The forest-based sector in Estonia

Estonia is one of the most forested countries in the world. Half of the mainland is covered with mostly semi-natural forests. Forest land is more than 2,3 million hectares and the total growing stock of stands is 480 million m3. The forests stand out with abundant species, preserved thanks to a large proportion of naturally renewed forests and few alien tree species. Forest areas are important in the carbon cycle, binding carbon from the atmosphere in woody plants and forest soil.

Due to historical reasons, forest management has not been consistent, and that influences the state of the forests as well as the choices available today. Forest land area has increased about 1,5 times during the last 70 years, partly due to natural afforestation of meadows and pastures, resulting in the formation of deciduous and mixed stands, but also because pine and spruce have spread on former arable land.

Historically, Estonian forests are of natural structure, and also managed forests may include some indicators of “primary” or “old-growth” forests. From a conservation perspective, the most valuable forest habitats and sites have been already designated to strictly protected reserves.

The total growing stock, growing stock per hectare, as well as the annual increment have been increasing gradually. The age structure of forests in Estonia is uneven – approximately 27% of forests are younger than 30 years and approximately 40% of forest stands are more than 60 years old. 7% of forest stands in total are older than 100 years.

The role of forestry in the economy and social life is extremely important: the sector’s direct, indirect and induced contribution to the GDP is around 10%. Wood and wood-based products are an important part of Estonian trade (balance). It is one of the most important sectors in terms of export; furthermore, export includes predominantly products of higher value – for example, wooden houses.

It has been estimated that about 5-6% of the occupied workforce in Estonia is directly linked to the forestry sector. This number, however, excludes different indirect effects that the sector has e.g. to transportation, nature-based tourism etc. – which means that the overall impact is even higher. Also, from a regional perspective, even more so, as most of these jobs are situated in rural areas.

The State offers multiple recreational options in the forest, e.g. there are 3100 km nature trails passing through several recreational areas and next to forest cabins, camping areas, fireplaces.

Forest policy is also implemented through 110 000 private forest owners, who need to understand long-term targets and still have enough freedom to use their property.

Research & Innovation landscape

In the wood value chain, attention has so far been paid to the mechanical processing of wood. Both in the fields of forestry and wood mechanical processing, Estonia has modern knowledge and a strong business sector that can invest in new technologies. However, domestic capital is only starting to be represented in the field of chemical processing of wood.

The forest and wood industry uses cutting-edge technology to add value to wood from Estonia’s forests in a high-quality and efficient way, being the most automated and digitalised industry in Estonia.

Nationally, R&I goals are formulated in the Estonian research and development, innovation and entrepreneurship development plan 2021-2035 (TAIE). It outlines five focus areas, within the framework of which cooperation between companies and research institutions in the direction of research and development, innovation and entrepreneurship is prioritized. Two focus areas – “Resource valorization” and “Smart and sustainable energy” – directly contribute to increasing the competitiveness of the Estonian forest sector. In the direction of resource valorization, the goal is to add value to local resources in an environmentally friendly manner and with high resource productivity.