Those arriving to Estonia by plane on a clear day, may soon notice whilst peering from the window the rugged outlines of the local terrain. While Estonia has always been a forested country, the last half a century has seen those forests increase in size, today covering about 50% of the country’s territory, 30% of which is currently under protection.
The forest has historically fed and offered shelter to Estonians, whose roots are deeply embedded in the nature’s soil. While many Estonians today lead a busy suburban lifestyle, they continue to seek the forest as a place to rest and reinvigorate the body and the mind. Forest is recognised as a recurring theme in Estonian folklore, inspiring storytellers and painters that have produced beautiful landscapes now displayed in KUMU art museum. The largest forests can be found in northeastern and central Estonia, stretching from as far as the north coast to the southern border with pine, birch, spruce and aspen being the most common tree species. Estonian forests are home to a surprising variety of wildlife – seeing a hare, fox or deer is common, but you can consider yourself extremely lucky if you get a glimpse of a wolf, lynx, bear or an elk. Rarer still are the European mink, dormouse and flying squirrel, which are unfortunately close to extinction.
In ancient forests and woodlands you can closely observe the circle of life when nature is left to its own devices. Barely marked by any human activity, Järvselja ancient forest in southern Estonia is a home to species of owl and a gracefully aged 360-year-old Kuningamänd pine tree. Poruni hiking trail in northern Estonia winds along the 10-metre banks of Poruni river. Here you will find a mix of fallen tree trunks giving life to new and at times rare plant species.
In the harsh northern weather conditions, trees have been the source of livelihood for centuries. While some trees were used for building houses and saunas, some were considered holy and remained untouched.
A sacred grove usually consists of deciduous trees and attracted offerings for gnomes, fairies and other supernatural forces of past times. Kassinurme Fort and sacred grove were established around 2000 years ago, making it one of the oldest remaining sacred places in Estonia. An hour’s drive takes you to Rakvere, where you will find centuries old sacred oak grove.
Moreover, Estonia is dotted with numerous sacred trees acting in a way as natural monuments to the way of life that have connected the locals with their surrounding nature from ancient settlers to modern Estonians.
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Source: Visit Estonia