Landscape mosaic

The Haanja Upland is an area of extremely diverse nature; besides uneven relief there are numerous water bodies, plenty of forests and a heterogeneus network of small villages. The Haanja region has the largest number of lakes in Estonia — there are about 175 small or large lakes. The majority of small lake depressions have formed as a result of the melting of blocks of dead ice. A number of these lakes have grown over and become mires. The lakes in the valleys have dissected coastlines, such as Lake Kavadi at Uue-Saaluse; the lakes in the valleys cutting into the slopes of the upland are oblong and deep (the lakes of the valleys of Kütiorg, Piiriorg and the Rõuge Valley). Beautiful Lakes Vaskna and Tuuljärv are located near Suur-Munamägi. Lake Tuuljärv is, at 257 meters above sea level, the highest lake in Estonia. The biggest lakes of the eastern part of the upland are Lake Kirikumäe, which gives rise to the Pedetsi River flowing towards Latvia, Lake Misso and Lake Hino. On the slopes of the buried valleys, springs release karst water rich in lime.

Dissected relief, varied Quaternary cover and diverse water conditions have favoured the development of mosaic vegetation. Human activities have played an important role in this process. Every patch of land suitable for cultivation was turned into fields a long time ago. Many former fields have overgrown with forest again. Besides productive spruce and mixed forests there are secondary birch and aspen forests and plenty of shrublands.

About half of the territory of the Haanja Upland is covered with forests. All kinds of forest types represented in Estonia, except alvar forests, can be found here. In older stands spruce dominate, usually reaching considerable height here. A good example is the virginal forest covering Vällamägi, where the trees are about 40 metres tall. Broad-leafed forests, once characteristic of the region, have mostly been cut and turned into fields. Broad-leafed forests have been preserved only in river valleys or on very steep slopes of hillocks, where the tree layer is rich and varied (lime, elm, oak, maple, ash). Depressions between hillocks are mostly wet and paludified, dominated by swampy forests of alder and birch stands, or by mires of different stages of development, mostly nutrient-rich fens; transitional bogs and raised bogs are rarer. The peat layer has been determined to be the thickest in Estonia — 17 meters — in a bog by the foot of Vällamägi.

Valleys and canyons
The northwestern slope of the upland is crossed by two deep valleys — Rõuge Valley and the valley of the Pärlijõgi River. The upper reaches of the Rõuge primeval valley are up to 30 meters deep and cut into limestone. In the lower reaches of the valley the depth is up to 52 meters and sandstones outcrop on the slopes. Best-known among numerous side gullies are Hinni Canyon and Ööbikuorg. A chain of seven lakes joined together by the Rõuge River, flowing into the Pühajõgi River, lies at the bottom of Ööbikuorg. Lake Rõuge Suurjärv is the deepest in Estonia — 38 metres.

The valley of the Pärlijõgi River is deepest in its lower reaches at the Sänna Village, where the slopes rise up to 25 metres and where Devonian sandstones and multicoloured clays outcrop. The Piusa Valley is most remarkable north of Vastseliina Village, where sandstone outcrops in vertical walls up to 43 meters high over a distance of 12 kilometres. The best-known among them are the Härma walls, particularly the Härma upper wall, which is one of the most beautiful sandstone cliffs on the Piusa River. Sandstone outcrops on the Härma lower wall resemble pillar-like pyramids. The Tamme wall and the Möldri wall should also be mentioned for their beauty. The sandstone cliffs of the Piusa Valley are located in a landscape reserve, which is not easily accessible. These landscapes can best be enjoyed when boating or canoeing on the river. The biggest east-west oriented valley — Piiriorg — located on the Latvian border in Paganamaa, is up to 55 meters deep.

The Haanja Nature Park
The Haanja Nature Park was created to preserve and protect the landscapes and national heritage of Haanjamaa. The nature park was formed by joining together former smaller protected areas, such as Suur-Munamägi, Vällamägi, the Rõuge primeval valley and the Kütiorg Valley into one larger protected area, covering all local natural and cultural monuments. The Haanja Nature Park was created in 1979, and gained its present territory in 1991. The area of the nature park is about 200 km2; the centre of the park is located at Haanja Village. According to the functional zoning of the area, different protection zones have been established. Nature study paths have been marked near Lake Kavadi and on Vällamägi.

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