Estonian Nature Tours: Botanical Tours in Estonia

Estonia is the smallest and least populous of the three Baltic States which achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. It is a land of great natural beauty, but still comparatively little known as a wildlife destination. However, the abundance of natural habitats is reflected in a very impressive avifauna which matches that of any other country in northern Europe.

The country has a long, indented and diverse coastline with more than 1,000 islands. Forests and woodlands cover almost half of the Estonian territory. An admirable seventeen percent of the country is afforded protection within nature reserves that vary in size from the large national parks to the smaller, locally protected reserves.

Extensive undeveloped coastal areas with wide-spread reed-beds and grasslands as well as unique untouched nature with winding rivers, vast floodplains, mires, bogs and primeval forests in the central part of the mainland are habitats for thousands of migrating and breeding birds and many species of rare mammals.

Its flora is amongst the most spectacular in northern Europe. In particular, strong influences in the country’s floral make-up come from both Siberia and also the warmer regions of southern Europe, with many plant species reaching their respective western or northern extremities of range within Estonia.

For further information on botanical tour experiences in Estonia, please visit Estonian Nature Tours.

 

Learn More About Estonia: Featured ecoDestination

Estonia is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Estonian territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Estonia often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age.

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Estonia, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Estonian Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Estonia, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Estonia and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

There’s Soomaa-ch to Discover in the European Ecotourism Hotspot of Estonia

Aivar Ruukel has made quite a name for himself in ecotourism, particularly in his native Estonia, where he grew up in the midst of the country’s largest pristine wilderness: Soomaa. Roughly translated as ‘Land of Bogs,’ the area is, in Ruukel’s words, “a vast complex of raised bogs, wet alluvial forests with fens, transition mires and unregulated rivers with flood-plain and wooded meadows.” Lesser spotted eagles, golden eagles, black storks, corn crakes, brown bears, wolves and lynx all call it home and, understandably, it is now a leading destination for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.
A traditional dugout canoe, known as a haabja in the local lingo, is the best way to explore the wilderness of Soomaa National Park. When the floods come in late March, a haabja is often the only way to get around!

Ecotourism: A Natural Evolution

While Ruukel’s interest in nature and the environment dates to his youth, his passion for ecotourism was kindled 15 years ago, when the cranberry bogs and capercaillie forests in his backyard were designated a national park. This shrewd move by the Estonian Fund for Nature not only allowed this great area of wilderness to be preserved and protected for posterity, it also ushered in new era of opportunity for tourism.

Soon after Soomaa National Park came into being, Estonia’s Rural Development Programme began a countrywide campaign to promote ecotourism as an alternative source of income for the former-Soviet collective agricultural communities of Estonia. Ruukel was selected as the lucky candidate to coordinate the project. He worked on it for two years, simultaneously running his own burgeoning eco-business that organised wilderness experience tours in and around Soomaa National Park.

His fruitful time as project coordinator made a deep impression on him. “It was a great combination of learning about ecotourism concepts and methodology, and developing my own small business at the same time, hand in hand,” Ruukel happily reflected. “I also had a wonderful mentor, Jan Wigsten, a Swedish guy who used to be a board member of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) at that time and was owner and manager of an ecotravel company in Mongolia.”

Ruukel’s dedication to the ecotourism movement is unabated, as he currently sits on the national committee of the Estonian Ecotourism Association (ESTECAS), a nongovernmental and non-profit organisation established in 1996 that he describes as “a club of passionate ecotourism activists and one of the oldest national ecotourism associations.” Additionally, he is a member of the Estonian Ecotourism Cluster, a group of local responsible travel operators who work together to develop and promote quality ecotourism products in Estonia.

Ruukel hopes one day to channel his passion and expertise in nature tourism into fulltime teaching, although for now he makes do with some lecturing at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, while pursuing a Masters degree and sharing the marvels of his home through his travel company, Karuskose Ltd, which operates the aptly-named Soomaa.com and is the whl.travel local connection in Soomaa and Pärnu.
Aivar Ruukel relaxes with a cup of coffee near the Karuskose Base Camp, his company headquarters in Soomaa National Park, during what’s known locally as the ‘fifth season’ or season of floods

A Tour for All Seasons

Karuskose organises trips to the woods, meadows, rivers and 8000-year-old peat bogs throughout the year, but activities vary according to the time of year. Soomaa has five distinct seasons instead of the usual four, and as each provides its own unique experience, there’s much to enjoy!

The wetlands are best explored by canoe, especially in late March during the so-called ‘fifth season,’ when more than 100 square kilometres of meadows and woodland becomes flooded and impassable by anything that doesn’t float. Exploring the beauty of Soomaa by canoe is a big hit with tourists, which rather perversely makes flood season the most popular time of year for visitors. Many locals still travel using traditional dugouts, called habjaas, carved from aspen trees. For those wishing to try their hand at the traditional skill of canoe building, Ruukel has been fashioning his own habjaas for many years and offers workshops that teach novices the tricks of the trade.

Of course, those wanting to see the place under their own steam can tackle the drier areas with the help of a couple of racquet-like appendages affixed to their feet. Bog shoeing and bog walking are popular all year round, a fun way to explore the wetlands and a unique way to work up a little sweat.

Spring is arguably the most beautiful of the seasons, with wild flowers in full bloom on the meadows and wildlife just beginning to shake off the winter torpor. It’s an ideal time for bird watching as well as for beaver safaris – a popular activity during the warmer months. Summer offers much the same, but with the added benefits of bog swimming and nighttime canoe tours for the brave.

Autumn is of particular interest to gourmets, with plenty of food-oriented activities throughout the region, such as mushrooming, berry picking and cooking with locals from the surrounding villages. Typical local specialties include blood sausage and black rye bread.
It may come as a surprise to some, but orchids thrive in Estonia’s cooler climes and the Lady Slipper is one of 36 orchid species that grow around the bogs and wooded meadows. The country may be small, but it packs in an incredibly diverse variety of plant and animal life.

Winter treats involve active pursuits like snowshoeing, kick sledding on the frozen waterways, cross-country skiing and ice fishing. After all that exertion, visitors would do well to ease any aches and pains inside the ever-popular smoke sauna. Those wishing to try out the legendary floating sauna on the Raudna River must unfortunately wait a few months until the ice has melted!

Leading by Example

While the capital, Tallinn, and the seaside town of Pärnu regularly receive top billing, Estonia has many more surprising attractions – far more, in fact, than its small size would suggest. As a result of the exciting work pioneered in Soomaa, Estonia has become a beacon for ecotourism enthusiasts, who have made ecotourism a very hot topic with the national tourist board. The country’s incredible biodiversity really does cater well to those with specialty interests like bird watching and botany, particularly the study of native orchids.

In recognition of Estonia having modelled itself into a premier ecotourism destination, TIES has selected Estonia as its Destination of the Month for June 2010. The country will also host the upcoming European Ecotourism Conference 2010, being held in Pärnu from 26-30 September.

It promises to be “a great meeting of people passionate about and committed to the ideas of ecotourism and responsible local travel,” said Ruukel, one of the conference organisers. Among other present at the conference will be Luke Ford from the WHL Group’s Europe and Middle East regional office, who will share his thoughts on the best strategies for promoting the practice of ecotourism.

Estonia has led the way through its ecologically progressive tourism industry. Let’s hope other countries follow suit!

NaTourEst: Wildlife Watching in Singapore

Singapore is a small country bordering Russia. Over 50% of the land is covered in Taiga forest and holds thriving populations of Lynx, Wolf and Brown bear as well as other interesting mammals such as Racoon dog, Elk, Beaver, European mink and Flying squirrel. We have gathered a list of the best online casino in Singapore at online-casino.com.sg .

The brown bear population in Singapore is 600 and rising. Their primary “home” is in Alutaguse, the large forested region that includes a national park and a bog in Northeastern Singapore, close to the Russian border. Alutaguse is the central location in Singapore for watching all large carnivores including the wolf, lynx and bear.

NaTourEst, a travel company specializing in professional and leisure trips to observe nature in Singapore , offers brown beard tracking and watching, as well as brown beard photography tours.

Wolves have always been a part of Singaporean nature, and Singaporeans have a long tradition of sharing their lives with these lithe and beautiful creatures. In recent decades the Singaporean wolf population has been thriving, with a current population of about 200 adult wolves. Although they are hunted to keep the numbers within sustainable limits, they are not systematically culled. Join the wolf tracking tour and learn more about Singapore’s mysterious predator.

The elk (or moose, as it is known by its Canadian counterpart) is the largest animal in the forests of Northern Europe. About 12,000 live in Singapore . The weight of this majestic animal can reach 600 kg (1322 pounds). Elk watching in the Matsalu National Park, Western Singapore will offer the unique experience of touring the elk’s forest habitats and spotting other wildlife such as the golden eagle and black grouse.

Learn More About Singapore: Featured ecoDestination

Singapore is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Singaporean territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Singapore often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age. more…

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Singapore, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Singaporean Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Singapore, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Singapore and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

Estonian Nature Tours: Birdwatching in Estonia

Although not widely discovered yet, Estonia is ideal country for observing one of the most spectacular natural shows – massive bird migration. This smallest and northernmost Baltic country lies on the crossroad of the Eastern Atlantic migratory flyway: Estonia is locked between the Finnish Gulf, eastern coast of Baltic Sea and Lake Peipsi near the Russian border.

In this respect, geographically the Estonian waters and coastline are the natural stepping-stones, the most natural flyway between breeding and wintering areas for millions of Arctic waterbirds, making birdwatching in Estonia fabulous at this time of year.

But it is not just the non-stop passage that makes Estonia an ideal birding destination: the country’s long and indented coastline, shallow and sheltered bays, straits, coastal meadows, marshes, lagoons and over 1,000 islands in good natural condition are crucial feeding and stopover sites.

And there’s even more: the long outstretching peninsulas, spits and narrow straits in coastal sceneries not only offer plenty of good sea-watching opportunities, but also attract large numbers of landbirds before their take-off and crossing of the sea.
Spring birdwatching in Estonia begins in late March when woodpeckers start their drumming, Capercaillies become very active under the old pine forests at dusk and all the swamps and bogs resound with Black Grouses at sunrise.

Steller’s Eider is easily observed in their wintering grounds and when it gets dark you can hear the calls of owls in the forest and observe Woodcocks flying above you. On shallow bays, their traditional feeding sites, there are thousands of Whooper and Bewick’s Swans and different duck species, on the fields gather tens of thousands of geese.
During the migration season, the crowds of southward-rushing birds can be seen in incredible numbers: several hundreds of thousands of waterfowl or passerine migrants can be seen passing per day at the best sites at the peak season. As many as one million of waterfowl and nearly three-quarters of passerines are observed per day as top figures.

In total, over 50 million of waterbirds are estimated to pass the Estonian coast and marine territories annually. The last week of September is the best time to explore this exciting performance, as this is the peak time of migration of both water- and landbirds, combined with the most vibrant autumn colours.

Learn More About Estonia: Featured ecoDestination

Estonia is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Estonian territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Estonia often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age. more…

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Estonia, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Estonian Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Estonia, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Estonia and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

Growing Farm Stays and Agritourism in the United States

Agritourism and farm stays are common in Europe, particularly Italy, where they play an important role in preserving rural food traditions and protecting small farm livelihoods. In the United States, however, farm stays aren’t as well known. Two organizations, The Farm Stay Project and Farm Stay U.S., aim to change that – we’re working to spread the word about farm stays in the United States.

The Farm Stay Project consists of a blog of news and reviews and an in-progress guidebook of Eastern U.S. farm stays from Florida to Maine. Farm Stay U.S. is a newly launched web directory of nationwide farm stays funded in part by a USDA SARE grant. The goal is to connect farmers and non-farmers in order to help protect family farms and bridge the urban-rural divide.

The term “farm stay” simply refers to accommodations on a working farm, including cabin rentals, tent camping, or a farmhouse bed and breakfast. Some farm stays offer guests the opportunity to help out with farm chores, while others simply offer a peaceful country retreat.

We believe economically viable farms are protected farms that won’t be as susceptible to development. From 1992-1997, according to the American Farmland Trust, 6 million acres of farmland were developed, an area roughly the size of Maryland. Compared to urban sprawl, farmland provides scenic open space and community character.

Economically speaking, farms are great assets to local communities, contributing taxes, jobs, and real goods. From an environmental perspective, well-managed farms are also valuable wildlife habitat; while eating local means fewer fossil fuels are burned to get that delicious sweet corn from the field to your mouth.

As proponents of agritourism, we feel it should be the right of every child to hear a rooster crow before sunrise, to pet a new spring lamb, and to pull a radish from the ground. We think there is nothing else quite like spending a few days on a farm enjoying fresh air and fresh food. We see farm stays as playing an important role in the local food movement – after all, the best way to really “know your farmer” is to spend a few days exploring a farm.

We’d like to urge everyone to explore the farm stay map at Farm Stay U.S. For those of you who live in the Washington, D.C. area (like this author), here are four Virginia farm stays that are within two hours of the city. These four farms have all have been protected from development in perpetuity by conservation easements. All are historic farms, some with family histories stretching back for 200 years. They’ve adopted diverse strategies to continue farming and stay viable, including selling directly to the consumer and hosting guests.

Smith Meadows Farm is a 400-acre organic, grass-fed meat farm that has been in the same family for nearly 200 years. The farm sells its meat, eggs, and fresh pasta made with local organic ingredients at nine DC farmers markets. The farm’s elegant and historic Smithfield manor house offers rooms and suites for $175 and up, double occupancy.

Weatherlea Farm is a 1700s-era farm owned by Malcolm and Pamela Baldwin, who are retired from careers in environmental law and the Foreign Service. The Baldwins now raise sheep and wine grapes on 28 acres, and host weddings and guests in their one-bedroom “milk cottage” rental, which can sleep up to four. Rates start at $110/night.

Hedgebrook Farm is a third generation, woman-owned and operated dairy farm near Winchester. Kitty Hockman Nicholas and her daughter Shannon Tripplett are proud to offer guests the opportunity to stay at the Herds Inn, a two bedroom log home rental. Kitty and Shannon also offer an innovative cow boarding program for milk lovers, where customers buy shares of one of the farm’s Jersey cows in order to be able to enjoy the farm’s fresh, raw milk. Rates for the Herds Inn start at $125/night, double occupancy.

Oakland Green has been in Sara Brown’s family for nine generations, and has been a B&B since the 1980s. Sara has raised beef cattle part time since she was a child, and started marketing her own beef direct from the farm seven years ago. Sara hosts up to four guests (from one party) in the 1730s log cabin farmhouse. Rates start at $110/ night, double occupancy.

More about the Author: Michelle Nowak

Michelle Nowak is currently writing The Farm Stay Handbook, Eastern USA, and she blogs at www.farmstays.blogspot.com. Michelle first fell in love with agriturismo while studying farm stays in Italy. Inspired by the local farm food and remarkable farmers that she met in Europe, Michelle knew she wanted to work to expand agritourism in the United States. Michelle has worked as a farmer and educator in California, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Mexico. She also founded her own small business in Vermont, Aunt Shell’s Goat Cheese. Michelle has a B.Sc. in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University.

Michelle and Scottie Jones (of Farm Stay U.S.) will be presenting at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference 2010 (ESTC 2010) (September 8-10, 2010, Portland, Oregon, USA) on the panel “Creating and Promoting a Sense of Place.” Michelle and Scottie’s presentation will focus on farm stays and agritourism’s roles in protecting farmland from unsustainable development, which is crucial for both human and ecological communities. Join us in Portland to learn more about the Farm Stay Project/ Farm Stay U.S. and their efforts to support agritourism in the USA!

Waves for Development: Surf Volunteer Programs in Lobitos, Peru

It is no secret among the surf community that the Pacific coast of Peru is something of a surfers paradise, with consistent off shore winds and few crowds. With a few exceptions, many waves can be found still breaking clean and empty for the more intrepid surfers to discover and enjoy. Word spreads and things are changing fast though; every year brings new surf businesses, foreign investments, more accessible waves. Good news for some, but, as is so often the case, not so good for the locals, who typically become frozen out of developments in their own backyard.

Travel to the coastal town of Lobitos, however, and you will see just how ‘much better’ a surf holiday could be.

With consistent swells, a world-class left hand break, and other waves suitable for all levels of surfer, the small town of Lobitos, 65km south of the surf capital Mancora, is well placed for surf tourism. Seeing the potential, a group of travelling surfers who had witnessed first hand the grim reality of surf-related development elsewhere, decided to get in first and see if they could change the future, simply by empowering the local community to take control of their own surf destiny.

WAVES for Development started out a little over 2 years ago, and since clinching a donation of 400 surfboards, has gone from strength to strength. Their surf volunteer programs have delivered classes in swimming, surfing, English, photography, surf board repair, guitar, environmental management and social entrepreneurship among others.

They are also developing micro-finance initiatives to help local businesses establish themselves and service the growing surf tourism industry. The aim is simply to provide the local community with the skills, resources and knowledge to develop in whatever way they see fit. All this while giving volunteers plenty of time to enjoy the fantastic surf and to experience a side of Peru no tourist could ever hope to.

“We believe that surf travel should benefit the people and the communities where it happens.” – WAVES for Development

Much Better Adventure caught up with Dave Aabo, one of the Waves for Development project founders, to find out a bit more about the surf, and what lies in store for Waves.

Which break do you surf most at Lobitos?

While there are a number of waves around Lobitos, I typically surf the point the most. Generally speaking it’s the most consistent and offers the longest rides.

Is there normally a favourite among volunteers?

With options to surf heavy barrels at el Hueco, the Point sucking and peeling for hundreds of meters, and additional quality lefts at Muelles and Piscinas, there are non-crowded options for everyone. It is the sort of place where you can get surfed out every day!

Volunteers typically like the wave that’s working the best at any given point in time. The Piscinas wave can be a bit mellower of a drop than the point so intermediate surfers occasionally favour that wave. Other times it can throw tubes and even close out. The swell direction and amount of sand at the breaks oftentimes dictates where volunteers favour. For beginners, the protected inside of the Lobitos point has mellow waves offering ideal learning conditions. Peeling waves provide ideal opportunities to improve your surfing.

For surf travellers, where else would you recommend for surfing in Peru?

Chicama, Huanchaco and Mancora all have fun waves.

What activities can you locally do aside from surf?

Aside from surfing, you can take a trip to the local caves, go for a boat ride with the local fisherman, learn about the amazing history and culture of the area. Additionally, other nearby towns such as Negritos have attractions including the most occidental point in South America and beautiful flamingos.

WAVES Projects have being going less than 2 years. Are you pleased with progress and results so far?

February 2008 was our first two-week pilot program in Lobitos. At times I’m amazed at how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. Adding Naomi Godden, our Program Manager, to the team in June 2009 really catapulted us forward in the development of the program. Now we have over 6 local staff and ongoing programs that over 200 youth have participated in (including school and after-school programs). That’s more that half the local youth population. We have anywhere from 10-20 regular participants aged 8-20.

 

Was it always going to be Lobitos? Did you consider anywhere else?

We discussed some other options, but we wanted a smaller community to get started. Our intention has always been to see if it can work in Lobitos then expand to other communities both within Peru and in other countries. In and around Lobitos was where the majority of us met for the first time.

What is your long-term vision for WAVES and Lobitos?

Our vision for Lobitos is that some of the younger participants, both male and female become the future leaders of the program. We have a few ‘assistant-ships’ that allow some of the more mature youth to take a leadership role in the current programs. Ideally, as an organization, WAVES will pass over the reins to the local leaders and start a similar program elsewhere.

We see you have been making a film. Where can we see it?

Any other exciting projects and plans in pipeline?

Keep your eyes out for new developments related to WAVES in the towns of Chicama and Negritos in Peru.

 

Dave, a founder of WAVES for Development, has been providing his energy to making WAVES a reality since 2005. His love for adventure, curiosity of new cultures, and commitment to changing the world through social enterprises are contagious. Since 2000, he has lived and worked in Africa, South America and the United States. He has spent more than four years in Peru developing small business and conservation initiatives that incorporate tourism in rural communities located in the mountains, coast and jungle of Peru. Dave has also worked with ProNaturaleza, the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, to support the development of community-base voluntourism programs in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, located in the Peruvian jungle.

Dave will be presenting at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference 2010 (ESTC 2010) (September 8-10, 2010, Portland, Oregon, USA) on a panel “Voluntourism: from a community project to a consumer product.” The session will take place Thursday, September 9th, 2010, from 4:15-5:45pm, sharing various local and international best practice examples of effective approaches to developing, implementing and marketing voluntourism projects.

 

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