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Estonia - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Estonia is the smallest and the northernmost state of the Baltic States. It is partly continental and also comprises about 1500 marine islands, 80% of which are small. Compared to the rest of Europe, Estonia is considered to have preserved a relatively high proportion of its natural environment. The traditional methods of agricultural practices are responsible for the higher conservation rate observed, with more important habitat destruction in Estonia having begun during the Soviet period (later relative to most areas in Europe).

An estimated 40,000 species inhabit Estonia but, as of 2008, only 60% or 23,500 species have been identified. One-fifth of this discovered biota has been assessed for endangerment and, of this proportion, 15% were found either endangered or already extinct. Aboriginal breeds and varieties are becoming a rarity. For instance, the Estonian cow (Estonian rural cattle) and Estonian horse are on the list of the most endangered animal breeds in the world. The biodiversity discovered so far comprises 570 protected species including: 35 plant, 18 animal, 9 fungi and 1 lichen species in Category I; 262 species in Category II; and 244 species in Category III.

The Estonian landscape is very variable and shaped by its natural development as well as by human activities, such as farming. Estonia has 2 climatic biogeographical attributes defined as maritime in the west, with direct access to the Baltic Sea, and continental in the east, between which is a transition zone (Estonia intermedia). There are also 2 types of base rocks distinctly separated as a result of chemical properties in the soil. The north is mainly composed of Silurian limestone due to alkaline soil and the south composed of Devonian sandstone caused by acidic soil. The Estonian landscape is also divided topographically, with the upper altitude differing from the lower altitude (lower Estonia is influenced by the sea and local glacial lakes giving it a flatter, more densely wooded and marshy appearance). Wetlands of international importance are found in Estonia and, of prime importance, are the present waterfowl habitats, some of which are protected.

Natural grasslands are declining as a result of the shift in interest from agriculture to forestry. Semi-natural grassland communities, dependent on continual human impact, such as mowing or grazing to prevent communities from growing into forests, are also on the decline. The surface area of grasslands and pasturelands reached 21,800 ha in 2006 (which has been maintained with the help of the subsidies program identified under support mechanisms below). Old forests are also declining.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

More intensive production farming methods have increased pollution and soil degradation. The main threats to agriculture are economic globalization and trade subsidies. Drainage of the land is a direct threat to biodiversity and associated with wetland habitat removal as well as with water regime changes. Further, afforestation due to increasing interest in forestry has brought about a decrease in the concentration of agricultural efforts, loss of natural grasslands and disturbances in forest ecosystems due disruption in natural succession processes.

Overfishing poses a direct threat to the species by decreasing population size, while indirect threats include changes to ecosystems mainly through the removal of predatory fish. Eutrophication, caused by excessive waste and leeching of agricultural nutrients, is the most significant threat to aquatic ecosystems affecting most of Estonia’s inland water bodies, including two large lakes (Lake Peipsi and Lake Võrtsjärv). Moreover, nutrient enrichment can cause algal blooms which, in a few recorded cases, has resulted in poisoning and killing cattle. Changes in economic interests away from the local breed of cattle are also causing their extinction. The spread of alien species threatens native species, with the problem expected to worsen as a result of increased temperatures linked to climate change. Development in coastal areas is increasing coastal habitat fragmentation. Air pollution is another threat to biodiversity and has already been shown to have contributed to some extinctions (e.g. lichen).

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Although Estonia ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1994, the goals of the Convention remain poorly understood by society at large. Indeed, awareness about nature and environmental matters is generally quite deficient. The NBSAP was completed in 1999 and, although all ministries were requested to take the NBSAP into account when carrying out their respective work programmes, this has been done to a limited extent only.

A new Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 has been prepared which includes national targets and will serve as Estonia’s revised and updated NBSAP. In addition to classical nature conservation, this new Plan covers wider biodiversity topics (e.g. climate change, tourism, biosafety, alien species, renewable energy, transport, ecosystem valuation, etc.). The Plan emphasizes the use of the Ecosystem Approach and contains 3 strategic goals aligned with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020), EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, as well as with the Convention’s Programme of Work on Protected Areas. This Plan was submitted to Government for adoption in June 2012.

Proposals have also been made for incorporating biodiversity and ecosystem services into several other state strategies and development plans or policies linked to agriculture, transportation, spatial planning, state budget planning, EU structural funds, etc.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

In 2003, 10.7% of terrestrial lands were protected which later increased to 16% with the creation of the European Natura 2000 Network, comprising 66 bird sites and 509 habitat sites, some with partial or complete overlap. In 2008, Estonia possessed 129 nature protection areas, 149 landscape protection areas, 117 areas with old and non-renewed protection rules, 343 limited conservation areas, 5 national parks, 548 forest stands and 3 local objects of natural conservation. In addition, 1,195 individual protected natural objects exist. All together, conservation areas cover 590,333 ha of the country’s terrestrial land and 92,253 ha of its water surface. Limited conservation areas cover an additional 113,745 ha of land and 633,905 ha of water, while protection sites for species cover an additional 74,707 ha and 12,795 ha, respectively. The Nature Conservation Act (2004) has significantly increased the role of habitat protection for endangered species, in addition to increasing specimen-based protection.

The proportion of organic farming is slowly increasing (although small in extent at present, the trend is favourable).

In 2004, efforts began to control the spread of an invasive alien species, Sosnowski’s Hogweed (Heracleum sosnowskyi), imported from Siberia in the 1950s as a garden ornament. In 2008, regular data collection/updating and control of the larger colonies were in process. It is however believed that climate change could potentially make the problem more severe. A success story is exemplified by the case of the endangered Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita) where, with the support of the European Union, its disappearance was hindered and re-population begun (in two out of three populations, recovery was recorded).

With the hope of increasing interest in wildlife, the State offers subsidies for improving infrastructure and developing recreational facilities in private forests. A programme has also been successfully implemented to encourage private landowners to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the Government to conserve and protect key woodland habitats.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Payment of subsidies to support the maintenance and restoration of semi-natural communities was started in 2001 and organized by the State Nature Conservation Centre. Farmers are offered subsidies on the basis that they herd sheep, cows, horses and other animals on natural pasture land and make hay on natural grasslands. The objective of these activities is to assist in maintaining the semi-natural grasslands that still exist along with the characteristics of the Estonian landscape. From 2003 to 2006, the Government allocated 18.2 to 30.1 million Estonian kroon yearly as part of this program. Recovery activities resulting from damage caused by certain species under protection are also practiced. For instance, the recovery costs from damage done by grey seals, ringed seals, migrating cranes, geese and Brent geese, and expenses for preventive measures, are partly compensated. Since 2007, subsidies for the maintenance of semi-natural communities in NATURA 2000 sites have been paid by the Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board (ARIB). Although state budget financing for nature conservation is increasing annually, as of 2008 this budget remained insufficient to fulfill all obligations under the CBD. Estonia also recognizes the need for better cooperation and coordination among stakeholders in implementing actions.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Indicators directly covering protected species and objects are collected by the Estonian Environment Information Centre. The Red Data Book has also been compiled and respective species are monitored. Revisions to the country’s system for conservation management were made after joining the European Union.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme