Matsalu National Park

– welcome to the birdwatcher's paradise

Matsalu National Park is situated in the western part of Estonia. A reserve was founded in 1957, mainly to protect nesting, moulting and migratory birds. Since 1976, Matsalu is included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.


Matsalu National Park protects the semi-natural grasslands that are characteristic to West-Estonia, including coastal, alluvian, dry and wooded meadows, reed beds and small islands. Also under the parks protection is the cultural heritage of Väinameri as well as the nesting, moulting and migrating birds of the area. The park is famous for its reed beds, which are the largest reed beds in the Baltic Sea. The National Park has a flooded bottom-land, limestones and a diverse coastline with shallow bay coves, relic lakes and small islands.

Award winning qualities
Since 2003, Matsalu National Park, as the only park in the Baltic countries, holds a European Diploma for Protected Areas of the Council of Europe The diploma is awarded protected areas with outstanding scientific, cultural or aesthetic qualities.The areas must also be subject to a suitable conservation scheme, often in combination with a sustainable development programme.

The Matsalu landscape
In the Matsalu area, plains dominate the landscape.The oldest topographies in Matsalu National Park date back to the Silur era. Rudiments from the Silur consist of dolomite slates (island mountains), which have created terrace-like slopes, where visitors can see slate downs.

The Matsalu National Park covers about 48 610 hectares embracing Matsalu Bay. In the delta, it also includes parts of Väinamere, the lower course of Kasari River, wetlands of the bay and river, flooded meadows alondg the Kasari River, coastal grazing areas, wooded meadows and about 50 islets. The average depth of Matsalu Bay is only 1,5 metres.

Almost 6 500 hectares of semi-natural landscapes are maintained by local people and 5 368 hectares are traditional farmlands.

Many species have been registered in Matsalu: About 280 birds, 49 fishes, 47 mammals and 772 vascular plant species!

Millions of migrating birds
The eastern Atlantic migration route runs along the western Estonian coast, which means that millions of migratory birds follow this route on their way from western Europe to breed in Arctic regions. Many of these birds stop on our coast for quite some time.

During springtime over 2 million water fowls migrate through Matsalu! This includes 10 000 - 20 000 small swans, 10 000 Scaup Ducks and Whistlers, numerous Tufted Ducks and Goosanders.

On the coastal pasture lands, up to 20 000 Barnacle Geese, over 10 000 Geese and thousands of Waders come to rest. Numerous migrating birds are Long-Tailed Ducks (up to 1,6 million), most of them stay in Väinamere.

During the autumn, almost 300 000 water fowl migrate thorugh the Matsalu area. The wetland is known as the most important resting site in Europe for Cranes and there many be up to 21 000 specimens at one time.

The Matsalu wetland is also an important site for Väinamere fishes to breed and restore their energy. Bays and old rivers are valuable for Pike, Roaches and Ides. Along Matsalu Bay’s northern coast, there are several small coastal fishing villages that still maintain a traditional lifestyle and fishing traditions.

Nature highlights in Matsalu National Park

  • Great Snipe
  • Southern Dunlin
  • White-tailed Eagle
  • Natterjack toad
  • Orchids (Lady’s Slipper, Marsh and Broad-leaved Helleborine, Fragrant Orchid, Lesser Butterfly-orchid)
  • Lesser White-fronted Goose
  • Beaver
  • Elk
  • Wolf
  • Perennial Honesty

Why visit?
There are innumerable reasons why one should visit Matsalu National Park. Here are but a few examples:

  • Massive bird migration in spring and autumn
  • "The International Crane Assembly" is an unforgettable experience
  • Genuine rural life
  • Traditional landscapes and more than 20 species of orchids
  • Friendly people and delicious local food
  • Wonderful network of unspoilt wetland habitats and a lot of open space and silence
  • Nature education: Matsalu Nature Centre offers exhibitions and a media programme, plus organized trips by boat and canoe.

Matsalu values the symbiosis between nature and human. The park is a good example of the cooperation between protected area and locals in developing the neighbourhood.

Visitor guidelines
1. While in the nature reserve you may enjoy activities such as mushrooming, swimming, picking wild berries and nuts.
2. Unless on official park business you may park and operate motor vehicle only in the designated areas.
3. Setting up tents and lighting of camp fires are permitted only in specially indicated areas and by prior approval of the manager of the protected area. You may set up camp on private property by permission of the landowner.
4. Fishing in the territory of the national park is forbidden without licence or fishing card and only for the length of time indicated on the documents.
5. Use specially constructed routes to pass through pastures and remember to carefully close the gates.
6. Dogs must be kept on lead while in the national park and are not permitted at all in the grazing areas.
7. Please notify environmental inspector if you see any activities unlawful or that threaten the environment in some way. The number to call is 1313.

How to get to Matsalu National Park
Matsalu National Park centre is situated in Penijõe, 3 km from Lihula. From Lihula there are bus connetions with all the big cities in Estonia. The bus schedule: Renting a car is an alternative. Matsalu National Park can be reached on foot and by bike.

For more information, please contact:
Matsalu National Park / Environmental Board (authority)
Penijõe, 90305 Lihula, Läänemaa, Estonia

Visitor management: State Forest Management Centre, RMK
Matsalu Information Centre, Penijõe, 90305 Lihula, Läänemaa, Estonia


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