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Environmental indicators

Alien species are species which have spread outside their natural habitat due to human activity. Invasive alien species are the ones that have managed to survive in nature and endanger local biota and natural communities due to their population size or activity. The duration between when an alien species arrives at a new location and when it starts to become invasive is often very long, sometimes even a hundred years. For example, the Himalayan balsam was first found in Estonian nature in 1939, but signs of it becoming invasive did not appear until a decade ago.

Himalayan balsam Photo: Madli Linder

Himalayan balsam Photo: Madli Linder

 

As at 31.12.2015, a total of 987 alien species have been registered in Estonia, but because there has not been systematic monitoring and inventories, their number might even exceed two thousand.

Alien species are divided into four groups, based on how dangerous they are: invasive, potentially invasive, non-invasive and undefined. Of the alien species known in Estonia, 63 species are considered invasive and 72 species potentially invasive, the invasiveness of the majority is undetermined.

Of species groups, most alien species are among plants (748 species, i.e. over 75% of the species), including vascular plants (735 species), followed by arthropods (152 species). Vascular plants also in lead among invasive species with 44 species.

Alien species

Alien species in Estonia by their invasiveness and species group

In the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 and the Development Plan for Climate Change Adaptation until 2030, another indicator is the number of new invasive alien species introduced to Estonia per year. Currently, this has been considered 2–3 species per year, the target level is 0–1 species per year. 


See also:

 

Pursuant to the Nature Conservation Act, protected species have been divided into three protection categories based on their endangerment. The species that are the most endangered fall into category I and the least endangered ones into category III. The lists of species in category I and II are established by a regulation of the Government of the Republic and the list of category III species with a regulation of the Minister of the Environment. The most recent changes to the list of protected species were made in 2014.

Changes to the protection categories of species in 2014.

 

Currently, there are 64 species in category I, 267 in category II, and 237 in category III. By numbers, vascular plants have the most protected species, however, by percentages, amphibians and reptiles take the lead with every species in Estonia under protection. No species of algae have been placed under protection in Estonia.

Protected species

Distribution of species into various protection categories by group and the percentage (%) of all protected species from the total number of species in that group of species.

 

To be updated in 2018 when the new Red List will be completed. Previous status from 2008.

 

Under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive, every six years, all European Union Member States, including Estonia, must submit a report on the progress of the implementation of the directive. The report provides status assessments for habitats and species which are significant throughout Europe.

Estonia has submitted reports in 2007 and 2013. The conclusion derived from these is that the status of habitats and species of the Habitats Directive improved in Estonia in 2007–2012. However, in the European Union as a whole, the status of habitats and species has declined.

Species

 

The proportion of species in favourable status has increased in both Estonia and the European Union. At the same time, the number of species in a bad or inadequate status has increased from 52% to 60% in the European Union; in Estonia, it has decreased from 50% to 35%. In the European Union, the number of species in unknown status has decreased from 31% to 17% and in Estonia from 26% to 11%.

assessment

Percentages of status assessments of the Habitats Directive species based on reports of 2007 and 2013. Comparison of Estonia and the entire European Union

Among the indicators of the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020, the number of Habitats Directive species with improved status has increased. Based on numerical goals and achievement levels, the target level of 2020 is achievable – the number of species in unknown and inadequate status has successfully decreased and the number of species in favourable status increased.

Numerical goals and achievement levels of the status assessments of the Habitats Directive species pursuant to the base level (2012*) and intermediate assessment (2015*) of the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 of Estonia

 

2012 base level

2015 achievement level

2020 target level

favourable

23

53

status of 28 species has improved

status assessment of all species known

inadequate

41

27

bad

7

8

unknown

25

11

total

96

99

 

* level years pursuant to the development plan mentioned, the assessments are the same as the ones provided in the 2007 and 2013 reports

Habitat types

 

The proportion of habitat types in favourable status has increased in Estonia, but slightly decreased in the entire European Union. The proportion of habitat types in bad or inadequate status has slightly decreased in Estonia from 50% to 48%, but increased in the European Union from 65% to 77%. In the European Union, the number of habitat types in unknown status has decreased from 18% to 7% and at the same time in Estonia from 8% to zero.

assessment

Percentages of status assessments of the Habitats Directive habitat types based on reports of 2007 and 2013. Comparison of Estonia and the entire European Union

Among the indicators of the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 is the number of habitat types endangered across Europe with an improved status. Based on numerical goals and achievement levels, the target level of 2020 is achievable – the number of species in unknown and inadequate status has successfully decreased and the number of species in favourable status increased.

Numerical goals and achievement levels of the status assessments of the Habitats Directive habitat types pursuant to the base level (2012*) and intermediate assessment (2015*) of the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 of Estonia

 

2012 base level

2015 achievement level

2020 target level

favourable

25

31

status of 14 habitat types (including ecological coherence) improved, status of all other habitat types known

inadequate

21

27

bad

9

2

unknown

5

0

total

60

60

 

* level years pursuant to the development plan mentioned, the assessments are the same as the ones provided in the 2007 and 2013 reports

 

Among the indicators of the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 is the number of monitored species and habitat types. The 2015 intermediate assessment shows that the target level of 2020 is achievable – the number of monitored species and habitat types is increasing.

Number of monitored species and habitat types based on the base level (2012) of the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 of Estonia

 

2012 base level

2015 achievement level

2020 target level

Habitats Directive species

74

74

96

Birds Directive species

120

166

221

Habitats Directive habitat types

26

38

60

First category species

54

57

All species

 

 

The surface area and/or proportion of protected areas from Estonian territory is an indicator in various strategic documents with a slightly different wording:

 

Surface area of the protected areas and proportion of the territory

The following protected natural objects entered into the Environmental Register are included in the calculations:

  • protected areas (national parks, nature reserves, landscape protection areas and its specific forms arboretums, parks and stands),
  • limited conservation areas,
  • species protection sites
  • protected nature monuments with protected zones, and
  • natural objects protected at the local government level.

In 2004–2006, areas with temporary economic limits established for the protection of the Natura 2000 areas have also been included.

Protected species

Surface area of protected areas in 1999–2016.


The surface area of protected areas remained relatively the same in 1999–2003, but significantly increased in 2004 when the Natura 2000 network was established. Then, the proportion of protected areas from land increased from 10–11% to 17% and starting from the following year, to 18% and has been gradually increasing ever since. A significant leap also occurred in the protection of territorial waters, of which 3% was under protection at the beginning of the 2000s; after the Natura 2000 network was established, the proportion of protected area increased to about 27–28%. Protection of the entire water area has varied more, e.g. this was 31% in 2011, then remained at 28% and has now fallen to 26%. Decrease in the protected water area has also slightly influenced the decrease in the proportion of total protected area – for example, in 2011, the proportion of total protected area was 22.7%, but already at the end of 2015, it was 22.2% of the territory of Estonia.

As at 31.12.2016, 18.7% of land and 27% of territorial waters, 44% of the area of large lakes, 26% of the total water area and a total of 22% of the entire area of Estonia was under protection in Estonia.

Area and proportion of zones with a stricter protection regime

This indicator reflects the land area of and changes in zones with a stricter protection regime of protected areas entered into the Environmental Register and established under the Nature Conservation Act, i.e. strict nature reserves, wilderness conservation zones and conservation zones of species protection sites.

There are two options for presenting this indicator.

The first option is to include among areas with a stricter protection regime areas included in the stricter protection management categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), i.e. strict nature reserves (category Ia) and wilderness conservation zones of protected areas and parts of conservation zones of species protection sites under stricter protection (category Ib; category is determined based on protection regime).

IUCN

Land area of zones included in the IUCN categories (Ia and Ib) with a stricter protection regime in Estonia in 1994–2016

Pursuant to the national strategy on sustainable development, Sustainable Estonia 21, areas with a stricter protection regime should have covered at least 5% of the territory of Estonia by 2010. At the end of 2015, 4.5% of the territory of Estonia was under stricter protection with regard to the categories of IUCN with a stricter protection regime.

Another option is to include strict nature reserves and all conservation zones of protected areas and species protection sites among areas with a stricter protection regime. As at the end of 2015, strict nature reserves formed 0.2% of the land territory of Estonia. Conservation zones formed 8.4% of the land territory. A total of 8.6%% of the land territory was under stringent protection. Compared to 2011, the land area of strict nature reserves and species protection sites has increased, but the areas of conservation zones of protected areas have decreased.

Areas of land with zones under stricter protection and proportion of Estonian land area as at 31.12.2015

 

 

land area 2015 (ha)

percentage of land territory (%)

strict nature reserves

7097

0.2

managed conservation zone of a protected area

164,168

3.8

wilderness conservation zone of a protected area

164,910

3.8

conservation zone of a species protection site

36,601

0.8

total

372,776

8.6

 

 

Regularly published nature conservation statistics is available on the information page of EELIS (Estonian Nature Information System).

 

 

 

Distribution

In 2015, meadows made up nearly 136,364 ha, i.e. 3.1% of the area of Estonia (of land without large lakes; if Lake Peipus and Lake Võrtsjärv are also taken into account, the proportion of meadows is 3%). A total of 88,322 ha, i.e. nearly 65% of Estonia’s meadows are under protection.

Niitude osakaal

Percentage (%) of meadows in county area and percentage (%) of meadows under protection in each county

Slightly over 117,000 ha of semi-natural habitats have been registered in the database semi-natural areas eligible or potentially eligible for maintenance subsidies (Environmental Register) and the Estonian Semi-natural Community Conservation Association meadows database. 107,690 ha of these have been classified as Habitats Directive meadow habitat types. The latter does not include semi-natural communities of paludified meadows and alkaline fens (habitat type code 7230) on transitional meadow and mire areas.

Elupaikade levik

Distribution of Habitats Directive meadow habitats in Estonia based on the database of semi-natural areas eligible or potentially eligible for maintenance subsidies and the Estonian Semi-natural Community Conservation Association meadows database. The four-digit numbers are the habitat type codes as given in the Habitats Directive and asterisks denote priority habitats

 

Area of maintained semi-natural biotic communities

The area of semi-natural biotic communities, which was very widely spread in Estonia only a century ago, started decreasing rapidly after the Second World War. Manual labour was replaced by large-scale production and intensive agriculture; difficult to manage grasslands with low fertility were however not suitable for this and become overgrown and eventually forests.

Goals for the restoration and protection of the diversity of species and landscapes related to semi-natural biotic communities have been set in several strategic documents. The Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 and action plan for semi-natural biotic communities for 2014–2020 have set the target that by 2020, the area of maintained semi-natural biotic communities shall be 45,000 ha. The area of maintained semi-natural biotic communities and the total area of and proportion from Estonia’s territory of semi-natural biotic communities are also indicators in the collection Indicators of Sustainable Development 2015 and the Estonian Environmental Strategy 2030.

The Estonian Rural Development Plan, the measures of which are used to pay maintenance subsidy for semi-natural biotic communities, mentions the number of recipients of the maintenance subsidy for semi-natural biotic communities and the total area receiving the subsidy as indicators.

Over the period of 2007–2011, the area of semi-natural biotic communities maintained with the support of subsidies increased from 15,000 hectares to more than 23,000 hectares (about 16,000 hectares to 25,000 hectares were applied for). In 2012–2015, the area which received the subsidy varied between ca 23,000 and 25,000 ha (about 25,000 to 27,000 ha were applied for). 

Maintenance subsidy for semi-natural biotic communities in 2011–2015

Year

Number of
beneficiaries

Approved
area (ha)

Amount
(in euros) paid

2011

916

23,448

4,412,683

2012

913

24,555

4,344,073

2013

934

23,400

4,355,694

2014

873

23,649

4,498,485

2015

817

24,933

3,799,514

 

Data: ARIB, Environmental Board

Maintenance subsidy for semi-natural biotic communities can be applied for semi-natural biotic communities which are suitable for maintenance, located on a protected natural object, and have been entered into the Environmental Register for mowing or grazing. The subsidy unit rate is 85–450 euros per hectare per year, depending on the type and characteristics of the meadow. The Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board (ARIB) organises everything related to subsidies.

 

Distribution

The inventory of Estonia’s wetlands coordinated by the Estonian Fund for Nature in 2008–2011, along with its later amendments, includes nearly 240,000 ha of Estonia’s mires, i.e. 5.3% of Estonia’s territory (the percentage was calculated based on land area along with Lake Peipus and Lake Võrtsjärv). By adding the natural wetlands from the 2012 CORINE land cover database to this, Estonia’s wetland area comes to nearly 331,500 ha, i.e. 7.6% of Estonia’s area (of land without large lakes; if Lake Peipus and Lake Võrtsjärv are also taken into account, the proportion of wetlands is 7.3%). This is significantly less than the wide-spread knowledge that mires make up 22% of Estonia’s territory. The difference is caused by the fact that paludified forests and grasslands, as well as degraded mires, i.e. all areas which include peat are counted into the 22%, regardless of the thickness of the peat layer and whether peat settling is ongoing or decreasing.

Nearly 229,000 ha, i.e. nearly 69% of Estonia’s mires is under protection. Most Estonian wetland habitat types given in the Habitats Directive are active raised bogs (habitat type code 7110*) – nearly 135,000 ha

Soode levik

Percentage (%) of mires in county area and percentage (%) of mires under protection in each county.

Sooelupaigad

Distribution of Habitats Directive habitat types based on data from the wetlands inventory coordinated by the Estonian Fund for Nature. The four-digit numbers are the habitat type codes as given in the Habitats Directive and asterisks denote priority habitats

 

Area of restored mire communities with natural water regime

The wide-spread network of drainage ditches established in the 20th century in Estonia had a negative impact on Estonia’s wetlands and a large part of former wetland habitats have now been destroyed. Therefore, restoration of damaged water regime and naturalness of wetlands is now on the agenda. Restoration works mean, among other things, removing drainage ditches and opening the wetland landscape, if necessary.

There are nearly 80 peatlands in Estonia that have been abandoned after peat extraction, i.e. cut-over peatlands with a total area of 9800 ha (nearly 500 ha on protected areas).[1] Vegetation grows very slowly in cut-over peatlands and they have a negative impact on the environment (emission of carbon dioxide, impact on the local water regime, fire hazard), which is why their rehabilitation is one of the priorities of environmental activities in the upcoming years, The goal of the rehabilitation is to create and form conditions that would allow the restoration of the paludification process, afforestation of cut-over peatlands or rehabilitation in some other way.

The Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 sets the target that by 2020, the area of rehabilitated cut-over peatlands in Estonia is 1000 ha. As at 2015, the achievement level (starting from the base level of 0 ha in 2012) was 177 ha.

See the map of rehabilitated areas here.

 

 

Area of rehabilitated cut-over peatlands

There are nearly 80 peatlands in Estonia that have been abandoned after peat extraction, i.e. cut-over peatlands with a total area of 9800 ha (nearly 500 ha on protected areas).[1] Vegetation grows very slowly in cut-over peatlands and they have a negative impact on the environment (emission of carbon dioxide, impact on the local water regime, fire hazard), which is why their rehabilitation is one of the priorities of environmental activities in the upcoming years, The goal of the rehabilitation is to create and form conditions that would allow the restoration of the paludification process, afforestation of cut-over peatlands or rehabilitation in some other way.

The Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 sets the target that by 2020, the area of rehabilitated cut-over peatlands in Estonia is 1000 ha. As at 2015, the achievement level (starting from the base level of 0 ha in 2012) was 177 ha.

See the map of rehabilitated areas here.

 

 

Distribution

According to the 2016 data published by the national forest inventory, Estonia has 2,312,400 ha of forests. This is 51% of Estonia’s total area[1] and 53% of Estonia’s area without the large lakes[2]. The area of forest land covered with forest was 2,143,700 ha in 2016, meaning that their proportion of Estonia’s area with the large lakes is 47% and 49% without the large lakes. Compared to the 2015 results of the national forest inventory, the proportions have not changed. The current results cannot be directly compared to 2014, as in 2015, a new more detailed methodology was introduced.

An extract from the Estonian Topographic Database (ETD) from early April 2016 gives a similar result, according to which Estonia has 2,334,203 ha of forest, which is 51% of Estonia's area (with Lake Peipus and Lake Võrtsjärv) and 54% without the large lakes. A little over 424,000 ha, i.e. about 18% of forests are located on areas under protection (based on the ETD forest class). Nearly 199,000 ha of these forests, i.e. about 8.5% of all forests, are in zones under strictest protection established on the basis of the Nature Conservation Act, i.e. in strict nature reserves and in conservation zones of protected areas and species protection sites.

 

Metsade levik

Percentage of forest area of counties and forests under protection and the percentage (%) of forests included in zones under stringent protection (strict nature reserves, conservation zones) from forests in the county based on the ETD forest class.

The largest Habitats Directive categories of forest in Estonia are Western Taiga (habitat type code 9010*) – 117,900 ha. This is followed by bog woodland (91D0*) – 83,800 ha and Fennoscandian deciduous swamp woods (9080*) – 43,600 ha.

Elupaikade levik

Distribution of Habitats Directive forest habitats in Estonia according to the EELIS Natura 2000 habitats data. The four-digit numbers are the habitat type codes as given in the Habitats Directive and asterisks denote priority habitats


[1] 4,533,500 ha

[2] 4,349,600 ha

Percentage of (typologically representative) forests under strict protection

The goals set in the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020 and the Estonian Forestry Development Plan until 2020 provide that by 2020, the percentage of typologically representative forests under strict protection is at least 10% of the area of forest land.

The same indicator is an indicator in the field of the environment and biodiversity in the development plan of the area of government of the Ministry of the Environment for 2018–2021 and essentially the same indicator has also been set as an indicator in the Estonian Environmental Strategy 2030 and the collection Indicators of Sustainable Development 2015.

In addition to strict nature reserves and conservation zones, the methodology of the national forest inventory also considers habitats of category I species, woodland key habitats and planned protected areas pursuant to the planned regime as part of forests under stringent protection (also known as protected forest).

Based on the 2015 data of the national forest inventory, 238,800 ha of forest, which makes up 10.3% of the total area of forest land, is under stringent protection.

A working group of state authorities and non-governmental organisations has been put together to assess the percentage and meeting of the goals of typological representation of forests under stringent protection. The working group has agreed that both strict nature reserves and conservation zones, which have already been established, as well as the ones that are being planned, all woodland key habitats located on state land irrespective of their area, and woodland key habitats with a contract located on private land are considered as part of forests under stringent protection.

The results of the analysis which was carried out at the beginning of 2016 based on data from 30 November 2015 reveal that[1] the assessed area of forest under stringent protection is 223,261 ha and 240,326 ha with planned area, meaning that the percentage of forest land calculated on the basis of the 2015 data of the national forest inventory is 9.7% and 10.4%, respectively.

At the same time, the aforementioned analysis indicated that even though the goal of the nature conservation and forestry development plans have been achieved in terms of the total forest area under stringent protection, the typological representation of forests under stringent protection must increase, mainly meaning that additional stringent protection must be ensured for mesoeutrophic and nemoral forests.

 

 

 

See also the annual overviews of the status of game populations and hunting recommendations published by the Estonian Environment Agency.

 

 

Number of litters of large carnivores

For large carnivores, the number of litters is used as an indicator instead of estimations of the total numbers of their populations in the spring, providing better insight to the actual distribution and viability of the populations and therefore being better for organising the protection and management of large carnivores. Estimations of total populations tend to overestimate the size of populations due to repeatedly counting the same individuals in different locations. The number of litters is a parameter which can be directly monitored and the general population of that species in the autumn is derived from this. In addition to the size of the population, the number of litters also indicates increase in numbers. In order to retain the favourable condition of populations of wolves, lynxes and brown bears in Estonia, thereby considering the ecological, economic and social aspects (the need to also control the population), the conservation and management plan of large carnivores for 2012–2012 provides that annually, the goal is to maintain

  • 15–25 wolf packs with pups (total number of the population around 150–250 individuals)
  • lynx litters with 100–130 kittens (total number of the population around 600–780 individuals) before the beginning of the hunting season (in the autumn)
  • bear litters with at least 60 cubs of the same year (total number of the population nearly 600 individuals)

litters

Minimum numbers of litters required to retain the favourable status of large carnivores and number of litters in 2003–2016

Wolves prefer shadowy forests, bogs and brushwood as a habitat. They are seen less in areas with more technogenic and cultural landscapes.

Based on the collected observation data and hunting information, in 2016 there were a total of 27 wolf litters (wolf packs where pups were born) in Estonia. 26 litters inhabited Estonia’s mainland and one litter inhabited Saare County. Compared to 2015, the number of wolf litters on Estonia’s mainland has remained the same. Of the 27 wolf packs, five inhabited the border areas of Estonia and Latvia and used the territory of both countries as their habitats, which is why they can be only partially considered as part of our wolves. In 2014, a total of five counties on Estonia’s mainland did not observe a local increase in the number of wolves; however in 2016, the only county with no local increase in the number of wolves was Hiiu County. This refers to a more even distribution of wolves on Estonia’s mainland.

Brown bears prefer large forests with fallen trees and patches of bog as their habitat. In Estonia, brown bears have spread across the mainland; however, there are no populations of brown bears on the islands of Western Estonia. The largest number of bears is in Ida- and Lääne-Viru Counties.

In 2016, a total of 71 different bear litters with cubs from the same year were registered. Compared to 2015, this number has somewhat increased, but when looking at a slightly longer period, this refers more to stabilisation after restoring the population, indicating upward trends in some counties and downward trends in others. As at the autumn of 2016, the general size of the bear population can still be estimated to be around 700 individuals and the general status is good.

Lynxes prefer dense coniferous forests as their habitat, but they can also be found in mixed forests. In Estonia, lynxes inhabit the entire mainland and islands. The smallest population of lynxes is in Saare County where no litters have been registered in recent years.

Pursuant to observation data, there were 53 lynx litters in Estonia in the autumn of 2016; in the two previous years, there were more than 60. The number of litters has decreased by 14% in one year and the decline has taken place in most counties. Although the food base of lynxes has significantly improved, i.e. the population of roe deer has considerably increased, the population of lynxes has not started to increase. This refers to the fact that certain mortality factors besides hunting (in our conditions mainly mange and poaching) still significantly inhibit population growth and the mortality rate stemming from these factors is altogether higher than the population’s rate of increase. The total population of lynxes is estimated at about 350 individuals as at the autumn of 2016, and the general status of the population is very bad.

The optimal number of lynx and wolf populations is also an indicator in the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020.

 

Number of hunted large carnivores

In order to maintain the vitality of populations of large carnivores in Estonia, it is important to avoid hunting quotas that exceed the population rate of increase, and keep the gender- and age-related structure of the hunting sample as similar to the structure of the natural population as possible.

Hunted

Number of hunted large carnivores

No lynxes were hunted in 2016; in 2014, two lynxes were shot. In 2015, a total of 19 lynxes were shot. The hunting quota of 2015 was determined based on an overly optimistic forecast of population increase which in actuality proved incorrect. The number of lynx litters has remained under the minimum level required for maintaining their favourable status since as early as 2012 and the population increase predicted as of 2013 has not occurred, indicating that the mortality not caused by hunting is significantly higher than currently presumed.

A total of 55 bears were hunted in 2016 (maximum number was 56), which is the highest number of the four previous years. One individual above the maximum number was hunted in both Järva and Tartu County. Good indicators of population increase have allowed increasing the maximum number of individuals to be hunted and a similar limit can also be set for the next season.

A total of 114 wolves were hunted in 2016, the hunting quota was 117 individuals. A total of 108 wolves were hunted on Estonia’s mainland, which is 20 individuals more than in 2015. In 2015, the population of wolves decreased sufficiently in both Saare and Hiiu County, which is why the 2016 hunting quotas (five individuals and one individual, respectively) were based on the sustainability principle. More wolves than the set maximum number were hunted in Järva County (one) and Viljandi County (two), in both cases there were problems with organising the hunt.

 

Population and hunting of cloven hoofed animals

Until now, estimations of the size of populations in the winter provided by the users of a hunting district have been used in the case of cloven hoofed animals. As of 2006, track indexes calculated based on counted tracks in the course of population enumerations in the winter have also been used (as of 2011, these calculations have been corrected with relation to the maximum age of tracks). As of 2015, enumerations of cervine droppings have been carried out in observation areas across Estonia and the droppings indexes found as a result of this have significantly improved the identification of changes in cervine populations.

Track enumerations cannot be carried out with poor snow conditions and in certain years (including the 2016/2017 winter), the enumeration volume required for an adequate population estimate was not achieved. The timeline of droppings enumerations is still short. Therefore, the hunting data of cloven hoofed animals are compared with estimations of hunters. One exception is roe deer whose estimations provided by the users of a hunting district have been significantly underestimated, which is why the track index has been presented to describe changes in their population.

In the summer, wild boar can be seen in humid mixed and deciduous forests and in the winter, in spruce forests with a dense undergrowth.

 

The African swine fever, which reached the southern border of Estonia in the autumn of 2014, had spread across the entire mainland and Saare County by the mid-summer of 2017. The spread of African swine fever has not yet reached the northern edge of Lääne County and the north-western edge of Harju County; Hiiu County and Muhu and Vormsi islands have also not been affected by the fever.

 

Larger hunting pressure brought on by the fever and the need to decrease risks related thereto have now resulted in a significant decline in the population of wild boars in areas affected by the fever. In two years, estimations of the population of wild boars provided by users of a hunting district have decreased by three and a half times in total – from 20,600 individuals in the spring of 2015 to 5620 individuals at the beginning of 2017. The population decline of wild boars has likely been even more extensive, as the hunting data of the previous years clearly indicates that the actual population of wild boars in the previous years was significantly higher compared to the estimations provided by users of a hunting district. A total of 17,610 wild boars were hunted in the 2016/2017 hunting season, which is nearly two times less than the previous year, but considering that the population of wild boars had already significantly decreased in half of the country’s territory by the beginning of the hunting season due to African swine fever and that by the end of the hunting season, only a small fraction of the country had not been affected by the fever, the hunting outcome can be considered positive.

Wild boar

Population estimations and hunting quotas of wild boar 1992–2017

Elk habitats are larger forest areas with many rivers, lakes and mires, as well as young growths and undergrowth. They are also often seen on fields near forests. In the winter, they roam in dryer areas and in the summer, in damper areas.

During the 2016 hunting season, a new hunting record was set in Estonia for the second consecutive year – 7390 elk. There are no records that the official elk hunting in Estonia has ever exceeded the limit of 7000 individuals. Compared to the previous years, hunting quotas were increased in all counties except for Pärnu and Hiiu Counties.

However, the record-breaking hunting quotas of the last few years have not resulted in a significant decrease in elk populations in most of Estonia’s hunting districts and, considering the risk of causing wide-spread damages to forests, the population size remains too high. According to the hunters’ estimation, there were 11,400 elk individuals in 2017, which is roughly the same as in 2016. However, the results of droppings enumerations carried out across Estonia in 47 different observation areas indicate that the total population of elk is 25–35% larger, which is significantly more realistic considering the high hunting quotas of the previous years and the increase in the elk population.

Elk

Population estimations and hunting quotas of elk 1992–2017

Red deer inhabit mixed and deciduous forests rich in underwood with plenty of forest glades and clear cut areas, and often fields and meadows.

Observation data collected by the spring of 2017 (estimations from users of hunting districts and results of enumerations) indicate a continuous increase in the red deer population, irrespective of hunting, which reached a new record level during the 2016 hunting season. A total of 1,664 red deer were hunted during the 2016 hunting season, which is nearly 1/3 more than the previous year. The number of hunted deer increased both on the islands and mainland of Estonia. According to the estimation of users of hunting districts, the population of red deer has increased in both Saare and Hiiu Counties, but remained the same on Estonia’s mainland. Now, the first deer have also been enumerated in Harju County.

Red deer

Population estimations and hunting quotas of red deer 1992–2017

Roe deer prefer to inhabit mosaic cultural landscapes (coppices between fields, edges of forests) and avoid large forests.

The population of roe deer rapidly declined after the snow-heavy winters of 2010 and 2011. This also resulted in the lowest number of hunted roe deer of the past thirty years. Due to improvements in the status of the population and an increase in population density, the hunting quotas of roe deer have also significantly increased in Estonia.

11,000 roe deer were hunted in Estonia during the 2016 hunting season. Compared to the previous year, the number of hunted roe deer increased by more than 75%. Similarly to the previous hunting season, the largest number of roe deer were hunted in Saare, Põlva and Tartu Counties. While no roe deer were hunted in nearly 8% of the hunting districts in the previous years, only one hunting district was unable to hunt roe deer in 2016.

Roe deer

Track index and hunting quotas of roe deer 1992–2017

The track index calculated based on track enumerations in the winter, which characterises the relative population density of roe deer and changes therein, has also significantly increased (30%). Unfortunately, the volume of track enumerations was considerably lower than desired due to the poor snow conditions of 2017 and more than half of the areas of enumeration were not included in a total of eight counties.

An increase in the roe deer population is also confirmed by population estimations provided by users of the hunting districts, which have increased by a total of 11.5% compared to the previous year. By counties, the population estimations have increased the most in Rapla, Pärnu and Ida-Viru Counties. Regional differences, which are similar to the differences in the hunting data, become evident from the population estimations. In the case of roe deer, population estimations provided by the users of a hunting district should be considered as indexes and their relation to the actual population may vary greatly by regions and hunting districts. Based on experiences of the previous years, the population and population density of roe deer may be on average 2.5–3.5 times higher than what is obtained when summing up the estimations collected from users of a hunting district.

A significant increase in the population density of roe deer is also indicated by the results of droppings enumerations carried out across Estonia in 47 observation areas for the third consecutive year. Compared to the results of droppings enumerations of 2015 and 2016, the increase in the dropping index of roe deer (number of piles of droppings per 1 km of enumeration route) has been dramatic in most of the observation areas.

 

Damages caused by game

Damages caused by large carnivores

 

Damages caused by animals important from the perspective of nature conservation and expenses made to prevent these damages are compensated in Estonia. In addition to direct compensation of the damages caused, the goal of this nature conservation measure is to retain the balance of the relationship between humans and nature on a wider scale and develop sustainable use of the environment. Compensation is provided pursuant to the procedure provided in the Nature Conservation Act and the regulation of the Minister of the Environment. The Environmental Board keeps records of and organises the compensation for damages.

Damages caused by large carnivores (e.g. killed farm animal or pet, damaged beehive) are compensated to the beneficiary in the extent of 100%, subtracting the amount of personal liability, which is 64–128 euros per year. Direct costs of measures applied to prevent the damage will be compensated in the extent of 50%, but the amount paid to one person will not exceed 3200 euros per one financial year. Reducing damages is also one of the goals of the conservation and management plan of large carnivores for 2012–2021.

Damages caused by game

Number of cases of wolf damages and killed farm animals (bovine animals, sheep) and number of damaged beehives in 2007–2016

In 2016 there were significantly less bear attacks on beehives than in the two previous years and only Lääne-Viru and Tartu Counties registered more damages compared to 2015.

The number of damages caused by wolves (number of killed farm animals) decreased in 2016. This was more obvious on the islands and less on the mainland. The decrease was the greatest in Hiiu County, where only three sheep were killed (124 in 2015). In Saare County in 2016, most of the cases were registered on Muhu island where a single male wolf was causing damages all year round. At the end of the hunting season, the wolf was killed. In 2016, in a total of 29 attack cases he killed 88 sheep and four bovine animals (at the beginning of 2017 he attacked nine more sheep). At the same time on Saare island with about ten wolves, a total of 57 sheep were killed in ten attacks. On Estonia’s mainland, the largest damages were caused in Harju County, followed by Rapla and Võru Counties. In Harju County, the majority of the damages occurred in the territory of one wolf pack in the middle of the county where a total of 10 wolves were hunted by the end of the season.

The significant decrease in wolf damages may be caused by an increase in the roe deer population. In the previous years, wild boars dominated in the diets of wolves, however, hunting wild boars was not feasible for young inexperienced wolves who were starting to hunt independently, which is why they needed to find additional food sources elsewhere. This often meant killing farm animals who were easily attainable. In the previous years, the roe deer population has significantly increased and the species has started to dominate in the wolves’ diet, which is why especially young wolves can manage the resources available in forests a lot better than in the years with less roe deer. This aspect is also confirmed by data collected in telemetric studies of wolf populations.

Wolf damages in Karisöödi. Photo: Environmental Board

Wolf damages in Karisöödi. Photo: Environmental Board

 

Along with increases in elk populations, forest damages caused by elk, especially in young pine forests, have also increased. The extent of the damages varies by areas and years. Avoiding damages plays an important role in maintaining a reasonable population density of elk.

In order to evaluate recent damages caused by elk, the Environment Agency and Environmental Board observe recent damages in the spring, i.e. damages caused to trees during the previous winter in observation areas which are randomly chosen in 5–15-year-old young-growth pine forests and 30–60-year-old spruce forests that are attractive food sources for elk.

Elk damages on coniferous trees

Proportions of damaged coniferous trees in observation areas

In the young-growth pine forests observed in 2017, the proportion of pines with recent damages was 7.3% on average, which is essentially the same as in 2016 (7.1%) and slightly lower than in 2015 (7.9%).

By counties, the proportion of damaged pines increased in Lääne, Järva, Jõgeva, Hiiu, Ida-Viru and Tartu County observation plots and decreased in Lääne-Viru, Saare and Põlva County observation plots. Similarly to 2016, the proportion of pines with recent damages was the highest in Järva and Rapla Counties and now also in Lääne County.

Proportion of observation plots with recently damaged pines of all observation plots observed in 2017 was 46.5% (49.7% in 2016 and 52.1% in 2015) and pines with significant damages were noticed in 39.3% (44.8% in 2016 and 45.6% in 2015) of the observed plots.

Similarly to damages to young-growth pine forests, the proportion of spruces with recent bark damages caused by elk in all observation plots in 2017 was at the same level as in the two previous years in middle-aged spruce forests. Most of the damages occurred in Järva County where one spruce in one hundred was damaged. In conclusion of the observed spruces, on average, recent damages occurred in one or two trees out of one thousand (0.16%), whereby recent damages that affect growth occurred on average on one tree out of one thousand (0.1%).

Interpreting the changes which have occurred during the entire observation period (2010–2017) is made more difficult by the small sample of the early years (the number of observed spruce forests has continuously increased from 126 to 707 and the number of pine groves from 288 to 1025).

It should be noted however that forest damage rates do not always equal the number of elk, as the development of elk damages (burden of elk on young growths) is very heavily dependent on the characteristics of the weather conditions of each winter and the existence and availability of alternative plants to eat. Logging carried out in an area as well as forest management measures implemented also have a significant impact on the development of damages. The risk of damages could be considerably reduced in many cases by well-considered delay of logging and a lower/safer rate of logging in exposing young growths.

Damages caused by game according to forest protection expert assessments

In addition to observations of damaged coniferous trees carried out in observation areas, damages caused by game are also registered in forest protection expert assessments prepared by the Environmental Board. The information of forest protection expert assessments can be used as auxiliary material in the hunting councils of counties when determining hunting quotas, including directing hunting to the more damaged hunting areas. The source data of forest protection expert assessments can also be used for calculating indexes, e.g. the ratio between a damaged area and area of the hunting district, county or young growths.

An example here are areas with recent damages caused by elk, who cause most forest damages among game indicated by county. These areas mean areas where the forest protection expert assessments indicate elk as the animal that causes most damages. In 2013–2016, the largest number of damages was registered in Pärnu County, over the years Viljandi, Järva, Tartu and Valga County also stand out.

Põder

Surface areas of regions with elk damages pursuant to forest protection expert assessments in 2013–2016

Regionally, damages caused by red deer are clearly visible. So far, red deer have been most widely spread in Saare County, which is also where damages caused by red deer have been a problem. The forest protection expert assessments of Saare County include cases where the most damages are caused by the red deer, registered in both 2015 and 2016. In 2016, the red deer was also marked as the main damager in Hiiu and Valga County (one case in each county).

These kinds of clear patterns cannot be highlighted for other species in the forest protection expert assessments of the previous years (damages caused by wild boars, roe deer, beavers, etc. are recorded). The entire table with data of forest damages caused by game taken from 2013–2017 forest protection expert assessments is available here: http://www.keskkonnaagentuur.ee/et/kuttimine

 

 

Last updated: 14 December 2017


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