estonia’s rivers have been regulated and their courses modified to a lesser extent; these largely untouched areas provide valuable habitats for wildlife.
The managed alluvial meadows on floodplains of the Kasari (in Matsalu Nature Reserve) and Emajõgi rivers (in Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve) are essential for several bird species – especially for Corncrake and Great Snipe, below. Floodplain meadows also provide feeding grounds for Storks and Lesser Spotted and spotted Eagles.
Wooded meadows are park-like, semi-natural grasslands which represent the richest communities in biodiversity in the temperate zone. A common sight in Western Estonia and the islands a century ago, most have overgrown. One recent, five-year effort, the Väinameri Project in the coastal island region, introduced new breeds of cattle to help re-establish the traditional way of management (i.e. mowing and grazing) which wooded meadows require. Some bird species are once again finding stopovers and nesting sites here. Lovely examples of flower-filled meadows can also be found in some of our mainland nature reserves.
A key to the exceptionally high biodiversity is the limestone-based soils of the Western Estonian coast and islands. Virtually hundreds of plant species, some rare and under special protection, grow here. The managed wooded meadow in Laelatu is one of the most diverse plant communities in Europe: 76 vascular plant species have been identified in one square metre of land.
Alvar meadows with thin topsoil on limestone bedrock, mainly distributed in Western Estonia and in the archipelago, are rather unique in the world. (In Europe, aside from Estonia, they are only found on the Swedish islands of Gotland and Öland.) They are sometimes called pseudosteppes, based on their ecological characteristics. These species-rich grasslands also require grazing and mowing to prevent becoming overgrown.
Orchids (Military Orchid being the most abundant) and other rare plants thrive in the limestone-rich soil of the Western-Estonian wooded meadows, alvars and calcareous fens, making them particularly interesting to botanists and plant-lovers.
Forests Favourable for Wildlife
Forests and woodlands cover almost half of Estonia The country lies in a transitional forest zone where the coniferous Euro-Siberian taiga is replaced by European deciduous forests. Forests here are generally less intensely managed and more natural than those in Western Europe, making them favourable for a diversity of wildlife. The great numbers of large carnivores – more than 150 wolves, about 700 lynx, and 550 Brown Bears – indicate the richness and ecological potential of Estonian forest ecosystems.
The wide expanses of aging natural forests also provide ideal conditions for some bird species. White-backed Woodpecker, for example, which depends upon decaying deciduous trees, is still quite common here although it can be seen only infrequently. This quiet bird with inconspicuous behaviour is on the verge of extinction in Scandinavia where the forest management has been too intensive. Rare black storks also find the aging trees perfectly suited to their huge nests; some return yearly to raise their offspring.
Estonia’s forest area has more than doubled during the last half of the past century and continues to grow. Nearly half of the forested land in Estonia belongs to the state, easing conservation efforts and establishing forest reserves.
A Long and Interesting Coast
The Estonian coast is long (3,794 km) and diverse (2,540 km on more than 1,000 islands), its numerous indentations contrasting it from the rough granite seaboard of its northern neighbour Finland and the straight sand beaches of Latvia to the south. The land crust is rising in western Estonia, slowly but steadily creating new coastal wetlands – shallow bays and inlets, coastal lagoons and marshes, coastal meadows and mud flats. The immediate coastal zone is protected by the Nature Conservation Act, restricting unwelcome development along the Estonian shoreline.
The Grey Seals love undisturbed coasts. Roughly a fifth of the estimated 7500 Baltic Grey Seals tend to keep close to our sheltered shores. On mild and ice-free winters, many Baltic Grey Seals give birth to their pups on small islets in Estonian waters.
Geologists also find much of interest. The western islands are known for sandy and cliffed beaches and diverse shoreline features – rocky, scarp, till, shingle and silty – and Estonia’s northern coastline (where the Baltic Sea becomes the Gulf of Finland) also offers unusual and dramatic cliffs.
Bogs started to develop after the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago. The largest of them covers 10,000 hectares and the peat layer is 8 metres thick. Raised bogs are like huge sponges that hold vast amounts of water in the peat.
Bogs have a mosaic-like structure with bog-pools that resemble little ponds surrounded by miniature pine trees. Most bogs have drier wooded spots called bog islands which in olden times were used as a hiding place from enemies. Nowadays unique plant communities and rare species such as golden eagle and wolves find shelter on the Estonian bog islands.
Practical info about Estonia
Citizens from EU, UK, USA, New Zealand, Canada, or Australia do not need a visa to enter and you also do not need one, if you are travelling with a Schengen visa.
Estonia joined the EURO-zone at the beginning of 2011 – and now, EURO is the official currency.
Mobiili levi ja internet
Mobile phone signal is good all over Estonia. Only in some parts of Estonia (in some peat bogs or nature reserves) there might be spots where the signal is not strong enough The same applies for 4G mobile internet. Inside EU, you do not have to pay an extra fee for using mobile internet, although it’s wise to check what is the maximum amount of data usage of your local service provider. Read more about the roaming possibilities inside the EU.
The road system is quite extensive and road quality mostly good. The speed limit in the countryside is 90 km/h and 50 km/h in the cities unless specified otherwise. Passengers are expected to wear seat belts. Lights must always be switched on. When driving, make sure you have had absolutely no alcohol beforehand. Zero tolerance is enforced strictly. In the central areas of bigger cities, a fee is levied on parking cars, but finding a provider of tickets is sometimes difficult as mobile parking is widespread. Estonia has lots of car rental companies – on level 0 of Tallinn airport, there are several car rental agency counters.
Estonia is relatively safe, especially outside the big towns. It is absolutely OK to leave your car at the roadside, but, of course, with locked doors and conspicuous items hidden from sight. The emergency number for reaching the police is 110, which works from mobiles too, call 112 if you or someone in your vicinity is injured in an accident or falls ill suddenly or if there is a fire or any other emergency event requiring immediate help from the ambulance and fire and rescue services. In the countryside, be very careful about smoking in dry weather.
Everyman’s right and public access to natural areas
In Estonia it is permitted to access natural and cultural landscapes on foot, by bicycle, skis, boat, or on horseback. If the private property is fenced or signposted (usually with the sign „Eravaldus“ (private property)) against trespassing, the permission of the owner is required to proceed. Landowners may not block access to land, roads, or bodies of water that are public or designated for public use, including ice and shore paths. However, in protected areas, there are areas with no access. These are signposted: „reservaat“ means strict reserve and „liikumiskeeld“ means „no access“. All bodies of water that are public or designated for public use have public shore paths that are up to 4 m wide. The shore path along a navigable body of water may extend to a distance of 10 m of the waterline. The owner may not close this path even if the private property is posted or marked with no-trespassing signs. Grazing areas and other enclosed areas along the shore paths must have stiles. Ponds with no outlet located entirely on the land of one landowner and lakes smaller than five hectares located on land belonging to more than one landowner shall not be in public use. Permission from the landowner is required to access such bodies of water.
The following is prohibited:
- accessing the immediate proximity of a person’s yard, plantations, apiaries, sown crops, grain field and other cropland where damage is thereby incurred by the owner.
- lighting fires without permission from the land owner or possessor.
- disrupting the peace of local inhabitants.
- damaging nature protection objects and protected species.
In Estonia there are two serious tick-borne diseases to be aware of:
The risk of transmission occurs from April to the first frosts in the Autumn (October). Travelers engaging in outdoor activities in rural areas are advised to take measures to prevent tick bites during the peak transmission season. Tick-bite prevention measures include applying a repellent to exposed skin or clothing and gear. It is wise to check yourself over after walking in vegetation.
- Lyme Disease
- Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE): TBE vaccine is recommended. The TBE vaccine is only available in Europe and by special release in Canada.
- Ametlik keel on eesti keel. Eestis räägitakse suhteliselt palju võõrkeeli:
- Inglise keel on viimased paarkümmend aastat olnud koolides esimene võõrkeel. Varem oli see enamasti teine võõrkeel. Seetõttu on inglise keele oskus eriti just noortemate inimeste hulgas laialt leivinud.
- Vene keel on emakeeleks umbes 25% Eesti elanikest ja varem õpetati seda koolides esimese võõrkeelena. Vene keelega saab Eestis igal pool hakkama.
- Soome keel on eesti keelega sarnane ja seda oskavad paljud eestlased.
- Saksa keelt õpetatakse koolides teise või kolmanda võõrkeelena. Tänu ajaloolistele sidemetele oskavad saksa keelt rohkem vanemate generatsioonide inimesed, kuid ka paljud noored.
- Prantsuse, hispaania ja itaalia keele rääkijate hulk kasvab tasapisi.