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Estonian state wants to clear some shoreline forest to protect birdlife from predators

Wading birds in Estonia (photo is illustrative).
Wading birds in Estonia (photo is illustrative). Source: Merike Hiibus (elurikkus.ee)

Forested areas, some of them planted during the Soviet occupation of Estonia, on land which otherwise would consist of coastal meadows, should be cleared of trees, the climate ministry says.

This would not only promote biodiversity in such zones, for instance on the island of Hiiumaa, but also protect some species of nesting waders and other birds, and encourage other to nest their – since forest can conceal the presence of smaller predators such as foxes.

These have been known to pick off hatchlings at will.

The Ministry of Climate says it wants to fell a section of forest managed by the state forestry commission, the RMK, which has been growing on what was previously a shoreline meadow by Käina Bay, a lagoon on the Southeastern coast of Hiiumaa.

The area as it is now is suitable as a habitat for small predators, which could threaten nesting birds, it has been found.

In the fall, the local municipality addressed the climate ministry, asking it to investigate options for felling the forest, which is 60 years old now, in order to restore coastal meadow ecosystems.

Aveliina Helm, scientific advisor at the Minister of Climate, said: "Scientific research both conducted in Estonia and elsewhere has demonstrated convincingly that if coastal meadowlands are broader, this is safer for resident birds as they can be alerted to threats and danger more easily."

This would have the effect of attracting more nesting birds in addition to improving the situation for those already there, she said.

A decision to fell or not has not been made yet, however.

The  Ministry of Climate says it has set the goal of restoration of coastal meadows in the interests of biodiversity; in recent years, smaller predators, such as foxes, which have been rising in number in recent years, have as a pilot project been hunted, for instance on Hiiumaa.

Triin Kaasiku, a researcher in nature conservation biology at the University of Tartu, noted that: "Coastal meadows to be found on Hiiumaa are generally more fragmented by stands of forest, which present a more favorable habitat to foxes, though most likely fox numbers on Hiiumaa are, for some reason, higher than they are on the mainland."

There are several reasons for a rise in the number of foxes. They have an solid food source, while diseases such as rabies have been eradicated, and the market for fox fur has effectively evaporated.

At the same time, Jaanus Vaiksoo, representative of the Estonian Hunter Society (Eesti Jahimeeste Selts) said that reintroducing the hunting of foxes and other predators for their fur could make economic sense.

One farmer, Tõnu Kaptein, who has been grazing cattle by Käina Bay for decades, said that there have been significantly more foxes recently.

"In a neighboring area, the probability that a hatchling would survive for just one day was only six percent. These are really very worrying indicators," Kaptein said.

It is not clear at this point who would be responsible for conducting the tree-felling, should it go ahead.

The original AK slot including some footage is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Juhan Hepner.

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