Sand dune - Country Report, Estonia

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Author: Dr J Patrick Doody, new text 2007; additional information Bird (The World’s Coasts: Online); revised and updated Eva Remke 2008


The influence of the sea affects virtually every aspect of Estonian nature. The country has 3,794km of coastline, 2,540km of it on the islands. The land border, in comparison, is a mere 633km, of which 339km is shared with Latvia in the south and 294km with Russia in the east.

The coast varies from the sheer limestone cliff in the North to sandy beaches and shelving coastal meadows in the West. The Estonian coast has irregular cliffed sectors alternating with sand or gravel beaches backed by low dunes, and sectors straightened by deposition, with wide sandy beaches and foredunes 3-4m high. The dunes have rather narrow sandy beaches (10-25m wide) backed by low dunes. Postglacial isostatic movements have resulted in land uplift, so that many beaches are backed by dunes, the inner and older of which have been raised by these movements. Wet environmental conditions, sparse population and rapid spread of vegetation prevented extensive redistribution of loose sandy sediments by wind (Raukas 1997)[1].


The most typical features of the south-western coast of the Pärnu Lowland are abundant sandy shores and long ranges of shore ridges covered with sand dunes. The main range of coastal dunes begins within the city limits of Pärnu, becoming higher and more distinct towards the south. At Tahkuranna, it splits in two, with a former lagoon of the Littorina Sea separating the two ranges. The dune system reaches its maximum height at Tõotusemägi Hill (c 40m above sea level) near Rannametsa village. Another higher dune is located nearby Tornimägi Hill. Much of this area may have been destroyed after a heavy storm in early 2005. Several small rivers and streams that carry water from the areas behind the dunes to the sea cross the dune ridges. The biggest of these is the Timmkanal River, which crosses the Tolkuse bog and connects the Ura River with the lower course of the Rannametsa River. Near Häädemeeste, the dune ranges join again becoming a single narrow and gradually lower dune until it reaches the border with Latvia.

Near Tallinn the coastline is irregular, with four large limestone promontories separating deep bays, and at the head of each bay is a sandy beach, backed by beach and dune ridges that rise landward as the result of the Holocene emergence, as at Vosu. At Lahepere, between the capes of Türisalu and Päkri on the northwest coast of Estonia, a wide beach has formed, backed by dunes, but the head of Parnu Bay a long wide gently curving beach of fine quartzose sand has formed, backed by low dunes. On the island of Saaremaa some of the beaches are backed by low grassy dunes, as at Cape Kiipsaare, and similar low dunes are seen on the north coast of Hiiumaa. On Ruhnu Island in the Gulf of Riga there are prograded sandy beaches backed by successively formed dune ridges.


The 200m zone of the Estonian coast is very diverse. Out of the 34 CORINE land cover types represented in Estonia 30 occur in the coastal zone. Three dominating land cover types in the coastal zone of Estonia are inland marshes, coniferous forest and semi-natural grassland. Their total share is 47%; the other 27 land cover types represented here cover 53% of the coastal zone.

Foredune. Species like Elytrigia repens (on it NE biogegraphical limit), Lathyrus maritimus, Honckenya peploides, Crambe maritima and Leymus arenarius are typical species. (Rebassoo 1975) This vegetation unit occurs mainly, where the influence of the sea diminishes to only occasional over-topping.

Yellow dunes. They consist mainly out of Ammophila arenaria, Hieracium commune (H. umbellatum sensu lato), Honckenya peploides and Leymus arenarius. Eryngium maritimun is limited to the West-Estonian Islands. On Kihnu Island is has its largest stand (Lippmaa, 1931 in Rebassoo, 1975). A later successional stage of these first dunes is dominated by Festuca rubra var. arenaria, Thymus serpyllum and Lathyrus maritimus (Rebassoo 1975)[2].

Acid dune grassland. Species like Festuca sabulosa, Festuca rubra var. arenaria, Thymus serpyllum, Galium verum, Pulsatilla pratensis and Artemisia campestris are typical species. Corynephorus canescens is at its north eastern biogeographical limit and occurs only rarely.

Dune heath. is a rare vegetation form in Estonia and is characterised by Empetrum nigrum. It occurs mainly as a narrow belt along the Northern coasts (Nilson 1999)[3]. Examples are e.g. at Keibu bay, west of Tallinn and at Harilaid, Vilsandi National Park.

Dune slacks. This habitat may have occurred at Häädemeeste. It could have been washed away during the storm in early 2005.

Woodland. Mostly forestry plantations.


Vilsandi National Park in Saare County and the west side of Saaremaa Island covers a large wilderness area (24,100ha) of varied coastal landscape with archipelago with as many as 160 islands and islets, as well as shallow bays and sand dunes. (Ramsar Information Note 1997). Bays west of Tallin and north of Haapsalu like Keibu bay form broad sandy beaches (50 - 100m) and a rather open hinter-duneland. Lahemaa National Park east of Tallinn has shallow sandy bays between the general erratic boulder coastline. The National Park, established in 1971 was the first national park in the Soviet Union, The area of the whole park covers 725km², 474km² land and 251km² and is mainly sea. The Park lies in the territory of two counties (Harjumaa and Lääne-Virumaa). Other habitats are “alvare”, mires, rich meadows and forest. About 70 % of the whole park is forest.

Near the Russian border in the northeast is Narva Bay, a long gently curving sandy beach is backed by numerous parallel dune ridges. These represent intermittent progradation in Holocene times, during the post-Littorina emergence. With a reduced sand supply, the seaward margin of these dunes is now cliffed and receding. CONSERVATION. By law the coastal zone is defined as a 200m wide zone landward from the mean sea level line and is protected since 1995 (Kask and Raukas 1996)[4]. The Estonian coastal zone is generally in a good natural condition. The proportion of artificial surfaces throughout the zone is a mere 4.7%, while agricultural landscapes cover only ca. 10%. Of the 200 m coastal zone, 24% is under protection, which is more than twice the value for Estonia as a whole (11%). Major problems exist due to recreational pressure (Puurmann et al. 1999;[5] Kask and Raukas 1996) and construction of buildings close to the seashore (Kask and Raukas 1996). Visits to the beach are popular and often done by car. Additionally large areas have been afforested with Pinus spp. during the Soviet period, so that the spread of open dune area is limited. As a whole Estonian coast is shallow and has a deficiency in sediment. On top of that, these regressive beaches have, during the last decades repeatedly suffered catastrophic storm damage (Kask and Raukas 1996; Raukas 1997).

Revised text: Eva Remke, Biological Station, Biologenweg 15, 18565 Kloster/ Insel Hiddensee, Germany Email:


  1. Raukas, A., 1997. Geology and Mineral Resources of Estonia.
  2. Rebassoo, H.-E., 1975. Sea shore plant communities of the Estonian islands. Academy of Sciences of the Estonian S.S.R., Institute of Zoology and Botany, Tartu.
  3. Nilson, E., 1999. A history of land use and biodiversity of Estonian Coastal Heath. In: Shaping the land Vol. I The relevance of research for landscape management, Papers from the Department of Geography, New Series A, Setten, G., Semb, T. & Torvik, R., ed., Trondheimp, 199-?.
  4. Kask, J and Raukas, A., 1996. The state and protection of beaches, chapter 10 in: Estonian Environment: Past, Present and Future, Raukas, A., ed.
  5. Puurmann, E., Ratas, U., Reitalu, M., & Rivis, R., 1999. Landscape diversity as the basis for nature protection and ecotourism development on the Harilaid Peninsula (West-Estonian Archipelago), In: Shaping the land Vol. I The relevance of research for landscape management, Papers from the Department of Geography, New Series, A, Setten, G., Semb, T. & Torvik, R., ed., Trondheim, 188-198.

Additional information

Ehrlich, Ü., Krusberg, P. & Habicht, K., 2000. Land cover types and ecological conditions of the Estonian coast, Journal of Coastal Conservation, 8/2, 109-117.

Orviku, K., 1974. Estonian Seacoasts. (In Russian), Academy of Sciences of Estonia, Tallinn.

See also

The main author of this article is Doody, Pat
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Doody, Pat (2019): Sand dune - Country Report, Estonia. Available from,_Estonia [accessed on 24-05-2024]