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 31.12.2018, a total of 992 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, 65 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 (749 species, i.e. over 75% of the species), including vascular plants (748 species), followed by arthropods (154 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, protected landscapes 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 municipal level.

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

Area of protected species

Surface area of protected areas in 1999–2017.

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 Estonian territory 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 sea, of which 3% was under protection at the beginning of the 2000s; after the Natura 2000 network was established, the proportion of protected waters increased to about 27%. Protection of the entire water area (additionally including big lakes) has varied the same way, e.g. from 3% to 27% in 2004, and then remained at 28% since 2007 until now. Proportion of total protected area has arisen from 8% (1999-2003) to 21% in 2004 and has been gradually increasing ever since The proportion of total protected area is 22%, of the hole territory of Estonia (sea and land area all together).

As at 31.12.2017, 18.8% of land and 27% of territorial waters, 44% of the area of large lakes, 28% of the total water area and a total of 22% of the entire area of Estonia was under protection in 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 changes in the land area of zones with a stricter protection regime of protected areas established under the Nature Conservation Act and entered into the Environmental Register. , These zones are strict nature reserves, wilderness conservation zones and conservation zones of species protection sites.

Zones with a stricter protection regime include areas which are 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 1994–2017

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 2017, 4.2% of the territory of Estonia was under stricter protection with regard to the categories of IUCN with a stricter protection regime. 

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

When it comes to providing estimations of total population figures for large carnivores in spring, the number of litters is used as an indicator, a method which provides a better level of insight into actual distribution and the viability of populations than does counting adult populations, and therefore is better when it comes to organising protection for and the management of those large carnivores. Estimations of total populations tend to overestimate the size of populations because the same individuals are often counted again in different locations. The number of litters is a parameter which can be directly monitored, and the general population size of that species in the autumn is derived from this monitoring. In addition to the population size, the number of litters also indicates any increase in numbers.

In order to retain the current balanced populations of wolves, lynxes, and brown bears in Estonia, and by this means being able to provide consideration to ecological, economic, and social aspects (in terms of needing to control population levels), the conservation and management plan for large carnivores 2012-2021 provides annual goals for maintaining the following population figures:

  • between 15-25 wolf packs with pups (with a total population of around 150-250 individuals),
  • 100-130 lynx litters with kittens (with a total population of around 600-780 individuals) before the beginning of the hunting season (in the autumn),
  • at least sixty bear litters with cubs of the same year (and a total population of nearly 600 individuals).

litters

Minimum numbers of litters required to retain the favourable status of large carnivores and number of litters in 2003–2017

Wolves prefer shadowed forests, bogs, and brushwood habitats. They are seen less in areas with more technogenic and cultural landscapes.

Based on the collected observation data and hunting information, in 2017 there were a total of 24 wolf litters in Estonia (wolf packs into which pups had been born). A total of 22 litters inhabited Estonia’s mainland, while one litter was on Saare and one in Hiiu County. When compared to 2016, there were four litters less on Estonian’s mainland in 2017. On the county level, local reproduction remained unobserved in two counties in 2017: Jõgeva and Valga.

Brown bears prefer large forests with fallen trees and patches of bog as their habitat. In Estonia, brown bears have spread across the mainland. In 2017 the presence of at least one individual was confirmed on Saaremaa, while there are no brown bears on the other islands of western Estonia. The largest numbers of bears can be found in Ida-Viru and Lääne-Viru counties.

In 2017, a total of 65 different bear litters were registered with cubs which had been born in the same year. In 2016 there were 73 females with cubs that had been born in that year; in 2015 there were 63; and in 2014 there were 74. Based on the number of litters that have been observed, the general size of the bear population can be estimated to be around 700 individuals and the general status of the population is good.

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

There were 63 lynx litters in Estonia in autumn 2017; in the previous year only 53 litters were recorded. Besides a moderate increase in the number of litters, the mean litter size has increased to some of the highest figures on record, clearly indicating that individuals in the population are benefiting from improved conditions. In autumn 2017, the lynx population size was estimated to be around 400 individuals. Although the abundance of lynx has clearly increased, their numbers still remain far below the minimum target that was set out in the conservation and management plan, and the general state of the population cannot be regarded as acceptable in the long term.

The optimal number of lynx and wolf populations is also an indicator in the Nature Conservation Development Plan until 2020. The 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 recruitment rate, and to maintain the gender and age-related structure of the hunting sample as close as possible to that of the structure of the natural population.

 Hunted

Number of hunted large carnivores

Since 2012 the number of lynx litters has remained under the minimum level required for maintaining a favourable status for this species. Therefore no lynxes were hunted in 2016 and 2017. In 2015, a total of nineteen lynxes were hunted. The hunting quota for 2015 was determined by basing it on an overly optimistic forecast for population increase which, in reality, proved to be incorrect.

A total of 54 bears were hunted in 2017 and 55 in 2016. The brown bear population in Estonia is in good condition, and reproductive output in recent years has been very good. A slightly higher hunting limit was set for the 2018 season for this very reason.

During the 2017 hunting season, a total of 101 wolfs were hunted, with a maximum permissible hunting quota of 112 specimens. In addition, three specimens were hunted before the beginning of the hunting season and seven individuals after the end of the normal hunting season by means of special licences (for nuisance individuals). A total of a hundred wolves were hunted on the mainland, with seven on Saaremaa and four on Hiiumaa.

Population figures and hunting for ungulates (cervids and wild boar)

Recently, estimations of the size of wintering populations of wild ungulates was based solely on estimates that were provided by the users of a hunting district. As of 2006, track indexes that had been calculated based on winter track counts have also been used (as of 2011, these calculations have been corrected with relation to the maximum age of the tracks). As of 2015, counts of pellet groups of cervids (which include moose, red deer, and roe deer) have been carried out in special monitoring areas across Estonia.

Winter track counts cannot be carried out in poor, snow conditions and, in certain years (such as, for instance, in 2014 and 2015), the necessary volume of counts that would be required for an adequate population estimate was not achieved. The time-series for pellet counts is still short. Therefore, in the following graphs, we compare the hunting data for ungulates with the numerical estimates that have been provided by the hunters. One exception is for roe deer, whose estimates which have been provided by the users of a hunting district have been significantly underestimated (by as much as 2.5 or 3.5 times), which is why the track index has been presented to describe changes in roe deer population dynamics.

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

 

African swine fever, which reached the southern border of Estonia in the autumn of 2014, had spread across the entire mainland, including Saare County, by the middle of summer 2018. African swine fever has not yet reached Hiiu County.

 

Due to African swine fever and partially due to the high hunting pressure, the number of wild boar has dropped dramatically in just a few years. For example, estimates given by users of hunting districts in terms of wild boar numbers - as well the winter track index - have dropped by more than six times in three years. The sightings of wild boar droppings and rooting sites in spring on transects of pellet counts has become roughly ten times rarer. However, it should be noted that the continuing decline in population density that has been expressed at the national level for 2017-2018 adequately characterises the changes in the number of wild boars only in northern and western Estonia, while in south-eastern counties and also in Järva and Jõgeva counties where the abundance of wild boar had already declined to very low level across previous years, population density figures have started to increase again.

In 2017, a total of 7,690 wild boar were hunted in Estonia, which was down by half on the figure for 2016, and was four times less than in 2015. As expected, the majority of hunted wild boars in 2017 were hunted in the western part of the country.

Wild boar

Population estimations and hunting quotas of wild boar 1992–2018

Moose habitats usually cover larger forest areas which are cut through by numerous rivers, lakes, and mires, as well as young growth and undergrowth. They are also often seen in fields near forests. In the winter, they roam drier areas and, in the summer, damper areas.

 According to a combined assessment of users of the hunting districts, the moose population amounted approximately to 10,700 specimens in winter 2018 and 11,400 in winter 2017.

Compared to hunter estimates, abundance estimates calculated based on the results of pellet counts that had been carried out over the last four years, have been 25-35% higher. Based on the data taken from pellet counts, as well as on the analysis of hunting, observation, and fertility data, the size of the moose population at the beginning of 2018 was estimated to be about 13,000-14,000 individuals, which still exceeds the tolerable level for forestry management and means that, in areas which have higher moose density, a modest reduction in numbers is required over the next few hunting seasons.

In the 2017 hunting season, a total of 7,337 moose were hunted in Estonia, which is quite similar to the result for the 2016 season when a record level of 7,390 moose were hunted. The monitoring data that has been collected in recent years suggests that moose numbers have started to decline moderately as a result of intensive hunting. It can be assumed that across the next few years the number of hunted individuals will also decline gradually.

Moose

Population estimations and hunting quotas of elk 1992–2018

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

In the 2017 hunting season, a total of 1,916 red deer were hunted in Estonia. That is 252 individuals more than in the previous year. Hunting numbers increased, primarily on account of hunting which took place on Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.

According to the users of the hunting districts, the number of red deer in Estonia at the end of winter 2018 remained at a similar level (around 3,400 individuals) to that of 2017, while changes in the winter track index indicate a slight increase in deer density in recent years. Given the number of hunted individuals, plus gender distribution and productivity estimates for red deer in Estonia in recent years, the minimum possible population size last winter was expected to reach at least a level of 7,000 specimens. It exceeded the number that had been estimated by hunters by more than two times.

Red deer

Population estimations and hunting quotas of red deer 1992–2017

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

The population of roe deer rapidly declined after the heavy snow winters of 2010 and 2011. This also resulted in the lowest number of hunted roe deer in the past thirty years. Favourable winter conditions, modest hunting, and low predator pressure over the following years has led to a rapid increase in numbers, that is clearly visible in all of the parameters which serve to characterise population dynamics and their changes. For example, the roe deer winter track index has increased by more than three times during the last five years and the number of roe deer pellet groups which have been counted during pellet counts has increased by more than two times during the last three years. The abundance estimates that have been provided by hunters, as well as changes in the number of hunted individuals, also confirms a significant increase in roe deer numbers. While in 2011 only 1,211 roe deer were hunted in Estonia, 15,807 was hunted in the 2017 hunting season.

Along with the rapid increase in numbers, there has been an increase in forest damage and traffic collisions that can be related to roe deer. In 2013, a total of 1,278 traffic accidents were registered which involved roe deer, while in 2017 the number of roe deer and vehicle collisions was two and-a-half times higher (2,849). It can be assumed that the actual number of traffic accidents is even higher, because not all cases are reported.

Based on monitoring data and the present levels of knowledge in regard to population growth and mortality rates for roe deer, the population size in the 2017/2018 winter was estimated at around 120,000-130,000 individuals.

Roe deer

Track index and hunting quotas of roe deer 1992–2017

Damages caused by game

Damages caused by large carnivores

 

Damages that are caused by large carnivores (species that are important from the perspective of nature conservation) and expenses which have been incurred in the prevention of such damage are compensated in Estonia. In addition to direct compensation for damage that has been 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 to develop the sustainable use of the environment. Compensation is provided pursuant to the procedure that is detailed in the Nature Conservation Act and the regulation of the Minister of the Environment. The Environmental Board keeps records of and organises compensation for any damage.

 

Compensation is provided for damage which has been caused by large carnivores (such as a farm animal or pet that has been killed, or a beehive that has been damaged), with the payment being made to the beneficiary to the extent of 100% of the cost of such damage, before subtracting the value of any personal liability, which is between 64-128 euros a year. Compensation will be provided to cover any direct costs that are involved in measures that can be applied in order to prevent such damage to the extent of 50% of the total cost, but the amount paid to one person will not exceed 3,200 euros in each financial year. Reducing damage 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 2017 there were significantly more bear attacks on beehives than in previous years. Compared to the average across the four previous years, lower levels of bear damage were registered only in Lääne, Harju, and Rapla counties. The increase in damage in 2017 can be explained by a decrease in the food base, both in the number of wild boars and in the reduction in the amount of additional food that is normally provided by hunters to wild boars. The amount of bear-related damage which was caused to beehives in the spring depends to a large extent upon the weather in that spring, with this determining the natural diet of the bears. Therefore, bear attacks on beehives that take place in spring cannot always be associated with problem bears, while damage that is caused during the hunting period should be counted as being more relevant.

In 2017, the damage that was caused by wolves to livestock was at its highest for the last ten years, but the distribution of such damage was much more uneven than in the previous year. In 2017, the Environmental Board registered 183 incidents in which 1,121 sheep and ten bovines were killed by wolves. In 2016, wolves killed 766 sheep and fourteen bovines in 175 registered cases. More than half of wolf attacks on livestock in 2017 took place in Rapla, Saare, and Võru counties, while not a single wolf attack was registered in Jõgeva and Ida-Viru counties, and only one case was recorded in Lääne and Põlva counties. On Saaremaa and in Rapla the vast majority of damage occurred in a relatively small area, being directly linked to one wolf pack in both counties. The damage in Võru County was in different parts of the county and was caused by several different individuals or groups.

Wolf damages in Karisöödi. Photo: Environmental Board

Wolf damages in Karisöödi. Photo: Environmental Board

 

Along with increases in moose numbers, forest damage which are caused by moose, especially in young pine forests, also tended to increase. The extent of any such damage varies by areas and years. Avoiding this kind of damage plays an important role in maintaining a reasonable population density for moose.

In order to evaluate recent damage that had been caused by moose, the Estonian Environment Agency and Environmental Board observe recent damage that is caused in spring - damage which is caused to trees during the previous winter in observation areas which are randomly selected in 5-15 year-old young-growth pine forests and 30-60 year-old spruce forests that are attractive food sources for moose.

Elk damages on coniferous trees

Proportions of damaged coniferous trees in observation areas

 

In the young pine stands (covering 1,083 plots) which were observed in 2018, the proportion of pines with signs of recent damage were at 5.7% on average, which is notably less than in the previous three years when, on average, between 7.1 and 7.9% of all of the young pines that were observed had bite marks that had been made by moose in the recent winter. 

In terms of counties, the increase in the proportion of pines with signs of recent damage when compared to the previous year could only be observed in study plots in Ida-Viru, Saare, Valga and Viljandi counties.

In 2018 recent moose damages were observed in case of 38,5% of all studied pine stands(it was 46.5% in 2017 and 49.7% in 2016), and pines with significant damage were spotted at 32.8% of observed plots (this was 39.3% in 2017 and 44.8% in 2016).

Similarly to damage to young-growth pine forests, the proportion of spruce with recent bark damage that had been caused by moose in a middle-aged spruce forest also decreased. When compared to other counties, more damage could be seen to have occurred in Valga, Tartu, and Viljandi counties. On average, recent damage occurred in 0.11% of all inspected spruce, whereas recent damage that could affect growth occurred on average in 0.09% of spruce.

Interpreting the changes that have occurred during the entire observation period (2010-2018) is something that is made more difficult by the small sample of the early years (the number of spruce forests that were observed has continuously increased, from 126 to 707, and the number of pine groves has also increased, from 288 to 1,083).

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

Damage caused by game according to forest damage assessments

In addition to observations of damaged coniferous trees that have been carried out in observation areas, damage that has been caused by game is also registered in forest damage assessments that are prepared by the Environmental Board. Information covering forest damage assessments can be used as auxiliary material in the hunting councils at the county level when determining hunting quotas, including directing hunting towards the more heavily-damaged hunting areas. The source data for forest damage assessments can also be used for calculating indexes - the ratio between a damaged area and the area encompassed by the hunting district, county, or young growths.

An example here is areas with recent damage that has been caused by moose, who cause the highest levels of forest damage among game as indicated by county. These were areas in which forest protection expert assessments indicated that moose was the game that caused the most damage. In 2013-2017, the highest levels of damage were registered in Pärnu County, while over the years Viljandi, Järva, Tartu, and Valga counties also stand out.

Põder

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

Regionally, damage that has been caused by red deer is clearly visible. So far, red deer have spread to their widest extent in Saare County, which is also the county where most of the forest damages as well crop damages caused by red deer have occurred so far.

In recent years forest damage that has been caused by roe deer has clearly increased. The entire table with its data covering forest damage that has been caused by game, which was taken from the 2013-2017 forest damage assessments, is available here: http://www.keskkonnaagentuur.ee/et/kuttimine.

 

 

Last updated: 10 June 2019


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