MAES-related developments in Estonia (March 2021)

2019–2020 developments in short

Countrywide MAES of terrestrial and marine ecosystems was completed and regional MAES of freshwater ecosystems as well as national accounting pilots were initiated. The results (reports, maps) are made publicly available. MAES of urban ecosystems were continued in pilot projects. So far, only a number of specific habitat types on the sea coast related to the specific coastal formations (like dunes, etc., comprising roughly <1% of the Estonian terrestrial area) and their ecosystem services remain to be comprehensively assessed and mapped.

National MAES project ELME – introduction

Estonian national MAES project ELME („Establishment of tools for integrating socioeconomic and climate change data into assessing and forecasting biodiversity status, and ensuring data availability”) is in progress, led by the Estonian Environment Agency and the Ministry of the Environment. ELME project (2015–2023) is co-funded by the European Union Cohesion Fund and the national foundation Environmental Investment Centre.

The first milestone (2018) of the ELME project was the completion of the road map (action plan) for national scale MAES actions in Estonia. Among other aspects, initial priorization of ecosystem services relevant for national assessment and mapping was made and the results has been used in the next MAES-works as a basis (e.g., ELME project, Statistics Estonia projects).

National MAES of terrestrial ecosystems

Countrywide biophysical mapping and assessment of the main terrestrial ecosystems (wetlands, grasslands, agro-ecosystems, forests) was initiated at the end of 2018 and completed in 2020 in the course of the ELME project. The team consisted of scientists (University of Tartu, Estonian University of Life Sciences, University of Tallinn) and government officials from various state institutes.

Firstly, as a crucial part of MAES, appropriate science-based methods and data were prepared considering Estonian specificity of natural conditions and availability of data. Ecological relevance of input as well as output data was crucial, and repeatability of the process was always kept in mind. The selection of services was based the road map, but was also influenced by the actual availability of data as well as by the opinions of the stakeholders (policy-makers). Wide range of data and methods were used, from field to remote sensing data, from expert assessments to modelling.

There were three major large-scale and spatially explicit assessment and mapping outcomes:

• base map (depicting spatial distribution and extent of ecosystem types),

• ecosystem condition map,

• ecosystem services maps – potential supply of 27 ecosystem services (CICES vs 5.1 classification; based on approximately 70 indicators).

Based on the national biophysical MAES, nation-wide economic assessment of the potential supply of the ecosystem services will follow starting from 2021 summer.

National MAES of aquatic ecosystems

The preliminary methodology for MAES of marine and inland water ecosystems was worked out during the project “Development of methods for assessment and mapping of ecosystem services of marine and inland waters” that was conducted in 2014–2015 in Estonia and was co-funded by the EEA and Norway Grants.

In the framework of the maritime spatial planning process, different ecosystem-services related works have been carried out. Selected marine ecosystem services have been modelled, assessed and mapped in the course of ELME project (2019) as well as within other activities (e.g., in 2016–2017). Both monetary and biophysical assessments have been given. In the case of some services, terrestrial coastal zone are included in addition to the offshore areas. Marine ecosystem MAES results are integrated with an economic impact model of marine areas developed under the management of the Ministry of Finance that is responsible for the maritime spatial planning process (see also PlanWise4Blue tool below).

Regarding MAES of freshwater ecosystems, LIFE IP CleanEst (2019–2028) is developing and implementing the preliminary methodology of 2014–2015. In parallel with restoration of ecosystems and other project activities, it has been started with regional MAES works in northeastern Estonia during this project (both monetary and biophysical assessments). The project results could be suitable for upscaling to a national level. The report and maps of the initial results will be completed in 2021

Publication and availability of the MAES results

In March 2021, national biodiversity web portal developed under ELME project and called Nature Web (Loodusveeb in Estonian) is launched. Among all other relevant information on biodiversity and ecosystem-related issues, all reports of nation-wide MAES works are made available via this portal, incl. ELME reports of terrestrial and marine MAES works (completed, see above) and other reports that are already public or being compiled.

The country-wide maps of ELME project (maps of ecosystem extent, condition and services) are published in different public web applications (ESRI platforms, etc.) and the data layers are made publicly available in national registry (geoinformation system) of nature data called EELIS (available to everyone, authentication and agreeing with the terms and conditions is required for access).

Maps of marine MAES are published in an online portal called PlanWise4Blue. In addition to the data layers of relevant data, PW4B contains an online tool to assess cumulative impacts of human pressures on ecosystem services. The methodology and tool developed during different projects combines existing scientific evidence with expert judgement which is then communicated through a dynamic online tool to environmental managers. The PW4B tool is a free-to-use resource, available online for use by marine managers and/or policy makers without scientific backgrounds and based on the best available scientific data. The PW4B tool is capable of quantifying both single and synergistic effects of most important human activities on a broad range of ecosystem services.

Natural capital accounting

To test methods for development and implementation of national accounts related to ecosystems and ecosystem services, two EUROSTAT projects have been initiated in Estonia.

Preliminary results of the first project are available in the 2019 grant report (“Grant Agreement no NUMBER — 831254 — 2018-EE-ECOSYSTEMS Methodological report Development of the land account and valuation of ecosystem services regarding grassland ecosystem services”). In the course of the 2020–2021 pilot project (KIP INCA EUROSTAT), the initial results are being further adjusted, a more comprehensive list of ecosystems (all terrestrial ecosystems, including urban areas) and the use of ecosystem services is being assessed and mapped. The selection of services was based the road map, but was also influenced by the actual availability of data and also by the opinions of the stakeholders (policy-makers).

The accounting development actions are led by the Statistics Estonia. Evaluation of ecosystem services in physical terms to be used as a basis for monetary valuation has been a joint effort with the ELME project.

Networking and stakeholder involvement

The national scale MAES-related initiatives (national MAES project ELME, the EUROSTAT accounting projects, marine spatial planning process, etc) are carried through in synergy with all other relevant actions linking the respective results and derivatives, incl. developed methodologies, (web) planning and information dissemination tools, data layers, maps and tables with valuations, guidelines, etc.) to be comprehensively integrated into decision-making processes (environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment, spatial planning, development plans of different sectors, national accounting, etc).

Creating one whole national functional system from different MAES and accounting actions is an ongoing process at the state level. A core (voluntary) working group facilitating ecosystem services related works has been formed in Estonia. The governmental leaders of the national MAES works are the Estonian Environment Agency and the Ministry of the Environment, accounting-related topics are led by Statistics Estonia. Representatives from Environmental Board, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Rural Affairs, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Agricultural Research Centre, etc, are also regular participants in the round tables.

Scientific expertise has been actively included in all of the nation-wide projects – scientists from all of the largest universities – University of Tartu, Estonian University of Life Sciences, University of Tallinn, Tallinn University, Tallinn University of Technology – have been involved.

Various events (seminars, workshops, trainings, round tables, etc) have been conducted in recent years to actively engage different specific or wider range of stakeholder groups. E.g., representatives from more than 50 institutions (incl. ministries and other governmental institutions, regional administration officials, scientific organizations, non-governmental environmental as well as business organizations and associations) were invited to the public seminar introducing the results of national MAES of the ELME project in October 2020.

Implementation, integration into decision-making

MAES actions have been prioritized in Estonian Nature Conservation Development Plan (national biodiversity strategy and action plan) and other relevant strategical documents.

In 2018, a preliminary spatial and juridical analysis of Estonian green infrastructure as it has been implemented so far in the county-wide spatial plans and comprehensive plans according to the Planning Act, was conducted in the course of the project ELME. The step-by-step guidelines for planners for enhancing green network and taking into account the multifunctional nature of ecosystem services in the course of updating the comprehensive plans (over 60 under way in Estonia after the administrative reform) were completed.

The results of ELME terrestrial MAES project completed in the end of 2020 have intrigued a lot of stakeholders of various fields, but especially those dealing with spatial planning and biodiversity issues. Some of the examples include the following.

According to the suggestion of the union of Estonian environmental associations, ELME’s layers are being used in the spatial planning exercise of choosing areas for wind farms in a way not harming biodiversity values. The derivatives of ELME’s layers are also used in other projects, e.g., in Interreg project IRENES (Integrating RENewable energy and Ecosystem Services in environmental and energy policies, 2019–2023).

The maps of ELME project have been used to analyze the multifunctionality of the green infrastructure as it has been designated in Estonian county- and local government-level spatial plans helping to reveal the interruptions and conflicts in the network and, vice versa, identify areas rich in important ecosystem services outside the network that should possibly be part of it.

The ELME maps have also been used by nature conservationists and local communities to provide evidence of the ecosystem values other than commercially valued goods that have not been mapped before.

The ELME national MAES results are also providing material for further research for scientists, are usable as an input in conservation management plans of habitats or protected areas, for zonation of protected areas, in new ecosystem services related agri-environment schemes, etc.

Training of stakeholders (planners, local municipalities, EIA experts, etc.) and further introduction of MAES results and deliverables are foreseen for 2021–2022. Feedback about necessary update and justification of MAES preliminary results will be part of the MAES process.

The above-mentioned national MAES process is related to many previous or ongoing projects and actions, which altogether provide input for decision-making (incl. planning) processes, e.g.:

• the study of the willingness to pay for protected forests in Estonia (2011);

• MAES of Kuresoo mire habitats (incl. monetary values) (2011);

• the study of the willingness to pay of the Estonian working-age population for opening of old river mouths of the River Emajõgi (2012);

• economic value of ecosystem services of protected forests in Järvselja (2012);

• countrywide assessment of the total values of Estonian forest ecosystem services in the course of ongoing process of compiling strategy Forest Development Plan (2018);

• LIFE Viva Grass project (“Integrated planning tool to ensure viability of grasslands”, 2014–2019) focusing on grasslands; among other actions, a web tool to support ecosystem and their services based decision-making process and considering socio-economic factors impacting nature conservation policy was developed during the project;

• recent MAES works in the framework of the marine spatial planning process (see above);

• MAES for evaluating the impact of the ecosystem restoration activities to the ecosystem services in the ongoing project LIFE IP CleanEst (see above);

• LIFE UrbanStorm (“Development of sustainable and climate resilient urban storm water management systems for Nordic municipalities”, 2018–2023) dealing with urban ecosystems and nature-based solutions, etc.


National MAES works are favoring existing (spatial) data sets. Data quality may be considered one of the greatest challenges of conducting MAES. Various relevant spatial data sets suitable for and being used in Estonian MAES processes are systematically collected, regularly updated, kept in official registers and is publicly available, e.g., in national registers of protected species and habitats, detailed Estonian basic map (land use), detailed nationwide soil map, countrywide spatially explicit forest registry, national hub (EstHub) for remote sensing data, data on EU Directive reporting (being used as one of the inputs to measure the condition of ecosystems), etc. Besides that, plenty of countrywide data not being updated so well and having various accuracy, robustness and other problems are available.

Although Estonia is covered with multitude of open-source large-scale data sets, the compilation of those in country-wide mapping exercise has turned out to be quite a challenge due to, e.g., technical issues (topological accuracy, calculation capacity, etc.), errors relating with large data sets (outdated or missing records, etc.) or differences in (transitional) habitat type definitions in different data sets.

Preliminary national MAES framework is ready, but developing fully compatible and functional national MAES and accounting system from the set of the indicators and maps composed so far is an ongoing everyday work at the state level.