Why it matters
Importance of forest
Nature is not just a collection of random species, but a complex, interconnected system that is vital to our existence. It is not just a resource to be exploited or a playground to be enjoyed, but a home that we share with countless other living beings. Every creature, from the tiniest insect to the mightiest tree, has a role to play in this intricate web of life.
But we have taken this home for granted for far too long. We have polluted our air and water, cleared vast swathes of land for our own use, and caused the extinction of countless species. We have forgotten that we are not separate from nature, but a part of it.
Estonia's forests have long been respected for their natural beauty and cultural significance. Among these, there are forests that hold a special place in the hearts of many Estonians: sacred forests.
Sacred forests are home to grand old trees, a wide variety of plant and animal species, some of which are unique to Estonia. These forests are important to the cultural identity of the country and our nation, as they have played a significant role in the lives of Estonians for centuries. They are a reminder of the deep connection between humans and the natural world.
For many Estonians, visiting a sacred forest is a deeply spiritual experience that connects them to their roots and traditions. These forests are believed to be imbued with special powers, and visiting them is thought to bring good luck and blessings.
Old trees and forests support a vast array of organisms, ranging from large animals to tiny microbes. In fact, it is estimated that over 80% of terrestrial species on Earth live in forests, and many of these species are dependent on the unique microhabitats that old trees and forests provide.For example, old trees can provide nesting sites for birds and bats, while the decaying wood provides habitat for a variety of insects, fungi, and mosses. These organisms, in turn, play important roles in nutrient cycling, decomposition, and soil formation.
Insects, in particular, are incredibly important in forest ecosystems. Many insects are decomposers, breaking down dead wood and other organic matter and releasing nutrients back into the soil. Others are pollinators, helping to fertilize flowers and ensure the reproduction of plant species. Some insects are also important food sources for birds, mammals, and other predators.
Similarly, fungi and mosses play critical roles in forest ecosystems. Fungi, in particular, are essential for breaking down dead wood and other organic matter, releasing nutrients back into the soil and supporting the growth of new plant life. Mosses, on the other hand, are important for retaining moisture in the soil and preventing erosion.
Forests are incredibly important for supporting life on Earth. One of their most critical functions is their role in regulating the Earth's climate. Through photosynthesis, forests absorb and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making them crucial in mitigating the effects of climate change. In fact, forests are estimated to absorb up to 30% of global carbon emissions each year, making them an essential tool in the fight against climate change.
Forests also provide us with essential clean air and water. They act as natural filters, trapping pollutants and harmful particles that would otherwise enter our waterways and air. As a result, forests are vital for maintaining the quality of our air and water, protecting us from the health risks associated with pollution.
Additionally, forests play an essential role in reducing the risk of soil erosion and landslides. The intricate root systems of trees and other vegetation hold soil in place and prevent it from being washed away by rainfall or other natural forces. This not only helps to maintain the health of the soil, but also prevents the dangerous and destructive effects of landslides.
Estonia's forests are home to a vast array of plants and fungi that have been used for centuries in traditional medicine. In fact, Estonia is known for its unique plant diversity, with over 1,300 species of vascular plants found in the country's forests. These plants have been used to treat a variety of ailments, from respiratory infections to digestive issues.
Moreover, the non-timber forest products found in Estonian forests, such as berries and mushrooms, are an important source of nutrition for many communities around the country. Many Estonians rely on the forest's bounty for food and income, with over 1,500 tons of berries and mushrooms harvested annually in Estonia.
Aside from tangible benefits, Estonians also value forests for their recreational opportunities. Estonia's forests offer numerous hiking trails and camping areas, providing a chance to connect with nature and escape the stresses of modern life. The forests also provide an opportunity for birdwatching and photography, with over 200 bird species calling Estonia's forests home.
Alarming deforeatation rate
According to the Estonian National Forest Inventory, Estonia has around 2.3 million hectares of forest land, which covers approximately 52% of the country's total land area. Unfortunately, despite Estonia's reputation as a country with a strong tradition of forest management, the country has also experienced significant deforestation and forest degradation in recent decades.
The State Forest Management Centre reports that between 1990 and 2020, Estonia lost over 200,000 hectares of forest land, primarily due to clearcutting and monoculture practices. This amounts to a loss of around 9% of Estonia's total forest area in just 30 years. Furthermore, the country has been criticized for its reliance on monoculture forestry, which has resulted in a decrease in biodiversity and an increased risk of forest fires.
In terms of global trends, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that the world loses around 10 million hectares of forest per year. While this is a staggering figure, it is important to note that Estonia's forest loss rate is actually higher than the global average, with an average annual loss of around 6,700 hectares of forest land over the past decade.
These statistics demonstrate the urgent need for action to protect Estonia's forests and promote sustainable forestry practices.