Natura 2000 logging, Estonia

Estonia is failing to do environmental assessments that are required under EU legislation that governs management of the Natura 2000 conservation network. We are supporting an Estonian NGO who seeks a nationwide injunction to prohibit logging within Natura 2000 sites unless an appropriate environmental impact assessment has been conducted.

Forest clearcut and erosion at Haanja Nature Park, a Natura 2000 site. Credit: Siim Kuresoo. Location: 57.740076, 27.077508.

Considered the EU’s flagship conservation effort, the Natura 2000 site network is intended to protect Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats to ensure their long-term survival.

EU legislation requires an environmental impact assessment for any activities that are not necessary for Natura 2000 site management and that are likely to impact its conservation objectives, even if activities are outside the border of the site itself. The Estonian government, however, allows logging in Natura 2000 sites without performing impact assessments. In response, the European Commission sent a formal notice to Estonia in June 2021 requiring it to comply with its obligations. Continued violations prompted the Commission to send a reasoned opinion to Estonia in November 2023. Failure by Estonia to take measures to comply could result in a referral of the issue to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

However, the EU infringement proceeding process is known to be very slow and, in the meantime, valuable natural forests are being destroyed in Estonia. We are therefore supporting NGO Save Estonia’s Forest as it seeks a nationwide injunction prohibiting the Environmental Board from issuing logging permits in state-owned forests within the Natura 2000 network unless the impact assessments required by the Habitats Directive have been properly performed and taken into account. If successful, this should mean that NGOs no longer need to challenge each individual logging permit (of which there are thousands each year). The Administrative and District Courts in Estonia initially rejected our claim because it wasn’t specific enough about the sites where the injunction should apply. However, in January 2024 the Supreme Court granted our appeal and confirmed that our request for an injunction was procedurally admissible provided that the claim was amended to identify specific Natura 2000 sites to be covered by an injunction. It directed us to file an amended claim to the Administrative Court for determination. Using geospatial data, we carried out an analysis of the forest habitats and forest-dependent species present in Estonia’s Natura 2000 sites that are likely to be adversely affected by logging activities. This analysis formed part of our amended claim which we submitted to the Administrative Court on 5th April 2024, e. In the meantime, the Supreme Court has heard a separate case challenging the automatic issuance of logging permits in Natura 2000 sites. The court concluded that logging permits should not be automatically granted.