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.

Restoring alvars on Kesselaid

For the next talgud we left the mainland with a group of Estonian volunteers to work on a tiny island called Kesselaid. Getting to Kesselaid can be tricky, but not if you are volunteering with ELF. From the port of Virtsu tooks 45 minutes to get to Kesselaid by boat and if you are lucky you can manage to get there with dry clothes. We weren’t lucky, the weather was windy, there were big waves on the sea, so everybody got completely soaked until the end of the journey.

When we were still dry. (Bálint and Marisol in the middle) Photo by Kaia Kask

The aim of this conservational holiday was restoring alvars, clearing the island from junipers and pines. Alvars are semi-natural grasslands with a thin layer of lime-rich soil on a limestone base.  This type of land-space was wide-spread in Estonia a century ago, but not anymore. The first day we cleared a bigger area from junipers and pines, also we burned them. The next day we cleared a pathway, making it wider.

Clearing a pathway from junipers. (Marisol on the right) Photo by Bálint Pinke

We were camping next to the shore the whole time, sleeping in tents, cooking on fire and washing and cleaning in the sea. It was quite nice to be far away from civilization and was hard to leaving the island. After two days of work we had the chance to experience what is like to be on a swimming sauna. You can approach the sauna by boat and of course you can always swim.

Swimming sauna on the sea. (Photo by Karin Küünarpuu)

Working for the freshwater pearl mussel in Lahemaa National Park

From 29/06/2015 to 01/07/2015 we were working in Lahemaa National Park for the benefit of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera).
Volunteer conservation holiday leaders were Eva-Maria and Pille from Estonia, but in the group we also had four international people from India, Hong kong and Bangladesh. The native distribution of this species is Holarctic.

Freshwater pearl mussels can be found only in one river in Estonia. (Photo by Pille Pirn)

In Estonia they only live in one river in Lahemaa NP Freshwater pearl mussel is endangered worldwide. This species needs clean and sediment free water. They also need a good population of salmons, who are host organism for the larva. 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. The freshwater pearl oyster is a filter animal that feeds on particles carried by currents.

Removing branches from a beaver dam. (Photo by Pille Pirn)

During this talgud we removed some abandoned beaver dams, because they accumulate sediment and prevent the fish from crossing it. In Estonia there are too many beavers at the moment and it starts to affect other species. We only took the necessary branches for the water flow, respecting the rest, because the dams are very important refuge places for a lot of aquatic animals, including young fish and some birds use it as a resting place.

Building dams in Nigula bog

From 25th to 28th of June we were working in the bogs of Nigula Nature Reserve. This is one of the oldest bog reserves in Estonia, which was established in 1957 to preserve Nigula bog and the forest surrounding it. Located in South-West of Estonia near the Latvian border the nature reserve is part of the North-Livonian transboundary wetlands and forests complex.

Building dam in the bog (Bálint and Marisol). Photo by Toomas Muuli and Pille Pirn

Our main task was damming old ditches to keep the water level high in the bog. High water level is crucial for the bog-ecosystem, because this type of landscapes are basically big natural water reservoirs. In  the bog the conservation work means to prevent water flow away from the bog to keep the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Rare sight: an Estonian bog-mermaid in a pond of Nigula. (Photo by Pille Pirn)

Nigula Nature Reserve is part of the Põhja-Liivimaa bird area, which has a very diverse landscapes: you can find different wetlands, forests, natural and intensively used fields as well. The bird area is a resting place for the migratory geese, swans and cranes. The area is also inhabited by large mammals (lynx, wolf and brown bear) and here you can also find the very rare and endangered flying squirrel.

Bogs are large natural water reservoirs. (Photo by Pille Pirn)

After 2 days of hard work before leaving Nigula bog,  we took a big hike trough the forest and the bog. If you want to visit the bog there a few rules that you have to keep mind. Within the strict nature reserve zone of Nigula bog all types of human activity is prohibited.  Visiting the special management zones outside the hiking trails, you need to have a permission from the supervisor of the area.

Taking a long hike in the bog. (Photo by Toomas Muuli)

At Lake Peipus

Marisol is collecting branches. (Photo by Lena Blumenberg)

This talgud we spent at the biggest lake of Estonia and the fifth biggest lake of Europe named Lake Peipus. Again we worked for the conservation of amphibians – This time for Pelobates fuscus and it´s also called common spadefoot or garlic frog because it´s skin smells like garlic sometimes. For that purpose two experts joined us to guide our work and to explain us the details about the preferred environmental conditions and the behaviour of the common spadefoot. With 15 participants we cleaned the area of trees, grass, bushes, moss and trash and used rakes to loosen the ground, so that the surface is open with the sandy soil and provides the toads the possibility to dig themselves into the sand.

Also we had more responsibility preparing for talgud: we helped Aleksandr with shopping for the weekend and furthermore it was our first chance to give proof of our culinary skills.

Cooking dinner for 15 people (Lena and Bálint). (Photos by Ülo Veldre and Lena Blumenberg)

At Saturday evening Bálint and Lena cooked the supper for the whole group – one dish with meat and one vegetarian dish. It was a challenge to manage the right among of ingredients and to deal with the dishes, which we used for cooking, because we never cooked for 15 people. But in the end we cooked a nice pörkölt with boiled potatoes and tartar with fried vegetables and salads, so everybody got full and satisfied after the long day of hard work.