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Nature Trail

1. Rocca al Mare nature trail at the Estonian Open Air Museum.
The high sandy coast of Kopli Bay and the nice view over the Old Town attracted the citizens of Reval (Tallinn) already at the end of the 18th century. In 1863, the then Mayor A. Girard de Soucanton had a summer manor built in the area of the present grounds of the Estonian Open Air Museum. The place was given an Italian-sounding name Rocca al Mare – ‘rock by the sea’. Before World War II there were six villas (the biggest of which held twelve living rooms), several outbuildings, large greenhouses and the well-known Via Appia – an alley of tombstones designed on the initiative of Eugen von Nottbeck, the son-in-law of de Soucanton. Most of the buildings and tombstones were destroyed during the war. Only three small villas and some tombstones, that now adorn St. Catherine’s Passage in the Old Town of Tallinn, survived.

Ever since its establishment in 1957, the Estonian Open Air Museum has been studying everything related to Estonian rural architecture. There are twelve farmyards and a number of individual objects displayed to visitors on its 79-hectare territory, which is divided into the West-, North- and South-Estonian and the islands regions. The site of the museum was selected and the farms built based on the principle that the buildings/farmyards should be situated in a natural environment as similar as possible to their original location – North Estonian farms in a pine forest, island farms in a wooded meadow, etc. The natural conditions at Rocca al Mare allow this. The students of Tallinn Lilleküla High School, under the guidance of teacher Linda Metsaorg, have been using the biologically diverse western coast of Kopli Bay as a nature trail already since 1984. It was marked as the Rocca al Mare nature trail in 1999 and has been available to all interested since then. Beginning at the main gate of the museum, the trail presents the forest, bog, meadow, erratic field and sandstone coast, highlighting the close relationships within ecosystems, as well as various environmental problems. The trail also utilises museum exhibits for diversifying the topic.

2. Kitchen garden of the Sassi-Jaani Farm with old-time field and vegetable crops.
Sassi-Jaani farm, originating from the time of serfdom, has become the educational farm of the museum where alongside of rural architecture the old-time field and vegetable crops are also introduced.

The oldest signs of agriculture in Estonia date back to the period 6,000 years ago. On the coast of mainland Estonia and the islands tilling and cattle-breeding have provided subsistence already for more than 3,000 years. At first the fields were of “wandering” nature – when one field was exhausted, another plot of land was cleared for cultivation by means of slash and burn. Due to the rather small population there was no lack of land. The oldest cereal grown in Estonia was barley, whereas wheat, oats and rye were known as weeds on a barley field.

Together with growing population the permanent long-cultivated fields made their appearance. They were divided into sections that were cultivated in turns. The oldest prehistoric fields in North Estonia are more than 2,500 years old. Barley but also spring wheat, spring rye, flax, legumes and turnips were planted there. The adoption of iron tools – iron axes, iron parts of the ploughshare, etc – approximately at the same time facilitated the utilization of heavier soils. An important change took place about 1,000 years ago when winter rye became our main bread grain and black bread our most respected nutrition. Most likely in the 13th century cabbage gardens were established by the farms. Somewhat later peasants started to grow onions and carrots as well.

In the second half of the 19th century the peasants were given the right to buy their farms as freeholds. This led to mayor changes in the whole way of life, including cultivation of land. Besides barley more wheat and oats were planted. Potatoes made their way to the farm fields and stopped famines. Starting from the late 19th century farmers gradually started to obtain threshing and sowing machines, mowers, iron ploughs and harrows, scythes and, at the beginning of the 20th century, even tractors. First steps were made in soil improvement. Abundant yield was provided by artifi cial fertilizers.

The peaceful development was interrupted by the establishment of kolkhozes in 1949. The former farm fields were turned into collective fields that had no proper owner. The collective farms gained in wealth only by the 1970s.

By re-establishing the Republic of Estonia in 1991 the former great farms were disintegrated and farm lands were started to be returned to their owners.

3. Vanasauna post windmill. Wind energy.
Post windmill with a rotating body is the oldest type of windmills in Europe and has been in use in Estonia for centuries. This type was widespread in West Estonia, in areas poor in rivers, and on Estonian islands until the 1930s–1940s. The first Dutch-type or smock mills the mushroomlike caps of which can be rotated together with the sails, were built on Estonian farms in the second half of the 19th century (Kalma windmill at the museum). Nowadays, grain is milled by means of electric power.

Man initially used balanced renewable sources of energy (wind, water, wood). Today we are overusing non-renewable energy (coal, oil shale, oil, etc.). Wind power is used in seaside lowlands such as Denmark and the Netherlands, but also Estonia. The world leader in this field is California with its 15,000 wind turbines (1994). A wind farm consists of many turbines, which are electrically interconnected to make maximum use of a wind-rich area.

Advantages of wind energy:
· cheaper than other sources of renewable energy
(energy forest, biogas, helio- or solar energy)
· waste-free and non-polluting energy production

Disadvantages of wind turbines:
· generate noise
· do not always fi t into the surrounding environment
· disturb the work of TV and radio stations
· may be dangerous to birds
· energy production depends on the changeable direction and the strength of the wind

4. Home garden of Kutsari-Härjapea Farm. Horticulture.
Orchards on Estonian farms have an approx. 100-year history.

In the 18th century, when serf peasants had to cultivate both the fields of the manor and the farm, there were only a few wild apple and cherry trees, if any, growing in a farmyard. Serfdom was abolished in the early 19th century but peasants were still not allowed to purchase land. In a situation where the landlord could easily turn any farm into manor land, such “orchards” disappeared from farms almost completely. Only in the second half of the 19th century, when peasants bought the ownership of their farms, did the more progressive ones begin to plant fruit trees again (especially in South Estonia) and by the beginning of the 20th century fruit gardens were found throughout Estonia.

This also marked the birth of ornamental gardening. (Up till then, farmers usually grew only what could be eaten). Blue Monkshoods, yellow Cutleaf Conefl owers, Dahlias, Bleeding Hearts and Saffron Lilys were planted under the chamber window.

Gardening began to draw more media attention in the 1920s–1930s. In 1936, President K. Päts initiated a countrywide home decoration campaign. Farmers were called upon to paint their dwelling houses, tidy up farmyards and found gardens.

5. Erratic fi eld. Lichens.
Our erratic boulders originate from the bottom of the Baltic Sea or from the territory of present-day Finland, from where they were carried here by continental ice during the latest Ice Age, about 80,000 years ago. The erratics in North Estonia are sharper-edged and larger, having travelled a shorter distance than those in South Estonia. Erratic boulders over 30 m in circumference are classifi ed as megaboulders. In Estonia there are 86 megaboulders that constitute the majority of megaboulders in Northern Europe.

Hummock ice has accumulated erratic boulders also in the later stages of the development of the Baltic Sea, forming erratic fields. The erratic field at the Open Air Museum contains erratic boulders of different sizes within a 100–200-m-wide and approximately 400-m-long belt. The nearest other erratic fields are located in Kopli Park on the opposite side of Kopli Bay and in Tallinn Zoo at Veskimetsa.

Lichens are able to adapt to highly varied environmental conditions and grow in habitats unfavourable for other plants. They are sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, in particular air pollution, and can therefore be used as indicators of air pollution.

The trees, rocks and ground of the Rocca al Mare nature trail are home to 36 lichen species from 21 genera, with Hammered Shield Lichen (Parmelia sulcata), Yellow Scale (Xanthoria parietina), Oak Moss (Evernia prunastri), Hooded Tube Lichen (Hypogymnia physodes) and Frost Lichen (Physconia distorta) being the most abundant among them.

6. Coast of Kopli Bay. Sandstone outcrop. Seashells.
The nature trail continues along the southwestern coast of Kopli Bay, on the Kakumäe Peninsula, which represents an oblong sandstone elevation covered with shingle and sand. The northeastern slope of the elevation on the museum territory has been partly washed away by the action of sea waves and a rather steep coastal escarpment has formed.

An outcrop is located approx. 20 m southeast of the North Estonian net sheds. The sandstones and clays exposed here were formed in the Early Cambrian shallow sea and overlie one another in parallel layers, as is characteristic of the geological structure of Estonia. Armin Öpik (1898–1983), one of our best-known geologists, named the stratigraphic unit here as Kakumäe series of strata. Cambrian sands and clays were later cemented by carbonate substance (CaCO3) and are therefore referred to as sandstones.

In front of the coastal escarpment, there is a flat plateau covered with big boulders and fallen blocks, which ends with an underwater escarpment at 50–100 m from the water line. Here one can find seashells. The most common seashells in the Baltic Sea are Common Mussel (Mytilus edulis), Common Cockle (Cardium edule), Baltic Macome (Macoma baltica) and Soft-shelled Clam (Mya arenaria). They are tolerant to the low salinity of the Baltic Sea but respond with a signifi cant reduction in their size.

7. Waterfowl.
This point offers a nice view over Kopli (formerly Habersti, Telliskopli, Mustjõe) Bay. The area of the bay is over 13 km², its average width is 2.5 km and greatest depth 25 m. A binocular would be handy for bird watching here.
8. Oaks. Mercurius’s boulder.
Many big oaks grow on the high coast on the territory of the Open Air Museum. In 1986, the students of Lilleküla High School carried out a dendrochronological dating of the oaks and ascertained that oaks that are 40 cm in diameter are approx. 100 years old. Part of them have been planted when the Rocca al Mare summer manor was built. The mightiest oak grows on the roadside by the island net sheds, with its big support roots overlying an erratic boulder. The oak is 150–200 years old and its crown area is 187 m². The trunk of the tree has a big longitudinal bark crack caused by frost or an old injury.

One of the best known oak forests in Tallinn once grew on the opposite side of Kopli Bay, in the area of the present Kopli Park. This popular recreation area of Tallinners was partly protected already in the Middle Ages. In 1912, a big part of the oak forest was sold to shipyards. The forest disappeared and the rapid development of Kopli as an industrial area began. Today, the oldest oaks there are up to 300 years old.

The Common Oak reaches the northern boundary of its distribution in Estonia and more northern specimens can be found only within a narrow belt on the southern coast of Finland.

Mercurius’s boulder is an erratic boulder 2.8 m in height and 12.8 m in circumference. At the time of the summer manor, the boulder supported the statue of Mercurius, the Roman god of trade. The statue was destroyed in World War II.

9. Forest as a biotic community.
Forest is a plant community with certain interactions established between plants and the environment and between plants themselves. The community is divided into vertically arranged layers. The layered structure continues also in the soil, where plant roots extend to different depths.

The birds and animals living in a forest, together with plants, make up a biotic community. The life and activity of animals is largely connected with a certain layer. Thus, each „storey” has its own inhabitants, although some species may be active in several layers. Each member of the community has its own function in the life of a forest. Thanks to this, a forest is a self-supporting system requiring nothing but solar energy and rain from the outside. When any layer is signifi cantly changed (e.g. the shrub layer removed), this will inevitably lead to changes also in other layers.

Each organism in a community is dependent on many others, in particular those that it feeds on or is prey for. If we arrange species, starting with plants, in such an order that each following one in the line feeds on the previous one, we obtain a dependence chain known as the food chain.

10. Õismäe Bog. Dwarf Cornel.
The name Õismäe (‘fl ower hill’) initally referred to the high coast between Rocca al Mare and Kakumäe because of the abundant Dwarf Cornel (Chamaepericlymenum suecicum) growing on the paludifying soil there. The later Õismäe Village was located on the coast of Kopli Bay, northwest of the present Open Air Museum. Its eastern part was merged with Tallinn in 1958 and the rest in 1975.

Õismäe Bog (104 ha) extends partly into the service zone of the Open Air Museum. The peat deposit is relatively thin here – only about 2 m. The bog was formed as a result of the filling in of a small lagoon after the retreat of the sea approx. 1000 years ago. Tallinners formerly used to cut peat from the bog. The bog has been largely drained by now and is covered with young forest (pine, birch). Houses and summer cottages have been built here.

Dwarf Cornel, which has given the place its name, blooms in June and July. Its inflorescence is surrounded by four bright white ovate bracts, which can be superficially mistaken for petals. The reddish brown petals are in fact only up to 2 mm long. The plant is low-growing, with a woody rhizome and elliptic or ovate leaves. Bright red fruits reminiscent of cowberries appear at the top of the stems in autmn. In Estonia, Dwarf Cornel occurs only in rare localities on the northern coast and in Hiiumaa. Its distribution area on the Kakumäe Peninsula has declined due to extensive construction work.

11. Mosses
Mosses inhabit a large variety of habitats ranging from water to rocks. Peat mosses (Sphagnum spp.) are the main peat-formers, while forest mosses play an important role in the accumulation and storage of water in the soil. With their vital processes, mosses break down the substrate and accumulate humus, thus preparing the growth substrate for other plants. Mosses are used for monitoring air and water pollution.

Mosses have been studied along the entire length of the nature trail. Thirty two moss species have been identifi ed, 26 of them being very common in Estonia. The most abundant species in the given location are Shaggy Moss (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus), Red-stemmed Moss (Pleurozium schreberi), Brook Moss (Dicranum scoparium), Common Haircap (Polytrichum commune), Tree Moss (Climacium dendroides), Stair-step Moss (Hylocomium splendens).

In addition to the above species, the area also hosts Cyprus-leaved Plait-moss (Hypnum cupressiforme; mostly on granite rocks), Twisted Moss (Tortula ruralis; on sandy ground), Undulated Crane’s Bill Moss (Atrichum undulatum; on soil-covered rocks or sandy substrate), Flat-rock Grimmia (Grimmia ovalis; mainly on granite rocks), Matted Feather-moss (Brachythecium populeum; on rocks). Some moss species growing here indicate that the air is relatively clean here.

You have reached the end of the nature trail.
The exit is the museum’s entrance, adjacent to which there is a bus stop.

Thank you for taking the trip with us!
Northern Estonia
Western Estonia
Southern Estonia