The protests of several NGOs followed quickly when a landowner skipped the wait for his clearcutting permit to begin chopping down a sacred grove earlier this month.
"The unfortunate event has revealed a clear lack of experience in protecting sacred natural sites as well as a considerable deficiency in agency information sharing," said a statement from the Fund for Nature.
The organization criticized the government for handing out public land to private entities without proper protections. It also asserted that the limits of a sacred grove in Maardu, as defined by the National Heritage Board, had not been accurately laid down.
Another group, which advocates for the preservation of indigenous spiritual customs, sent a public letter to the government on April 12, demanding that further steps be taken to insure the protection of hundreds of ancient sacred grounds throughout Estonia.
The Fund for Nature supported the petition, stressing in a separate statement the importance of inspecting state-owned heritage sites before they are sold. An evaluation, activists said, must also consider whether conditions imposed on private buyers are sufficient to preserve heritage sites, or whether the land needs to be kept national altogether.
The illegal clearcutting of a sacred grove near Maardu Manor in Rebala on April 2 was the result of a misunderstanding between the Environmental Board and the National Heritage Board, as the latter had not yet approved the specifications of the forest to be chopped down at the landowner's request. The Heritage Board halted the tree chopping. Rebala's sacred grove has been a national heritage zone since Soviet times, but the borders of the area were not put in place until this year, only after a company named Eremka applied for a forest license in Maardu.
There are more than 500 known sacred groves in Estonia, some of which are thought to be thousands of years old. About 100 are under protection.