Saturday, October 1, 2011

Matsalu

When we come back to Sharjah it always takes me a while to get organized again. We left Estonia on September 2nd, and I'm here on the 1st of October still working on photos I took in July.

I took this batch on a day trip with Andrew to Matsalu National Park in western Estonia. The park has many different landscape types, but we were mostly interested in looking at wooded meadows. Jüri arranged for us to meet some friends of his, Mart and Aveliina, who teach biology at University in Tartu and spend time at Matsalu for research We met them at a place belonging to their family inside the park area. There is a small wooded meadow on the property that they've restored from deciduous forest.

Wooded meadows are important as an example of a semi-natural landscape where people actually do something that encourages species diversity. They were formed when people began to cut cleared areas every year to gather hay. This stopped any woody succession from occurring and allowed lower-growing species of wildflowers, grasses and other herbs to get enough sunlight to establish themselves. Trees and shrubs were also left standing on anything from 10 - 50% of the area of such meadows, from which firewood, twigs for animal forage, berries, etc., were harvested at different times of the year. Wooded meadows have a park-like feeling, but the vegetation is all natural-growing rather than planted. The wide variety of vegetation types provides a wide range of ecological niches for wildlife.

They're very hard to photograph. They're quite interesting to see in person, but in photos they tend to look like parks or neglected farmyards. This is the restored meadow. The shrubby looking trees are clusters of hazelnuts.
The restored meadow is quite near some alvar grasslands. Alvars exist on areas with thin soil that is unable to support woody growth. Not being suitable for any form of intensive agriculture, they were used for grazing, principally of sheep.
This leaves a low herb layer and scattered junipers and other plants that can survive the sheep. The stone ring here is an old farm fence.
The landscape on these meadows looks a little alien to me, with the oddly shaped junipers, the scattered glacial boulders, and the odd little mounds. I couldn't figure out if the mounds were stones that hadn't come up to the surface or the result of mole or ant activity.
The sheep seem to be quite at home. I suppose sheep look a little alien themselves.
This wooded meadow is also nearby. The soil here is deeper, which allows for trees to grow naturally.
This is Allika wooded meadow, a little further on. These were both very park-like when we were there, since the hay had been recently mowed and the hay removed. Removing the hay is critical to getting a higher number of species in a meadow. If the hay is left, the soil improves, which encourages the growth of goat weed and dandelions as well as trees. Soil with fewer nutrients provides an opportunity for plants that don't compete well with these.

I'd like to come back next Summer, in late June or early July, to see the wildflowers and grasses before they cut them.
This is another place, not far away, called Suitsu, which has both wooded meadow and forest areas. I think these are boathouses rather than hay barns, but they look much the same.
We met a boatman and his dog, Dollar next to the river here. The boatman was waiting for some Finnish tourists to take them on a river cruise.
The forest features an observation tower that you should not look up at before you try to climb the stairs. If you look closely, you can see that it's supported by cables. I really prefer structures that can stand on their own.
We stopped at a couple meadows on the way home. This is Nedremaa wooded meadow in Pärnu County. I liked the birch at this particular spot.
Matsalu attracts a lot of nature tourism, especially people who come to bird watch and see the wildflowers in the Spring and early Summer. It was very useful to see some of the last natural wooded meadows. It gave me a much better idea of what species and kinds of vegetation are lacking in our proposed Paia wooded meadow. Jüri will do a round of tree and shrub planting in the Spring, and then I think we'll need to go seed shopping to increase the diversity of grasses and wildflowers. There are supposed to be companies in southern Estonia who sell meadow seed.

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