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Mid-Congress Tours

Mid-Congress Tours

All tours will take place on Wednesday, June 17 to four main destinations: the region of Pärnu and South-West Estonia; the region of Tartu and Central Estonia; Western Estonia, and Eastern Estonia. Groups going on excursions in the same area will come together at the end of the day for mingling at an outdoor cultural event and barbeque. Any participants preferring to leave for Tallinn will be taken back after the tours. The tentative Mid-Congress tour programs are presented below.

Peatland forestry

Tour 1. Peat extraction and forestry on extracted peatland

The experimental area on the Rae drained and fertilized peatland was established in the 1950s to study factors that affect the forestation of peatlands and to investigate the possibilities for afforesting of oligotrophic peat soils. The uniqueness of the experimental area lies in the fact that the virtually sterile peat soil has managed to grow stands (silver birch, Scots pine, Norway spruce) of 50–65 years (productive class II–III). Rae peat extraction area and the extracted peatland are located 10 km from Tallinn.

The wastewater sludge of the Tallinn Wastewater Treatment Plant was applied to study the effect on afforestation. Different tree species (black alder, silver birch, Norway spruce, hybrid aspen) were planted in 2004. Today all species have grown into productive (class Ia) stands.

Large drainage operations peaked in Estonia in 1969–1975, when approximately 150,000 ha of forest land was drained; in the 1980s it was around 338,400 ha. In total, ca 700,000 ha of forest land has been drained in Estonia, 450,000 ha of which is in the state forest. Drainage of forest lands improve significantly the quality and production of stands.

The excursion will continue to Aegviidu Nature Visitor Centre that is located in the heart of Kõrvemaa – an area of peatlands, large forests and unpopulated natural landscapes. On Sõõriksoo nature trail one can explore damp forests, bog landscapes, peatland with old peat pits, and signs of animal and bird activity. More than 100 years ago Sõõriksoo bog was one of the most productive peat-cutting areas in Estonia, where peat was cut manually and the bog provided nearly 50% of national peat production (fuel, thermal insulation material etc). Today, old peat pits have revegetated spontaneously .

Price: 35€ per person
Availability: one group of 50 people.

Agriculture on peatlands

Tour 2. Berry plantation on extracted peatlands

The attempts to cultivate cranberries on exhausted peatlands started in Estonia in the 1960–1970s when due to the drainage of peatlands natural areas suitable for growing mire berries decreased. At the beginning small-scale experimental plantations were established to test the suitability of growing native cranberries from different mires for cultivation, later the fields have been expanded to industrial cultivation on large areas.

Farm Marjasoo, translated the Berry Bog Farm, specializes in growing wild berries on extracted peatland (13 ha). The farm is situated in the middle of a pine forest near the largest lake in Estonia –  Lake Võrtsjärv. The farm started in 1988 with cultivation of cranberries, later blueberry fields were added, and experiments with cowberries have been made as well. All three species are suitable for cultivation; cranberry and cowberry, though, need larger investments to ensure stable crops. A unique know-how for choosing the plants and maintaining peat fields has been developed on-site. An excellent lowbush blueberry propagation collection and fine local cranberry sorts are growing in the farm Marjasoo with annual production of 100–150 tons.

Participants will be introduced to what has been done on the farm in about 35 years followed by a visit to the plantation. Results of the experiments made in the plantations will be introduced and dicussed, incl. common cranberry (Oxycoccus palustris) cultivation, low-bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) cultivation and the possibility of organic production of wild berries on extracted peat fields.

Walking boots are recommended, total walking distance ca 1–2 km.
Price: 35€ per person
Availability: two groups of 40 people.

Education on peatlands

Tour 3. Mire restoration sites and cultural-educational programme in Sirtsi and Tudusoo bog Nature Conservation Areas, North-East Estonia

The Tudusoo mire Nature Conservation Area (NCA) is located in north-eastern Estonia on the eastern slope of the Pandivere Upland. The relatively intact rised bog areas are surrounded and partially degraded by forestry drainage system establisged in the 1970s. The EU LIFE MIRES ESTONIA project started restoration activities in 2018. Mire habitats and hydrology is being restored by closing the drainage network with various measures and implementing different forest cover manipulations. Special care is taken with forest manipulations because of numerous protected species’ habitats within the drainage network. Participants will visit the newly renovated nature trail that leads to the Tudu bog lake where educational programme will be introduced, including an overview of mire related cultural values. Also, the transitional mire type will be visited nearby the Tudu Lake.

The Sirtsi NCA consists of a range of mires in the NW–SE direction with a bog, rich in hollows and pools in the middle and quagmires on the edges. This mire complex is negatively influenced by peat extraction and the surrounding forest drainage system. The Sirtsi restoration area includes a former peat mining field with a dense drainage network and a completely destroyed vegetation and forest drainage area. Sphagnum fragments were spread and experimental oil shale ash treatment was implemented in autumn 2018 on the former extraction field. During the excursion, participants will be introduced to different approaches related to infilling ditches or dam building on extracted peatlands, also an intact raised bog will be visited. Methodologies of monitoring will be introduced.

Rubber boots or good hiking boots are recommended. The total walking distance is ca 4 km in a natural and restored mire area and on a wooden nature trail. Distance from Tallinn approx. 2 hours.
Price: 35€ per person
Availability: one group of 20 people.

LIFE on restored peatlands

Tour 4. Mire restoration area in Soosaare bog, Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve, Central Estonia

Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve is located in Central Estonia, northeast of Lake Võrtsjärv. It covers 34,490 ha and is a Natura 2000 site that is recognized as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. Wetlands (five large mire complexes, swamp forests and floodplains) cover 82% of the nature reserve’s territory. The restoration area (ca 120 ha) is a former peat extraction field at the edge of the large Soosaare bog. EU LIFE MIRES ESTONIA project financed restoration activities in 2017–2018. The monitoring of the water level, amphibians, birds, and butterflies is ongoing. Drones are used for monitoring changes in the vegetation cover in addition to traditional botanical observations. During the excursion participants will be introduced to different restoration techniques of the damaged bog and an intact bog with lots of bog pools will be visited.

Rubber boots or good hiking boots are recommended. The total walking distance is ca 4 km in a natural and restored mire area. Distance from Tallinn approx. 2 hours. The excursion will be guided by a specialists from the Estonian Fund for Nature and the Univesity of Tartu.
Price: 35€ per person
Availability: one group of 20 people.

Tourism on peatlands

Tour 5. Tourism on peatlands in the Soomaa National Park

The Soomaa National Park was established in 1993 to protect intact bogs, meandering rivers, floodplain meadows, and a variety of forests. Participants will be able to experience all these nature values during the excursion. Part of this day is a slow and relaxing canoe trip (6 km) downstream of Raudna River with a stop in the Lemmjõgi floodplain forest – a periodically flooded alluvial forest with broad-leaved trees, such as elms, oaks, lindens, ashes, maples.

After a field lunch, the Ignatsi nature trail (3 km) will guide participants up the highest and steepest bog slope known in Europe, reaching up to 8 metres, to Kuresoo bog (11,000 ha). This is one of the largest bogs in Estonia, almost unaffected by human activities. The West-Estonian type of plateu bog is characterized by large open areas that serve as an ideal resting site for migratory geese and cranes. Discussions about nature tourism’s impacts, both positive and negative, will conclude this day.

Good walking boots are recommended. Transport from Tallinn approx. 2 hours. The excursion is guided by local nature guides from Soomaa.
Price: 35€ per person
Availability: two groups of 45 people.

Tour 6. Peatland use and restoration

Tolkuse bog (area 5,500 ha, max peat depth 5 m), located on the SW coast of Estonia, is formed due to a land uplift that separated shallow bays (lagoons) from the sea ca 8,000 years ago. As a remnant of ancient times, the formation of coastal sand dunes – one of the highest in Estonia – boarders Tolkuse bog from the west. The surrounding relief is causing the seepage of groundwater to the bog, the influence of which can be seen in the vegetation. It is assumed that the peculiarities of hydrology are also causing a faster than average peat accumulation rate in Tolkuse bog (1.6–1.9 mm yr-1) as compared to other Estonian bogs (ca 1 mm yr-1).

The signs of human activity are apparent in different places in the Tolkuse bog. A canal dividing the bog to Northern and Southern parts was dug already in 1856 after that bog pools in the middle of the bog were drained. A peat quarry (block mining by hand) was operating in the Southern part of the bog already at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1967, another peat mine was opened in the Eastern part of the bog where peat was milled until 1995. By that time, the Tolkuse bog was already strictly protected and the preparations to open a new peat mine in the Western part of the bog were cancelled. In 2018, a restoration project was launched aiming to close the ditches and to raise the water level in the Tolkuse bog.

During the tour, participants are going to see the coastal sand dunes on the Western side of the Tolkuse bog and will then walk along a boardwalk to the middle-part of the bog to see what has been left of the drained pools. Next, you will see the area where preparations were made for peat extraction and where tree coverage has recently been removed and ditches blocked as restoration measures (walking will be on a wet ground). There will be a short bus ride to the Eastern side of the bog to see the extracted peat mine and the canal dug through the bog in the 19th century (walking on wet ground). Different restoration methods will be seen and discussed.

Distance from Tallinn approx. 2 hours. The total walking distance is ca 4 km. Rubber boots or good hiking boots are required.
Price: 35€ per person
Availability: two groups of 45 people.

Tour 7. Endla Nature Reserve

The Endla Nature Reserve is located in Central Estonia. Peatland studies started here in 1910 when the Experimental Mire Research Station was founded. The main assets of the nature reserve (established in 1985, area covering 10,161 ha) are the diverse wetland habitats, representing bogs, overgrowing lakes and the karst springs on the SW slope of the Pandivere Upland. There are several lakes, relicts of an acient lake, the largest of which is Lake Endla. There are eight raised bog massifs separated by rivers, boggy forest and lakes. The average thickness of the peat layer is 3–4 m, while in Männikjärve bog the thickness of the peat and lake sediments layer can reach up to 9.4 m. The convex bogs have well established hollow-ridge-pool systems. Since 1997, the nature reserve belongs to the Ramsar sites and since 2004 to the EU Natura network of protected areas. The center of the nature reserve is located in the Tooma village where the old mire school hosts a small museum.

There are several hiking trails that give the visitors the opportunity to get acquainted with forest communities, wooded meadows and bogs, to watch birds and learn about local plants. The Männikjärve hiking trail takes participants to a 1–1.5 hour walk around Lake Männikjärv, through the coniferous forest and finally follows a 1.4 km-long boardwalk across the treed ridge-hollow-pool bog to a watch tower. There are more than 130 protected species of animals, plants and fungi recorded here.

Participants will visit the spring giving the beginning to the Varangu River. The main spring is nearly 300 m long and over 100 m wide, with over 30 m of various sources. Some smaller springs are in 4–15 m wide funnels and some tiny springs are covered with moss. The water pH in springs is 7.3–8.0, the discharge of springs is 250–760 l/s.

Travel time from Tallinn ca 2 h, walking distance ca 2–3 km, comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
Price: 35€ per person
Availability: one group of 40 people.

City wetlands tour

Tour 8. Paljassaare coastal meadow bird conservation area and Pääsküla bog

Although most of the coastal zone of the capital city Tallinn has been urbanized, there are some semi-natural peatland areas left within the city boundaries. Man, the sea and post-glacial rebound have shaped the Paljassaare area, which is now the best birdwatching site inside Tallinn, only 15 min from the city center. The core of the area is a 70-ha large wetland with coastal lagoon lakes, wet coastal meadows, marshes and reedbeds that attract birds during migration and breeding. However, the military activities in the past have resulted in eutrophication that negatively affects the local biodiversity. In 2018–2024, a EU funded restoration project CoastNet LIFE is undergoing with the aim to restore the habitats of protected bird and amphibian species. The total walking distance of the excursion is 4 km and it takes 3 hours with visits to birdwatching towers. Bringing binoculars is encouraged.

The tour will continue with visiting the Pääsküla bog (~9 km2, max peat depth 5.4 m), located on the western edge of Tallinn. The Pääsküla bog developed from infilling and overgrowing of the coastal lagoon ca 8,000 years ago, however has been drained since the 19th century. Historically, peat was extracted manually and since the 1920s with machines from trenches on bog edges for domestic heating. The former peat extraction area was used as Tallinn’s main waist disposal site in 1974–2003, thereafter closed and recultivated in 2007. Horticultural peat extraction is still continuing on a small scale. During the walk on the nature path (2–4 km) you can see the effect of drainage, old peat trenches and bog forest recovery from several burnings in 2002.

Both paths are easily walkable, no rubber boots are required.
Price: 25€ per person
Availability: two groups of 25 people.