On 17 June 1997, the Bureau received a welcome letter from Villu Reiljan, Minister of the Environment in the Republic of Estonia, announcing the designation of nine new wetland sites as Wetlands of International Importance. This boosts Estonia's total to 10 sites, covering more than 215,000 hectares of surface area. The nine sites are a varied lot and some of them are extremely interesting.
The Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve (26,000 hectares) is a large, mostly flat wilderness area comprising an integral complex of five mires separated by unregulated rivers with floodplain meadows shared by Tartu, Jõgeva, and Viljandi Counties. The area is the largest one left in Estonia with almost no human influence. In recent years, 191 bird species have been recorded. Almost half the area was possessed by the Soviet army until 1991, and some of that was used as a bombing training area, but the rest has almost no human influence, with only 15 to 20 permanent human inhabitants. The 90%-state-owned site is seasonally important for traditional berry-picking.
Emajõe Suursoo Mire and Piirissaar Island is a 32,600 ha. more or less flat wilderness area composed of different types of peatland, rivers, lakes, coasts and island, in Tartu County. The hydrology is largely influenced by Lake Peipsi. It's an important spawning ground for many fish species and an important moulting and staging area for waterfowl. Tourism and recreation are important pursuits, including sport fishing, waterfowl hunting, and boating, and birdwatching is being developed. In local villages, traditional land use, fishery and architecture practices have been preserved, and the Piirissar area presents a mix of Estonian and Russian cultures. The site is mainly state-owned at present, but many inhabited and formerly inhabited areas may be privatized in the near future.
The Endla Nature Reserve (8,020 ha), comprising peat bogs, lakes and rivers, and swamp forests across Jõgeva, Järva, and Lääne-Viru Counties in eastern Estonia, is one of the most important freshwater systems in the country. It is home to three rare and endangered species of orchid. With about 100 inhabitants, there is limited forest use and agriculture, and sport fishing, education, and scientific research are increasingly pursued.
The Hiiumaa Islets and Käina Bay site (17,700 ha) is a complex of coastline and small islands on the southeast coast of Hiiumaa Island, which in turns lies off the west coast of the Estonian mainland. The area is hydrologically highly prized for prevention of coastal erosion, sediment trapping, maintenance of water quality, and support of food chains. Here, too, rich communities of endangered orchids can be found. The mix of state and private lands supports about 100 inhabitants but is an important area for fishing and ecotourism, as well as for environmental education, scientific research, and curative sea mud (!).
Muraka Nature Reserve, in Ida-Viru Country, is one of the few extensive wilderness areas still surviving in northeastern Estonia, in the main industrial and most polluted part of the republic. The 12,400-ha. site and the surrounding area act as a buffer between the oil-shale basin and agricultural areas. Mostly peatland, with 60% bogs, 25% fens, and 15% transition bogs, within the site, primeval forests occur in the surrounding area. There are no permanent inhabitants in this state-owned site, but berry-picking is an important activity in season.
Nigula Nature Reserve, 4,651 ha in Pärnu County, is a mire complex about 9.5km long and 3.5km wide that can be divided into three parts. The western massif is the oldest part; its development started at the end of the preboreal climatic period (10,200-9,300 years ago). The younger northern and eastern massifs have been separated from it by four "bog islands." The site has very good possibilities for environmental education as there is a 6.8km footpath running through different mire biotopes and a bog island. Nigula is the only long-term monitoring site for mire birds in Estonia (since 1968), and now has a field research station and accommodations for 20+ visitors. The site was designated as an Important Bird Area in 1989.
The Puhtu-Laelatu-Nehatu Wetland Complex consists of two parts. The Puhtu-Laelatu wetland (4,050 ha) is a chain of shallow inland bays or lagoons on the coast of Läänemaa County, some 115 km southwest of Tallinn, and is an important stop-over and transit migration place for waterfowl. Nehatu mire (590 ha) lies a bit inland in a former lagoon. The complex boasts some 2000 species of invertebrates, some new to science.
Soomaa National Park, 37,169 ha in Pärnu and Viljandi Counties, is the most valuable part of the extensive wilderness area remaining in southwest Estonia. Part of the site, Kuresoo Bog, is one of the two best-preserved large bogs in the country, and its species diversity is among the highest. Regular flooding has led to interesting local architectural adaptations and use of archaic single-tree one-piece boats.
Vilsandi National Park in Saare County and the west side of Saaremaa Island covers a large wilderness area (24,100 ha) of varied coastal landscape with archipelago with as many as 160 islands and islets, as well as shallow bays and sand dunes. Along the shore are many relict lakes. Important historical and folk-cultural heritages are maintained in the area.