Estonia is a country in northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland across from Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea across from Sweden, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia. The territory of Estonia consists of the mainland, the larger islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, and over 2,200 other islands and islets on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, covering a total area of 45,339 square kilometres.
Many species extinct in most other European countries can be still found in Estonia. Large mammals present in Estonia include the grey wolf, lynx, brown bear, red fox, badger, wild boar, moose, red deer, roe deer, beaver, otter, grey seal, and ringed seal. The critically endangered European mink has been successfully reintroduced to the island of Hiiumaa, and the rare Siberian flying squirrel is present in east Estonia. Introduced species, such as the sika deer, raccoon dog and muskrat, can now be found throughout the country. Over 300 bird species have been found in Estonia, including the white-tailed eagle, lesser spotted eagle, golden eagle, western capercaillie, black and white stork, numerous species of owls, waders, geese and many others. The barn swallow is the national bird of Estonia.
Protected areas cover 18% of Estonian land and 26% of its territorial sea. There are 6 national parks, 159 nature reserves, and many other protection areas. It had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 3.05/10, ranking it 152nd globally out of 172 countries.
Clearcutting is the dominant logging method in Estonia, used in 95% of total felling. And logging, in part for biomass, is contributing to the devastation of some of the world's most precious conservation areas. Between 2001 and 2019, Estonia's Natura 2000 areas lost an area more than twice the size of Manhattan, due in part to demand for biomass. Investigations show that companies like Graanul Invest—Europe's biggest pellet producer—and its subsidiaries, have clearcut large areas of forests in both Estonia's Haanja and Otepää nature reserves. Estonian NGOs also report that industry actively lobbies for the weakening of Estonian regulations protecting these reserves. At the same time, Estonia's current Minister of the Environment Erki Savisaar has announced that the Estonian government intends to dispute Estonia's obligations to reduce logging in accordance with the European Commission's climate package.
As a result of loss of biodiversity, there are around 100,000 breeding pairs of birds less in Estonia than in previous years. Approximately half of Estonia's territory is covered with forests, but in fact, only one to two per cent of it can be considered truly natural old-growth forests – the rest is young and managed. Species that need old forest habitats are also not doing well, with lynx and the flying squirrel moved down one endangerment category. Species that require wild meadow habitats are not doing well either.
Across Estonia, between 2001 and 2019, Natura 2000 areas lost more than 15,000 hectares of forest cover. The last five years account for 80% of that loss. Further alterations to rules in other Estonian national parks are planned. This practice is also being pursued by RMK, the state forest management company, which manages around half of Estonian forests.
European Commission recently initiated infringement proceedings against Estonia for failing to properly implement the environmental impact assessment requirements laid down in EU law when permitting logging at Natura 2000 sites. Foreign media has also drawn attention to increasingly extensive logging in protected Estonian forests. For example, an investigative article published in Ingenioren, a Danish weekly newspaper specializing in engineering topics, highlighted that Estonian and Latvian wood pellets come from Natura 2000 protected areas and the annual increase in felling volumes is due to demand from other countries, including Denmark, for heating with CO2-neutral biomass. The activities of the Estonian Ministry of the Environment directly violate EU measures to restrict protected forests, in particular the requirements and principles of the European Habitats Directive.
Amidst the other concern with regards to loss of biodiversity, there are now proposals put forward by the Estonian Ministry of Environment to slash water body shoreline protected zones to 20 meters. The legal amendment, if it were to pass, would particularly affect Estonia's islands, where protected zones are 200 meters from the shore, causing concern in nature conservationists.