The distribution and protection of forests

Forests cover about half of Estonia's area


According to the 2022 statistical forest inventory, there are 2,325,020 hectares of forest land in Estonia, i.e. 51.3% of the entire territory of Estonia [1]. According to the Estonian Topographic Database, in 2022, there were 2,353,567 hectares of forest land in Estonia, i.e. 51.9% of the Estonian territory. In other words, forests cover about half of Estonia’s area.


According to the Forest Act, forest land is considered to be land that meets at least one of the following requirements: 

  • is entered in the cadastral register as a forest land parcel; 
  • is a plot of land with an area of at least 0.1 hectares and woody plants with a height of at least 1.3 metres and with a canopy density of at least 30 per cent grow there;
  • The land under yards, residential land, parks, cemeteries, green areas, berry gardens, orchards, forest nurseries, gardening centres, arboreta, and plantations of trees and shrubs is not deemed forest land.

Forest land is divided into forest land without forest (temporarily clear cut areas or areas of unclear status), which in 2022 was 213,770 ha, and forest land with forest or forest stands (2,111,250 ha or 46.6% of the Estonian territory). Of the stands, the majority of Estonian forests are pine forests (30.3% of the total area of stands), birch forests (29.5%), spruce forests (18.3%), grey alder forests (9.8%), aspen forests (6.4%) and black alder forests (4.1%); the share of stands of other tree species in total was 1.5% in 2022. The most forested counties in Estonia are Hiiu County (69.2% forest cover), Valga County (63,6%) and Ida-Viru County (62.3%); the county with the least forest cover is Tartu County (41%) [1]. The largest forest owner is the Republic of Estonia, who owns 51% of the forest land. Most of it (1.08 million ha or 46.3% of the total forest area) is managed by the State Forest Management Centre (RMK). Private forest owners own a total of 49% of forest land, with 0.63 million ha (27%) belonging to natural persons and 0.51 million ha (22%) to legal persons. Land reform is incomplete in 0.1% of forest land [1].


In the seventeenth century, almost all suitable areas were used for agriculture, and this also determined the current location of forests in Estonia [2]. At the beginning of the Republic of Estonia, farms were established at the expense of forests [3], and although it is difficult to measure the forest cover of that time for various reasons, before World War II, Estonian forest cover was estimated at 32%, probably the lowest ever [5]. The Soviet era, especially the years 1960–1990, was characterised by a period of moderate forest use: felling intensity was relatively low and the area of forest land increased as a result of forestation of fallow agricultural land as well as afforestation and bog drainage [4]. By 1988, Estonian forest cover had increased to 42.4%, both the average age of stands and the timber stock increased significantly [4]. After the restoration of the Republic of Estonia, forest cover has further increased – according to the statistical forest inventory launched in 1999, the forest cover was 49.5% in 2000 and 51.3% in 2022 [1].


Maakondade metsasuse kaart 2022
FOREST COVERAGE OF COUNTIES 2022. Source: Environment Agency

(Forest coverage (%) according to SMI (statistical forest inventory).

25/10 – ratio of forest land in protected areas / strict nature reserves and conservation zones)


One fifth of Estonian forest land falls in protected areas (protected areas, limited-conservation areas, species protection sites, individual protected natural objects, nature objects protected at the local government level). One tenth of Estonia’s forest land is located in stict nature reserves and conservation zones of protected areas [5]. In addition to strict nature reserves and conservation zones, planned strict nature reserves and conservation zones for planned protected areas, key habitats of state forests and private forests protected by a contract, and sites of protected category I species are also considered to be under strict protection. According to the statistical forest inventory, in 2022, 18.1% (421,663 ha) of Estonian forest land was under strict protection. In addition, 12.8% (298,522 ha) of forest land was in the status of protected forests – forest land where forest management activities are allowed to a limited extent. Most of the strictly protected forest land is located on state land (359,842 ha or 33.4% of the land managed by RMK) [1].



Text: Mati Valgepea, Feliks Sirkas

Editor: Mati Valgepea, Feliks Sirkas


Last modified: 08.08.2023




[1]  Eesti statistiline metsainventuur (SMI). Keskkonnaagentuur.

[2] Lippus K. 1983. Metsade paiknemine Eestis 17. ja 18. sajandil. – Eesti NSV Teaduste Akadeemia toimetised. Ühiskonnateadused 3: 228–237.

[3]  Saarmann T. jt. Eesti metsa lugu., 18.07.2018.

[4]  Pärt. E. Eesti metsavarud ajaloo tuultes. Eesti Loodus 4/2008.


[5] Roasto, R., Sims, A. 2020. Metsad. Roasto, R., Tampere, U. (toim). Eesti looduse kaitse aastal 2020. Keskkonnaagentuur, Tallinn: 147–151.