Alutaguse forests and mire systems

Alutaguse is one of the most untouched and densely forested corners of Estonia, similar in appearance to the taiga. Swamp, mire, and dry boreal forests on mire, gley, and many kinds of sandy soils predominate here. The islands in larger bogs may also support broad-leaved dry boreo-nemoral stands. Pine and birch stands are most widespread; fir is less common here than in the rest of Estonia. There are a large number of treeless mires and very few meadows.

Since the border of the taiga coniferous forest vegetation zone extends, in effect, as far as the north-eastern part of Estonia, some faint taiga elements can also be observed in Alutaguse biota. In the flora, this is manifested mainly in a relative low species-richness. Fresh boreal forests growing in mesic areas, heath and dry boreal forests on nutrient poor sandy soils, and paludified and bog forests on sphagnum peat, are also forest types which are similar to those of the taiga.

In fresh boreal forests the understorey is sparse and species poor. Chickweed wintergreen, may lily, and wood sorrel are characteristic of the herb layer; of ferns, the ostrich fern is most typical, and of mosses, glittering wood moss. Fresh boreal forest is by no means the predominating forest type in the Alutaguse region, and can be found with varying frequencies throughout Estonia. Intensive economic activities in the Alutaguse forests have left few old-growth forests untouched. Such forests were considered characteristic of the region before the Mustvee–Sonda railway was built in 1926. The river bank forest of the Poruni (Borovnja) River and the Heinassaare old-growth forest compartment on the edge of Muraka Bog were granted protected status at the end of the 1950s. These forests primarily represent the species-rich fresh boreo-nemoral forest type, which, due to its fertile soil has mostly been put to arable use. Profuse boreo-nemoral forests most closely resemble primeval forests as people imagine them; similarly untouched fresh boreal, dry boreal, and bog forests do not seem as ancient.

The fauna of Alutaguse area resembles that of taiga to the extent that some incidental arrivals here — wolverine, Siberian jay and the great grey owl — are characteristic taiga species. Extensive forests in Alutaguse are also home to flying squirrels and a large bear population. Golden eagles and white-tailed eagles nest here relatively frequently. Most of the 40 breeding pairs of osprey in Estonia have congregated in the Alutaguse and Karula regions.

In recognition of their unique biota, the larger mire complexes of Sirtsi and Muraka, and Agusalu and Puhatu together with the old-growth forest in Poruni and the habitat of the rare Moehringia lateriflora, have been afforded nature protection area status. The breeding bird populations of these diverse mire systems differ from the usual Estonian bog fauna in the abundance of whimbrel and greenshank, and also by the fact that willow grouse and jacksnipe have survived here.

A very distinctive flora has developed in Agusalu Bog, where the heath pine stands on grivas and the bog communities between them create a streaky pattern. Dune communities on the northern shore of Lake Peipsi are also of interest, both pine communities as well as some of Estonia's few surviving dune oak stands in the Järvevälja Protection Area. The Kurtna Landscape Protection Area has been created to protect the unique lake scenery here.

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