Estonia Estonia Estonia Estonia

Forestry and Peatlands Estonia

Forestry in numbers

Almost half of the land surface is covered by forests (ca 47%), one-third is agricultural land (cropland 28% and pastures 7%), around 2% is under settlements and the rest of the territory is covered by mires and bogs. There are about 1,450 natural and man-made lakes in Estonia (6.1 per cent of the country’s territory) (1).

Based on the total forested area (49%), Estonia is ranked fifth in Europe after Finland, Sweden, Slovenia and Latvia. By quantity of timber per capita, Estonia is only beaten by the forest-rich Scandinavian countries of Finland and Sweden. According to the volume of growing stock, the proportions favour coniferous trees, which form 54% of the stock of growing forests. Deciduous trees make up 46% (1).

The forest area has tripled in between 1920 and 2000, and more than doubled in the second half of the last century. In 2000 there were around 400,000-500,000 hectares of abandoned agricultural lands in Estonia, most likely to be afforested. This will make forestry more important in the future.Since the 1950s, Estonia has been in a situation where the annual cut in forests is less than 50% of the annual growth increment, which has resulted in an increasing growing stock of forests (2).

The three most widespread tree species are Scots pine, Norway spruce and birch. As predominant tree species, they account for 82% of the forested land and 76% of the stock of growing forest. The next three species are aspen, grey and black alder. These species form 16% of the area of forested land and 20% of the stock of growing forests (1).

In 2008, the value added by woodworking industry in current prices was 271 million EUR, which made up 1.9% of the total GDP value added. The structure of Estonia’s forest-based industry consists of all of the main branches of the forest industry. The pulp and paper industry is, however, relatively small. The strongest sector of the Estonian industry is sawmilling (1).

Shifts in forestry due to climate change

Globally, based on both satellite and ground-based data, climatic changes seemed to have a generally positive impact on forest productivity since the middle of the 20th century, when water was not limiting (34).

Climate change is likely to result in faster forest growth because of higher CO2 concentrations and additional nutrients in the air. Climate change is not the only factor that could affect forest growth rates. Most factors influencing forests and forestry are related directly or indirectly to human actions, especially drainage, intensity of forest management, market changes, and game management. Climate change should be considered within the context of other factors that are changing at different speeds and to different extents (2).

One cannot expect drastic changes in the species composition of Estonian forests over the next 100-200 years: although during the last 12,000 years there have been many remarkable changes in the Estonian climate, no Estonian tree species (Scotch pine, Norway spruce, birches, alders, aspen) have disappeared in Estonian territory (2).

The present forest species composition in Estonia is the result of both climate and human influences. … In the commercial forests planned for harvesting during the 21st century (established mostly in the 20th century), the possible change of species as a result of forest renewal, cleaning, and thinning will also forcefully override the changes caused by climate. In the 3% of all forests where no human activity is allowed, no adaptation problems can arise. The intra-species genome diversity provides additional flexibility to handle the results of a warming climate during the next century (3).

Vulnerabilities - Overview

The increased vulnerability of forests (and people) with respect to climate change refers to several impacts (27,33):

  • Forest cover: conversion of forests to non-woody energy plantations; accelerated deforestation and forest degradation; increased use of wood for domestic energy.
  • Biodiversity: alteration of plant and animal distributions; loss of biodiversity; habitat invasions by non-native species; alteration of pollination systems; changes in plant dispersal and regeneration.
  • Productivity: changes in forest growth and ecosystem biomass; changes in species/site relations; changes in ecosystem nitrogen dynamics.
  • Health: increased mortality due to climate stresses; decreased health and vitality of forest ecosystems due to the cumulative impacts of multiple stressors; deteriorating health of forest-dependent peoples.
  • Soils and water: changes in the seasonality and intensity of precipitation, altering the flow regimes of streams; changes in the salinity of coastal forest ecosystems; increased probability of severe droughts; increased terrain instability and soil erosion due to increased precipitation and melting of permafrost; more/earlier snow melt resulting in changes in the timing of peak flow and volume in streams. The capacity of the forest ecosystem to purify water is an important service, obviating the cost of expensive filtration plants.
  • Carbon cycles: alteration of forest sinks and increased CO2 emissions from forested ecosystems due to changes in forest growth and productivity.
  • Tangible benefits of forests for people: changes in tree cover; changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in availability of specific forest products (timber, non-timber wood products and fuel wood, wild foods, medicines, and other non-wood forest products).
  • Intangible services provided by forests: changes in the incidence of conflicts between humans and wildlife; changes in the livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples (also a tangible benefit); changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in the cultural, religious and spiritual values associated with particular forests.


Increasing CO2 concentration can affect tree growth through increased photosynthetic rates and through improved water-use efficiency. There will be complex interactions, however: forest growth rates may well be increased in some cases by rising levels of atmospheric CO2, but rising temperatures, higher evaporation rates and lower rainfall may lower growth rates in other cases (18).

Non-timber products

Increasingly there are concerns about the productivity of non-timber products such as medicines and foods. Relatively little information is available in the scientific literature about the sustainable management of such products, and even less is known about their vulnerability to climate change (27).


Pests and diseases

The most numerous and dangerous trunk pest in Estonia has always been the spruce bark beetle. Mortality due to low winter temperatures has regulated its numbers. Lately, however, this pest has survived better during the milder winters. Weather conditions during its flying period in late April and early May are also important. Even a short period of dry and warm weather is then a good precondition for its successful development (1). With climate change, trunk pests may have not one but two generations per year (2).

With further climate warming in Estonia, changes in the dynamics of forest pests and damages caused by them are likely. The damaged forest area, which has increased in the last decades, is likely to further increase in the future. Reproduction outbreaks of pests that feed on coniferous and broad-leaved trees will occur more often. The preconditions for the immigration of southern dendrofagous insects will improve. Tree-resistance to trunk pests will decrease due to droughts, especially in the best spruce sites (2).

Root rot, with its widespread distribution, can be regarded as the most dangerous fungal disease in Estonian forests. Nearly 20% of the 1989-1994 clear cuttings involved urgent cutting of stands damaged by root rot. The data indicate an increasing role of this disease. Climate change and an increase in average temperatures will make environmental conditions for the spread of root rot more favorable. More damaged areas and hence heavier economic loss may occur in coniferous stands. Such a situation will not be realistic for broad-leaved stands in the near future (2).

Forest fires

As Estonia’s climate is rather cool and mostly with sufficient precipitation, the amount of land area damaged by forest fires has remained relatively stable. The damaged stands have been cleaned in time, and so the possible multiplication of forest pests after fire has been avoided. The danger of forest fires will increase with increasing droughts, and there has been a remarkable increase of them during the recent years. As 60% of forest fires happen in May and June, the increasing spring-summer droughts will obviously increase the danger of forest fires (1,2).


Reduced availability of timber due to the inaccessibility of forest resources on wet soils outside the frost period will pose a threat to the forest industry (1).

Damage by game

Damages caused by game have also played a great role in forest health and productivity over the last decades. The most numerous cervines in Estonia are roe deer, moose, and red deer. The first two have been the main inhabitants in Estonian forests. Red deer were introduced to Estonia in the end of the 19th century. The population of this species has increased due to the migration from the northern parts of Latvia. Essential preconditions for the migration can be thin snow cover and relatively mild winters. The number of roe deer and red deer are likely to increase with climate change. Consequently, it can be projected that increasing damages by cervines will occur, mainly in young forest stands (2,6).


Mires and peatlands cover 22% of Estonia. Increased peat production and paludification in response to increased precipitation is expected. The groundwater table is expected to increase if precipitation increases and this will most likely lead to increased paludification (6).

Vulnerabilities – Temperate forests in Europe

Present situation

In parts of Europe with temperate forests, annual mean temperatures are below 17°C but above 6°C, and annual precipitation is at least 500 mm and there is a markedly cool winter period (7). Temperate forests are dominated by broad-leaf species with smaller amounts of evergreen broad-leaf and needle-leaf species (8). Common species include the oaks, eucalypts, acacias, beeches, pines, and birches.

Many of the major factors that influence these forests are due to human activities, including land-use and landscape fragmentation, pollution, soil nutrients and chemistry, fire suppression, alteration to herbivore populations, species loss, alien invasive species, and now climate change (9).

Forest productivity has been increasing in western Europe (10). This is thought to be from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (11), anthropogenic nitrogen deposition (12), warming temperatures (13), and associated longer growing seasons (14).


Most models predict continuing trends of modestly increasing forest productivity in Western Europe over this century (15). Projections for the time near the end of the next century generally suggest decreasing growth and a reduction in primary productivity enhancement as temperatures warm, CO2 saturation is reached for photosynthetic enhancement, and reduced summer precipitation all interact to decrease temperate zone primary productivity (16). The projected increased occurrence of pests, particularly in drought-stressed regions, also contributes to decreased long-term primary productivity in some regions of temperate forests  (17).

Sensitivity to increasing air pollution loads, particularly nitrogen deposition and tropospheric ozone, will impact large areas of the northern temperate forest over the next century. In the temperate domain, air pollution is expected to interact with climate change; while the fertilization effects from nitrogen deposition are still highly uncertain, pollutants such as ozone are known to diminish primary productivity (18).


The ranges of northern temperate forests are predicted to extend into the boreal forest range in the north and upward on mountains (19). The distribution of temperate broadleaved tree species is typically limited by low winter temperatures (20). Since the latter are projected to rise more rapidly than summer temperatures in Europe and North America, temperate broad-leaved tree species may profit and invade currently boreal areas more rapidly than other temperate species.

Carbon sinks/sources

Temperate forest regions in the highly productive forests of western Europe (21) are known to be robust carbon sinks, although increased temperature may reduce this effect through loss of carbon from soils (22). Weaker carbon sinks or even carbon losses are seen for temperate forests in areas prone to periodic drought, such as southern Europe (23).

Models suggest that the greatest climate change threat to temperate forest ecosystems is reduced summer precipitation, leading to increased frequency and severity of drought (24). This will probably be most prominent in temperate forest regions that have already been characterized as prone to drought stress, such as southern Europe. Drought-stricken forests are also more susceptible to opportunistic pests and fire (25). Together, these related effects can potentially change large areas of temperate forest ecosystems from carbon sinks to sources.

Benefits from climate change

Generally, an increase in the availability of all major nutrients (N, P, Ca, Mg, K, S) can be expected as a result of the increased circulation of nutrients in the soil-vegetation system. This will be caused by the increasing water fluxes through soil and higher organic matter decomposition rates at increasing temperature. Also, nutrient circulation will additionally increase due to higher growth rates of forest species at increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration and warmer temperature. The increased availability of nutrients, particularly of N, clearly favors the further increase in forest biomass (4).

The additional wood biomass growth during the 21st century is predicted to be from 2.5 to almost 9%. Increase in harvestable timber can be assumed to be similar as it forms a proportional part of the whole woody biomass. It can be concluded that the present and short-term change in climatic conditions in Estonia is favorable to forest growth conditions (4).

Timber production in Europe

Climate change will probably increase timber production and reduce prices for wood products in Europe. For 2000–2050 a change of timber production in Europe is expected of -4 to +5%. For 2050–2100 an increase is expected of +2 to +13% (26).

Wood production

In general, management has a greater influence on wood production in Europe than climate or land-use change. Forest management is influenced more strongly by actions outside the forest sector, such as trade and policies, than from within (5).

During the next decade the absolute amount of timber production is increasing. During the last 80 years Estonian forest area has almost doubled and is still increasing. Due to changes in agriculture a lot of agricultural land is abandoned and will be most likely forested. The importance of forestry in the Estonian economy is most likely steadily decreasing because other sectors, industry and transit services, are increasing more rapidly. The overall increase in production in the next 60 years is probably less than 20% (6).

Increased wind damages, especially in northern and western Europe, may more frequently result in an imbalance in orderly harvesting procedures with increased costs and disturb timber markets with an imbalance between the supply and demand of timber (6).

Wood-processing industry

Future forest policy and the consequent management should also balance the increasing capacity of forests to sequestrate carbon and the potentials to increase the supply of  timber into the inner markets of Europe, while sustaining wood-using industries. The possible shift of tree species composition towards increasing dominance of hardwoods may affect the wood-processing techniques and this should be considered in future investments (6).

Adaptation strategies

Based on present knowledge, the impact of the man-made changes is likely to overshadow the impact of climate change in Estonia in 2090 (2).

The variability of forest site types, stands, and their functions in Estonia makes it useless to give classic recommendations for adaptation like definite choice of tree species, rotation period, cutting methods, and so forth (4).

Natural adaptability of more diverse stands (mixed, random spacing of trees, micro-variation of site conditions, large variation of tree size, and so forth) is high, since diversity guarantees smooth and well-timed self thinning of the stand and enough growth factors for the remaining trees. The genetic diversity of tree species is an additional factor supporting natural adaptation (4).

The older the stand, the higher the risk is of fungal, insect, or wind damage. Accordingly, the adaptability of the commercial forest as a set of stands can be increased by avoiding the over-maturing of stands (4).

Bearing in mind the poor competence to predict political, economic, technological and other man-made changes in forestry, one has to conclude that the most efficient way to promote adaptation is through strategies based on permanent monitoring of the present situation and a flexible decision-making system (2).

Flexible adaptation has been indispensable in Estonian forestry. The forest area has tripled in between 1920 and 2000 and more than doubled in Estonia during the second half of the previous century. Drastic changes in the species composition of Estonian forests have occurred due to the damage by the human controlled moose population, but to some extent also due to diseases. The changes in Estonian forestry due to the direct influence of a possible climate change can be predicted to be at least an order weaker than the changes mentioned above (2).

Given the many positive impacts of climate change in Estonia, climate adaptation may appear trivial in relation to other, more pressing needs (2).

Adaptation strategies - Forest management measures in general

Near-nature forest management and a move away from monocultures toward mixed forest types, in terms of both species and age classes, are advocated. In addition, natural or imitated natural regeneration is indicated as a method of maintaining genetic diversity, and subsequently reducing vulnerability. For management against extreme disturbances, improvements in fire detection and suppression techniques are recommended, as well as methods for combating pests and diseases. It is reported that through stricter quarantine and sanitary management, the impact of insects and diseases can be minimized. The establishment of migration corridors between forest reserves may aid in the autonomous colonization and migration of species in response to climate change (31).

Adaptive management

The terms adaptation and adaptive management are often incorrectly used interchangeably. The former involves making adjustments in response to or in anticipation of climate change whereas the latter describes a management system that may be considered, in itself, to be an adaptation tactic (28). Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programmes (29). It involves recognizing uncertainty and establishing methodologies to test hypotheses concerning those uncertainties; it uses management as a tool not only to change the system but to learn about the system (30).

Both the climate and forest ecosystems are constantly changing, and managers will need to adapt their strategies as the climate evolves over the long term. An option that might be appropriate today given expected changes over the next 20 years may no longer be appropriate in 20 years’ time. This will require a continuous programme of actions, monitoring and evaluation – the adaptive management approach described above (27).

There is a widespread assumption that the forest currently at a site is adapted to the current conditions, but this ignores the extent to which the climate has changed over the past 200–300 years, and the lag effects that occur in forests. As a result, replacement of a forest by one of the same composition may no longer be a suitable strategy (27).

Adaptation to climate change has started to be incorporated into all levels of governance, from forest management to international forest policy. Often these policies are not adopted solely in response to climate, and may occur in the absence of knowledge about longer-term climate change. They often serve more than one purpose, including food and fuel provision, shelter and minimizing erosion, as well as adapting to changing climatic conditions (31).

Socio-economic and political conditions have significant influences on vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Climate change projections are perceived by many forest managers as too uncertain to support long-term and potentially costly decisions that may be difficult to reverse. Similarly, uncertainty over future policy developments may also constrain action. Finance is a further barrier to implementing adaptation actions in the forest sector (32).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Estonia.

  1. Ministry of the Environment of Estonia (2009)
  2. O’Brien (ed.) (2000)
  3. Màtyàs (1997), in: Nilson et al. (1999)
  4. Nilson et al. (1999)
  5. Schröter et al. (2005)
  6. Kellomäki et al. (2000)
  7. Walter (1979), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  8. Melillo et al. (1993), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  9. Reich and Frelich (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  10. Carrer and Urbinati (2006), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  11. Field et al. (2007b), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  12. Hyvönen et al. (2007); Magnani et al. (2007), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  13. Marshall et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  14. Chmielewski and Rötzer (2001); Parmesan (2006), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  15. Alcamo et al. (2007); Field et al. (2007b); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  16. Lucht et al. (2006); Scholze et al. (2006); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  17. Williams et al. (2000); Williams and Liebhold (2002); Logan and Powell (2001); Tran et al. (2007); Friedenberg et al. (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  18. Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  19. Iverson and Prasad (2001); Ohlemüller et al. (2006); Fischlin et al. (2007); Golubyatnikov and Denisenko (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  20. Perry et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  21. Liski et al. (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  22. Piao et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  23. Morales et al. (2007), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  24. Christensen et al. (2007); Fischlin et al. (2007); Meehl et al. (2007); Schneider et al. (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  25. Hanson and Weltzin (2000), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  26. Karjalainen et al. (2003); Nabuurs et al. (2002); Perez-Garcia et al. (2002); Sohngen et al. (2001), in: Osman-Elasha and Parrotta (2009)
  27. Innes (ed.) (2009)
  28. Ogden and Innes (2007), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  29. BCMOF (2006a), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  30. Holling (1978); Lee (1993, 2001), all in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  31. Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  32. Keskitalo (2008), in: Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  33. Kirilenko and Sedjo (2007)
  34. Boisvenue et al. (2006)