ON THE HISTORY OF PROTECTION OF INANIMATE NATURE IN ESTONIA
by Professor H. Viiding
The gigantic glacial boulders were the first objects to attract the scientists’ attention as the natural objects demanding protection. In 1879 Academician G. Helmersen called on the protection of boulders. It marks the beginning of the history of protection of inanimate nature in Russia as a whole. Evidently these were G. Helmersen’s enthusiastic works on gigantic boulders in the North Baltic that aroused interest in similar natural objects - witnesses of the glacial period - in some West European countries as well. At the break of the century material on gigantic boulders was collected by R. Lehbert on the Käsmu peninsula and by A. Hrebtow on the island of Saaremaa. The latter proposed to take also some other geological objects, such as the Kaali meteorite craters, coastal escarpments and outcrops into the list of protected natural objects.
In bourgeois Estonia systematic collection of data on the objects of inanimate nature badly in need of protection was carried out by the Nature Conservation Section (founded in 1920 by the Estonian Naturalists’ Society). In 1935, when the law of nature protection was adopted, it became possible to enter several geological objects into the list of territories and natural objects protected by the law. In 1940 there were 3 protected geological areas and 210 gigantic erratics or boulder belts in Estonia. The measures applied to nature protection were aimed, first of all, at teaching the wide masses to respect nature reserves. It enabled to save the latter all through the German occupation and also in the post-war period when they were not protected by the law.
Some outstanding events should be brought out in connection with protection of inanimate nature in Soviet Estonia. The Nature Protection Section was re-opened by the Estonian Naturalists’ Society in 1951. Until 1955 it was the only organization in the republic which carried on the research work and propagated the idea of nature protection. The foundation of the Nature Conservation Commission of the Academy of Sciences of the Estonian SSR was a big step forward. It undertook the revision of the principles of nature protection in wide, contemporary sense, including the purposeful usage of natural resources and the protection of environment. It started also the preparations for adopting the law on protection of Estonian nature and for the foundation of a corresponding institution. At the same time the network of protected areas widened; at present it forms about 6.7% of the whole territory of our republic. There are 4 state nature reserves, Lahemaa national park, one area - the Kaali meteoric craters - and 26 landscape reserves. The latter includes several beautiful areas of ancient valleys rich in bedrock outcrops, hills, eskers, ancient coastal escarpments, lakes. 34 objects (exposures, waterfalls, karst cavities, relief forms) are listed as natural monuments. To them belong 222 gigantic erratics and boulder belts.
Scientific research has been organized in nature reserves and the further development of the network of protected areas has been planned. At the same time great attention is paid to the problems concerning rational usage of natural resources, particularly in North-East Estonia, and protection of bowls and underground waters from contamination.