Soomaa National Park

Soomaa National Park is voted as area of European Tourist Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) in 2009 in Estonia.

Soomaa National Park was created in 1993 to protect large raised bogs, flood plain grasslands, paludified forests and meandering rivers. The name of the national park explains well the natural values that are protected here – “Soomaa” means “the land of bogs”. More than half of the territory of the national park (390 km2) is covered with large mires – the bogs of Kuresoo, Kikepera, Ördi, Valgeraba and Riisa. Largest of them, Kuresoo is also one of the best preserved large bogs in Estonia.

The glaciers retreated from the Soomaa territory about 12 500 years ago, but the area remained covered by an ice-lake for several hundreds of years. The coastline of the Baltic Ice Lake is marked by coastal ridges on the north-western and western slopes of the Sakala Upland – Ruunaraipe, Osju dunes etc. The water subsided about 10 600 years ago, and most of the territory of today's national park emerged at that time.Smaal isolated lakes developed in bigger cavities which later bacame mires. Today their top layer is up to six meters above the surroundings mineral soils, all mires have reached the status of bog. Kuresoo is the biggest compact bog (ca 100 km2) in the area,  with peat layer up to 7,5 . It is best observed in south, where the highest “fenn wall” in Estonia is situated. Sphagnum and ever-green shrubs, such as heather, marsh rosemary, marsh andromeda, crowberry and cranberry are dominant in their vegetation, intersting plant found in all bogs is sundew.

The bogs of Soomaa are separated by rivers of Navesti, Halliste, Raudna, Lemmjõgi and Tõramaa. The local river system developed shortly after the decrease in water level of Baltic Ice-lake. In their upper reaches the rivers flow in the promeval valleys and on planes where the stream is much slower in their lower courses. This, together with hydrographical conditions causes the special water regime, unique to North Europe, with big floods at springtime and smaller ones in the early autumn. When vast amounts of water run down the Sakala Upland, the rivers of Soomaa cannot contain it all. The water flows over flood plain grasslands and forests, and covers roads, disrupting connection with the outer world. In some years the spring floods have risen by a meter a day for 3–4 days. The Riisa flood area can reach to 175 square kilometres and the water level can rise more than 5 meters. Steep-sloped, raised bogs stand as islands in the water. The flood has been called the "fifth season" in Soomaa. These floods, although troublesome to the local people, who have had to built a special low-bottomed boat for getting around, add to the distinctive character of the national park. The mires have obtained dangerous aura in traditional Estonian folklore, today such ideas have greatly changed – the mires collect and contain fresh water, regulating the natural flow and producing oxygen. Characteristic to the large bog areas are the winter roads, used by both the local population as well as by travellers from afar in old times.

The habitats that surround the bogs are also significantly affected by water.  The alluvial meadows and forests that cover the riverbanks are of great botanical value. Forests cover about one third of the national park territory and they range from the light and dry moorland and healthy pine forests crowing on the dunes to the different swamp forests (carrs). The most interesting are the waterside forests as well as wet peatland birch and alder forests that grow as small groves on the flooded area by the Halliste and Raudna rivers. Broad leave trees grow in these forests, for istance old oaks with darkened bark – called the black oak- can be found in the river sediments.

Meadows occur here and there, all together more than 200 km2, the most interesting of their plant diversity, many wild orchids grow in these meadows, among them lady slippers. Approximately 500 plant species have been recorded in national park, among them 33 rare species as sword lily, siberian sword lily and orpine. Meadows are managed by local people, by grazing and making hay. 44 species of mammals have been counted living in Soomaa. Lynx, wolf, brown bear, elk, wild boar, rowdeer and beaver have been inhabiting in the forests for a long time. The primal forests give shelter to a rare flying squirrel.

Thousands of birds use the are during the autumn migration, all together more than 180 species of birds have been counted. The site regularly supports more than 1% of the individuals in relevant populations of Tundra swan and crane, and the composition of bird species in these bogs, especially Kuresoo, is one of the most representative in Estonia. Species recorded include golden eagle, whibrel (more than 100 pairs), European golden plover (ca 150 pairs) Calidris alpina schinzii, merlin, willow grouse and harrier. During the autumn migration, it is a stopover and roosting site for cranes (approximately 1,000) and Tundra swans (approximately 500), and during spring migration (approximately 2,000) for Tundra swans. Crex crex is still numerous on floodplain meadows (50-100 pairs). Rivers of Soomaa are an important spawning ground for the fish Northern pike.

National Park lies on the territory of two counties, Pärnu and Viljandi. Settelment is very sparse. Three villages Tipu, Sandra and Riisa have permanent residents, approximately 60 persons all together in National Park .

Two state organizations the Environmental Board and State Forest Service falls within the area of governance of Ministry of the Environment of Estonia. The Environmental Board is implementing the state's policy on the use of the environement and nature conservation etc. State Forest Service forestry duties include the growing and guarding of the state forest, Visitor management in national park. Soomaa National Park is member of PAN Parks. PAN Parks Foundation works in close partnership not only with protected areas but also with local businesses in and around certified PAN Parks.

Nature highlights of Soomaa

  • Flood season
  • Large carnivores: Lynx, Wolfe, Bear
  • Spotted Eagles, Golden Eagle, Black Stork
  • Siberian Iris, Meadow Gladiolus
  • Beaver
  • Elk

Why visit

  • Flood season;
  • Biodiversity of a large wetland system;
  • One of the largest well preserved raised bogs of Europe
  • Local crafts and culture - logboats, delicious local food;
  • Many possibilities to experience true European Wilderness with the help of devoted local business partners

Code of conduct:

When You visit Soomaa, then remember that National Park is home to several bird and animal species as well as people, and You are a guest in the best meaning of the word. Detailed information, printed materials and maps are to be found at the National Park Visitor Centre that is opened daily from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm (15th of April until 15th of September) and from 10 am to 4 pm ( 16th of September until 14th of April).

● Human activities in Soomaa NP are being regulated through different laws: for detailed information look Soomaa National Park homepage www.soomaa.ee or ask from National Park Visitor Centre.

● You can move freely almost anywhere, but most convenient way to get acquainted with the park is to use signed trails. If You need a map or more detailed information, then ask it from Soomaa National Park Visitor Centre or look at the homepage www.soomaa.ee .

● When going on a self guided hiking / canoeing / kayaking trip, please get acquainted with safety regulations and Soomaa National Park protection rules.

● Use of any motorized vehicles outside of roads or specially marked trails is forbidden. Please do not park your vehicles elsewhere than specially marked areas.

● If not familiar with local landscapes or rivers then please use marked hiking trails or use guided services provided by local companies .

● It is not allowed to make open fire elsewhere than places prepared and marked for this reason. To get detailed information of their location, please ask from National Park Visitor centre or look at the map at www.soomaa.ee

● Please do not leave any used paper / plastic packages or leftovers of food to camping sites or elsewhere.

● Please do not leave your children and pets unattended! Keep pets on a leash.

● Please do not feed any cattle or other local domestic animals without the permission of their owners.

● If there has been an accident, call : 112 and also +37252 61 924 to let the park authorities know, of Your exact location.

How to get to Soomaa National Park
Matsalu National Park centre is situated in Kõrtsi- Tõramaa, 44 km from Lpärnu and Viljandi. There are no bus connetions with Kõrtsi-Tõramaa.

For more information, please contact:

Soomaa National Park

Kõrtsi-Tõramaa, Tipu village, 71211 Viljandi County, Estonia

Email:viljandi@keskkonnaamet.ee or parnu@keskkonnaamet.ee  
Authority: www.keskkonnaamet.ee 
Visitor management: State Forest Management Centre, RMK
Soomaa Information Centre, Kõrtsi-Tõramaa, Tipu village, 71211 Viljandi County, Estonia
Email:soomaa.teabepunkt@rmk.ee

Web: www.soomaa.ee

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