Naturalists are backing a plan to chop down trees and allow wind-blown sand to claim a peninsula that was once considered one of the pearls of Saaremaa.
The reason for this contrary-seeming plan is that more than 50 years ago, the Harilaid Peninsula was home to a dune community ideal for natterjack toads, a protected species. The forest of scraggly pines was planted in Soviet times.
"I like Harilaid very much, but it is painful to look at that pine plantation," University of Tartu ecologist Riinu Rannap told the island's daily, Saarte Hääl.
The pines are one reason that the natterjack (Bufo calamita) populations are down. The animal prefers open dunes with wet areas as its spawning grounds. The pines are not considered special from a nature conservation standpoint, although they do harbor wild game populations. But Harilaid was home to one of Estonia's biggest dune areas, which was why the peninsula was placed under protection in the first place in the 1920s
Rannap estimates it would take three to four years to transform Harilaid into a "toad paradise."
A natterjack toad protection plan drafted at the behest of the Environment Ministry for 2010-2015 includes the pine removal initiative. Next, in five to ten years, a small coastal meadow would have to be restored, using mowing and grazing to turn the current thicket of reed into a semi-natural open landscape.
Wooded meadows and seminatural landscapes kept relatively open through management are some of the most biodiverse terrain types in the country and the world, while pine forests tend to be more limited.