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on the environment


SOER Country

Nature protection and biodiversity (Estonia)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Compared with other territories of similar size situated north of the 57th parallel, Estonia’s biological diversity is one of the richest. This is due both to varied climatic conditions, a variety of base rocks with correspondingly diverse soil conditions, and also a low and polarized human population density – rather more than 30 inhabitants per km2 with two thirds in urban and one third in rural areas. This allows nearly half of the land to be covered by forests, where almost 1 000 lynx live, more than 500 brown bears and nearly 200 wolves, as well as other mammals.

One of the highest diversities of small-scale species per square meter has been found in wooded meadows close to the west coast of mainland Estonia. Such semi-natural habitats, including coastal meadows, wooded meadows and alvars that are still well maintained, are valuable both because they contain a high diversity of species and because they show that humans can live in harmony with nature. Due to the existence of these habitats, Estonia has been a valuable stepping-stone for hundreds of years in the migratory routes of large numbers of bird species.

However only a little more than half of almost 40 000 living species that are thought to be represented in Estonia have so far been recorded. The last evaluation, in 2008, of the threats to Estonian species found that 1 170 species are threatened in various ways and almost 1 % of known species are already extinct or nearly extinct. There has been a steady increase in the number of Red Listed species since 1978.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

General comparative data on species and ecosystems in Estonia is as follows (Sources: Estonian e-Biodiversity database; Estonian Environmental Review 2009; CORINE Land Cover database; Estonian Environmental Register; Estonian Red Data Book 2008):


Number of species by main taxonomic groups

Total number registered
















10 634




6 322




3 902




22 236

1 170


* Red List categories: RE, CR, EN, VU, NT.

**Protected by Estonian Nature Conservation Law, categories I to III.


Ecosystem distribution



Total, %

Protected, ha

Protected, %

Protected with green network, ha

Protected with green network, %


2 087 105


385 160


1 499 490



1 228 637


62 098


262 990



287 569


35 017


121 967



280 561


195 785


257 310



120 443


5 516


23 883



348 944


82 272


276 130



4 353 259**


765 848


2 441 770


* Includes coastal ecosystems, drylands, transitional ecosystems such as bushland.

** Total area of Estonian territory with some smaller freshwater bodies – the land area alone is 4 343 200 ha. Official area of Estonia, 4 522 700 ha includes large lakes and rivers that are not counted here.


Despite the quite promising numerical picture above, only a quarter of almost 100 species of pan-European importance and protection value have favourable protection status in Estonia and slightly over a quarter of other species require more study for assessment. Nearly half the species have poor or insufficient status; i.e. the conservation of vital populations of them is not guaranteed. Habitats of pan-European importance with protection value over 40 % can be considered to have a favourable protection status. Nonetheless, nearly half of these habitats have poor or insufficient protection status and their conservation is not guaranteed.


Abundance and distribution of selected species (SEBI2010 1):


The abundance of top predators – terrestrial: brown bear, wolf, lynx; freshwater: otter; and marine mammals: grey seal – has increased in the past five years. This indicates favourable natural conditions and successful species protection.

The rise in the abundance of the golden eagle and the white-tailed eagle indicates that extensive tracts of nature and coastal ecosystems are in good condition. The protection of these species has also evidently been effective. The decline in the abundance of the black stork and the greater spotted eagle shows that their protection may be lacking in comprehensiveness. The entire food chain that these species head should be monitored and maintained. This points to the need for managing protection on an ecosystem level.


Invasive alien species in Europe (SEBI 2010 10):

A total of 942 alien species have been registered in Estonia as of 2009. There are 133 invasive or potentially invasive species – 76 plant, 35 invertebrate, 14 fish, 4 mammal, 3 bird and 1 amphibian species.


Ecosystem protection

Protected areas where the direct objective is to protect wildlife cover 20 % of forests. There should, however, be greater focus on preserving the biodiversity of an entire ecosystem, rather than just one species or one area. The percentage of green network areas is sufficient for the creation of an integrated network of protected areas, but with its current legal status it is questionable whether this would be managed efficiently. A total of 44 % of meadows is under protection but currently only a quarter of the protected meadows is managed. Considering the ratio of ecosystem area to protected area, mires in total are well-protected, but, among them, fens are in very poor condition and urgently require a management system for protection: almost 90% of them have already been abandoned. In terms of area, coastal ecosystems are the best protected, and the percentage of water bodies protected and the protection level of the sea are relatively good.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The biggest key driver of biodiversity loss in Estonia is fragmentation of the decision-making processes and unbalanced planning of economic activities. Environmental knowledge at different administrative levels in the state system varies greatly, as does an understanding by the wider public. An ecosystem approach, taking account of the related ecosystem services, is still far from being a part of national decision-making and planning processes.

Estonia does have a strategy for the environment, for agri-environmental measures as well as for environmental forestry management, and some building projects are beginning to take measures to limit their fragmentation effects. However, these are not always in line with an ecosystem approach due do lack of scientific knowledge and also to conflicting economic interests. Sustainability principles in practice are not yet popular in Estonia.

Examining the environmental impact assessments for 2005-2008, including the ratio of Natura2000 assessments initiated/not-initiated, shows that in general the initiation of environmental impact assessments has increased, but the percentage of Natura2000 assessments shows a declining trend. Also only one in six decision-makers adheres to obligations arising from legislation to report possible impacts on Natura2000 areas.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Conservation of a diverse wildlife only in protected areas is not a sustainable solution for biodiversity. In addition to protected areas, planning of human activities requires the ability to assess and forecast the impact on the overall natural environment. Experience shows that environmental impact assessments focus primarily on impacts on the human environment with the impacts on wildlife often ignored.

To give biodiversity a chance of remaining at the 2010 the level in 2020, all Estonian planning and environmental impact assessment systems should turn to ecosystem-based balanced planning, building and maintenance of all human activities. To do so, the current status of economic activities and biodiversity should be simultaneously documented for all ecosystems throughout the country and on this basis the necessary areas should be defined both for sustainable economic activity and for the protection of balanced ecosystems. Many guidelines and handbooks need to be compiled, the most important being for defining, valuing and sustainably maintaining ecosystem services.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The Estonian Environmental Strategy to 2030 approved by the Parliament in 2007 ( states:

Goal for forests – balanced fulfilling of all ecological, social, cultural and economic needs in forest use.

Biodiversity targets:

  • total forest area should be at least 2 264 000 ha; in 2009 it was 2 087 105 ha;
  • total area of protected forest habitats should increase from 10 000 ha; in 2009 it was 8 400 ha;
  • total area of primeval forest should stay at 131 200 ha, in 2009 it was 108 466 ha.

Goal for game animals – to ensure diversity and vitality of populations of game and other wild animal species.

Biodiversity targets:

  • ratio of counted and hunted animals by species should rise from base levels as follows – wolf: 4,7; lynx: 8,1; brown bear: 23,0; beaver: 3,0; roe deer: 5,4; wild boar: 1,5; red deer: 13,1; moose: 2,0.


Goal for soil and land use – environmentally sustainable use of soil. Protection and sustainable use of the diversity of the natural and cultural landscapes should be well planned and managed by the state.

Biodiversity targets:

  • increase in artificial area due to building and real estate development should stop. In 2009 the trend was rising;
  • increase of total area of spoiled land – area of mines, landfills, number of facilities abandoned by local governments – should stop and start decreasing. In 2009 the trend was rising;
  • percentage of total area of traditionally managed rural landscapes in all cultivated land should increase from 2007 levels. In 2009 the trend was rising.


Goal for landscapes – to maintain the current diversity and connectivity of landscapes.

Biodiversity targets:

  • total area of semi-natural communities and its percentage of the total territory of Estonia should increase from 20 000 ha. In 2008 it was 21 386 ha and the trend is rising.
  • total area of protected areas should increase from 1 389 677 ha. In 2008 it was 1 513 621 ha and the trend is rising.


Goal for biodiversity – to ensure the existence of habitats and communities needed for keeping vital populations of wildlife species.

Biodiversity targets:

  • percentage of total area of the habitat types in the Habitats Directive to the total territory of Estonia should increase from the 2007 base level;
  • Trends in population numbers of 1st category protected animal species should increase slightly – Black Stork: base in 2004: 100-115 pairs (2009 trend negative); White-tailed Eagle: base in 2004: 140 pairs (2009 trend positive); Osprey: base in 2004: 45 pairs (2009 trend stable); Golden eagle: base in 2004: 45 pairs (2009 trend positive); Spotted Eagle: base in 2004: 20-30 pairs (2009 trend negative); Lesser Spotted Eagle: base in 2004: 500-600 pairs (2009 trend stable); Flying Squirrel: base in 2004: 60 habitat sites (2009 trend stable); Lesser White-fronted Goose: base in 2004: 25-29 individuals;
  • percentage of total area with legal nature protection restrictions to total territory of Estonia should be kept at the base level of 18 % (2009 it was 18 %);
  • expenditure for nature protection as a percentage of GDP should increase from the base level of 2.8 billion Estonian kroons.


Restoring and maintaining habitats. The area of semi-natural communities should be maintained at about one quarter of the total area of semi-natural communities. On average, about 3 % of semi-natural communities are restored each year.


The Estonian rural development plan for 2007-2013 stipulates that, by 2013, the area of semi-natural communities that receives maintenance support from the state should be 35 000 ha and the number of recipients of assistance should be 1 500. Currently slightly more than 40 % of the targets have been achieved for the first and slightly over half for the second. Thus by 2013 the area of semi-natural communities that is receiving maintenance support should be increased by about 20 000 ha and the number of beneficiaries should increase by 750.


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
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