Time to go, winter is coming

I don’t know where to begin, it’s really hard to describe how I’m feeling now. One part of me wants to go home, but the other part doesn’t want to leave Estonia which had been my home in the last months. Looking back on this time makes me glad that I chose this project and country.

One of our first task: building greenhouses for toads in Penijõe. (Photo by Lena Blumenberg)

I can recommend European Voluntary Service for everyone. The first thing it’s basically free: the flight tickets, accommodation, food and the insurance is covered by the European Commission. You can live in an another country, do something positive, learn about yourself and make new friends. It’s truly a unique opportunity and every young people should do it. One of the best decisions of my life!

International group on a kiiking swing In Lahemaa NP. (Photo by Lily Thibaut)

Before coming here I was living in Budapest and although I was never really into nature, I really wanted to make a change from city life to something that’s more connected to nature. Coming here was a great choice because I feel I got really close to nature, we traveled all around a country visiting beautiful landscapes and restoring habitats for different kind of animal species.

I learned a lot during our working holidays, for example how to use and fix a chainsaw and a brush cutter. Also about nature conservation and semi-natural habitats and animal species. Not to mention Estonian culture and history.I discovered about myself that I’m a sauna enthusiasts. A hot sauna next to a nice cold lake or stream in the forest is a sanctuary for the body and the soul. 

Running with burning juniper. (Photo by Peter Reeve)

I think ELF is doing a great job with organizing talgud. It’s a great way for involve people in nature conservation, and for participants to meet other people and discover new places. All camps were special in a way, but the international ones were my favorite because they are longer and have more time to make a team. Also it’s a great experience meeting people from around the world. This experience really opened up the world for me. ELF did a great job about our project as well, most of the things went very smoothly, I had nothing to complain about, they were always very helpful.

Blueberry face painting on Vormsi island. (Photo by Peter Reeve)

So here’s a suur-suur aitäh for everyone who have been cool to us in the past 6 months: to the guys working at ELF who had made this all possible for us and helped us during our service, to our mentors who have been always kind and helpful to us, to the local Estonian camp leaders and volunteers with whom – I really hope – we made some positive difference in the nature.

Making new friends at Kabli Bird Station. (Photo by Tauri Tampuu)

I have to go home now, but I’m sure it’s not my last time here in this charming country. I have to come back to see the Estonian winter and to try your saunas in when there’s snow and ice everywhere.

I say goodbye with my favorite Estonian singer 😀

Last talgud and sharing experiences with youngsters

Our voluntary service is coming to the end, so we had our last talgud in Pudisoo (Lahemaa NP) where the camp leaders gathered around to share their experiences about the finishing season.  We are not strangers in Pudisoo: this was our fourth time there, we had worked a lot to restore the river for the freshwater pearl mussel during the summer.

Last stroll in Lahemaa National Park. (Photo by Bálint Pinke)

Before this talgud we also gave two presentations for youngsters about EVS in general and about our voluntary project in Estonia. The first one was in a high school, the second was in the Tartu’s environmental education center. It was a good experience to speak in public about our work. We hope that we inspired a few of the kids in the audience to volunteer in an other country and in Estonia as well.

Talking about our work in front of a class. (Photo by Triin Nõu)

Ringing birds at Kabli Bird Station

After the mid-term training we went straight to Kabli Bird Station, where we helped out for the next three days. The station is near the Latvian border, and also near Nigula bog where we have already spent a few day on talgud. The station is used to study the autumn migration of birds from the end of August until the beginning of November.

Marisol is extricating a blue tit out of the net. (Photo by Bálint Pinke)

After catching a bird, first you have to remove it from the trap as soon as possible. Then you have to determine the species, gender, age, weight, the length of the wings and only after these you can put the ring on the leg of the bird. The first day was a record number with ringing 600 birds, but on the next day it was even more with almost 700.

Mid-term training in Kloogaranna

Our EVS mid-term training took place in Kloogaranna Youth Camp next to the sea from 20th to 22nd of September. The aim of this training was to share bad and good experiences with the other volunteers and the trainer. We had a lot of different exercise to think about our project and life in Estonia, how to embrace our situation in our work and learn about ourself.

Also on the second day we took a big hike along the seashore which is a paradise for birds.  The training was also a great way to meet with our fellow volunteer friends who we have met on the arrival training.

Our group. (Photo by Laura Garcia)

International camp in Pivarootsi and Vormsi island

Between August 31st and September 9th we participated in another international volunteer camp. The first half took place in Pivarootsi near Virtsu, the second on Vormsi island. In both camps we had to clear an area of junipers and other bushes. Like the other international camps this was also spent in good mood. Meeting different people from all around the globe is always an exciting experience.

Candy break in Pivarootsi. (Photo by Sachiko Masuda)

After work and between camps we also had time to hike in the forest, enjoy a beautiful view on a watchtower in Matsalu Bay, visit the town of Lihula and Haapsalu. And of course in the evenings there was always sauna, which is an inevitable part of a long workday.

The cemetery of Vormsi. (Photo by Peter Reeve)

Vormsi is an interesting small island between the mainland and Hiiumaa. For centuries Swedish families were living here which you can still capture in the names of the settlements on Vormsi. We visited the local chapel, it’s basetones dates back ancient times. Next to the chapel there’s the local cemetery with crosses like on the pictures which is now the symbol of the island. On our free day we made some face and hair painting with the blueberry that we found in the forest.

All along the lighthouse in Vormsi. (Photo by Sachiko Masuda‎)

International camp in Lahemaa and on Osmussare island

Between 6th and 16th of August we participated in our second 10-days international camp. In the first half we stayed in Pudisoo, Lahemaa National Park to continue our conservational work in Pudisoo river to restore the natural habitat for freshwater pearlmussel (Margaritifera margaritifera). After spending 5 days in Lahemaa NP, we took a boat from Dirham port to Osmussare island.

Happy volunteers on the boat to Osmussare. (Photo by Helena Stamberg)

The island located in north-west Estonia, 6 km from the mainland, in the entrance of the Gulf of Finland. According to legends the viking chief god, Odin is buried here.

The island like other parts of West-Estonia had Swedish population in the previous centuries. Before the Second World War seven Swedish families lived on the island who then fled to their home country. The island location also attracted the military: you can still find and explore abandoned soviet artillery bases and military bunkers on the shore.

Sunset with light tower on Osmussare. (Photo by Nerea Castibe)

Our work was clearing the area of junipers and burn the piles that the previous group left. In the afternoons we had a special task: to gather the sheep together that wander freely around on the island. At first it was quite tricky because some of them run into the woods and we had to find them again. After getting some experience we managed very well to gather them in one place.

Reintroduction of Bufo calamita in Manija

From 30st of July to 2st of August we were in Manija, a beautiful island in Pärnu bay. In this talgud we were working for the benefit of Bufo calamita, natterjack toad. On the first day, we released young frogs, coming from the Penijõe amphibian restoration centre. A few months ago we were building tents for them in Penijõe, you can read more about it here.

Bálint is cutting common reed grass. (Photo by Marisol Santamaria)

On this island the small scale agriculture is ecological and frogs are a good help because they eat insects that influence some agricultural crops. We were cutting common reed grass because natterjack toad needs open habitat. They live on the ground so if the grass is too high they have difficulties to find food.

Marisol is gathering reed. (Photo by Tiia Päkk)

In shorter vegetation it is also easier for them to move. It is especially crucial in the reproduction moment, when the males are calling females. If the grass is too high, females cannot reach male frogs. The cut reed was accumulated in small piles to dry. Later these piles will be burned as there is no use for the reed.

The place after our work (by Marisol)
The place after our work. (Photo by Marisol Santamaria)

International camps for freshwater pearl mussel

The international camps are focusing on restoring the habitat for freshwater pearl mussel (latin name Margaritifera margaritifera). Also this year is about flowing rivers so here’s some information about this species.

The freshwater pearl mussel is one of the longest-living invertebrates in existence. This species has been exploited until the mid- twentieth century for the production of beads for jewelry, before the discovery in the eighteenth century tropical pearl oysters. Now it only can be founded in one river in Estonia. The longevity of this species is remarkable, as it varies between 20 and 30 years for individuals who live in warmer waters of Southern Europe, to more than 150 years for those living in Scandinavia.

Freshwater pearl mussels in Pudisoo river in Estonia. (Photo by Pille Pirn)


Habitats in red on the map.

The native distribution of this species is Holarctic. The freshwater pearl mussel can be found on both sides of the Atlantic, from the Arctic and temperate regions of western Russia, through Europe to northeastern North America.

Life cycle:

Life cycle of freshwater pearl mussel.

The life cycle of the pearl oyster is associated with the trout and Atlantic salmon because these shellfish larvae grow to coat the gills of the fish, and only them. Once the fertilization (the sexes are separated), the larva, called a glochidium is incubated by the female for four weeks. When it reaches the size of 0.05 mm, the larva is released into the river and fixed on the gill apparatus of a brown trout or an Atlantic salmon. This parasitic phase usually lasts several weeks (up to 10 months), after which the glochidium becomes a real bivalve miniature 0.5 mm. The mollusk is then fixed on the substrate and continues to grow, reaching sexual maturity at age 20.


They require fast-flowing streams and clean rivers, where it lives buried or partly buried in fine gravel and coarse sand, generally in water at depths between 0.5 and 2 metres, but sometimes at greater depths. Clean gravel and sand is essential, particularly for juvenile freshwater pearl mussels, for if the stream or river bottom becomes clogged with silt, they cannot obtain oxygen and will die. Also essential is the presence of a healthy population of salmonids, a group of fish including salmon and trout, on which the freshwater pearl mussel relies for part of its life cycle.The freshwater pearl oyster is a filter animal that feeds on particles carried by currents.

Threats and conservation:

The freshwater pearl mussel is completely protected in most European countries. (Photo by Pille Pirn)

Once the most abundant bivalve mollusc in ancient rivers around the world, numbers of the freshwater pearl mussel are now declining in all countries and this species is nearly extinct in many areas. The causes of this decline are not fully understood, but alteration and degradation of its freshwater habitat undoubtedly plays a central role. The negative impacts humans have on rivers and streams come from a wide range of activities such as river regulation, drainage, sewage disposal, dredging, and water pollution, including the introduction of excess nutrients. Anything that affects the abundance of the fish hosts will also affect the freshwater pearl mussel; for example, the introduction of exotic fish species, such as the rainbow trout, reduces the number of native fish hosts. Introduced species are also directly affecting the freshwater pearl mussel; the invasion of the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), which has been spread to new locations by being transported on the bottom of boats or in ballast waters, has impacted freshwater pearl mussel populations in all countries it has invaded.

Removing branches from river. (Photo by Pille Pirn)

The freshwater pearl mussel, which is completely protected in most European countries, has been the focus of a significant amount of conservation efforts. Measures have included the transfer of adult mussels to areas where it had gone extinct, the culture of juvenile mussels, and the release of juvenile trout, which have been infected with glochidia, into small rivers, but mainly the freshwater pearl mussel has benefited from habitat restoration projects in some areas. Due to the essential role salmonid fish play in the life of the freshwater pearl mussel, the conservation of salmon and trout is also central in the survival of this endangered freshwater mussel.

Restoring coastal meadows in Matsalu National Park

After we finished our camp in Lahemaa, we went to Matsalu National Park with the international volunteer group to restore coastal meadows. The main task was to clear a bigger area of junipers and smaller trees, so that the nearby farm can use it for grazing cows. But from the work not just the farm, but the birds are benefited too. Matsalu Bay is famous among bird-watchers. The coast of the bay are an important place for a lot of migrating birds species what are prefer the coastal meadows without trees and junipers.

Coastal meadow before and after restoration (Photo by Marisol Santamaria)

But we had time to hike on the nearby hike-trail, visited a few watchtower and also the farm as well. We were staying in the local school, where we also played team building games and played football on the school’s field. On the last evening of the camp we made a huge pile of the junipers and made a huge bonfire. It was really an awesome sight!

Bonfire on the last night. (Photo by Louis Berthier)

Easily this was the one of best camps. We made a great team with the international volunteers, everybody was very enthusiastic and determined about the work. We also cooked traditional dishes, so we had French, Czech, Danish, Korean, Spanish and Hungarian meals. So thank you guys for the 10 days together and hope to see you again some time!

Restoring river for freshwater pearl mussel in Lahemaa National Park

Making curves in the river blank. (Photo by Louis Berthier)

From 16st of July to 20st of July we were again in Lahemaa National Park to work for the benefit of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) with an international team and some Estonian people. It was a very good experience that we shared with very nice people.

The work was focused in restoring part of the river mussel was once found. This part of the river was very straight, without curves. Due to it the water flows very fast and sediments are stirring and the freshwater pearl mussel is not able to live in these conditions.

To alternate the river bank and make it more curvy, we made small barriers from branches. Now the river is with curves, more natural and the water flows slower, the sediments settle before the barriers, leaving the rest of the river without sediment and cleaner. So, we hope now the place will be better and in the future the freshwater pearl mussel is going to live again in this part of the river.

grouppicture in lahemaa
Team Margaritifera margaritifera. (Photo by Lily Thibaut)

We also want to express our gratitude to everybody who was working in this talgud, as everybody was working with enthusiasm, energy and helping each other.