Shallow coastal waters and semi-natural coastal pastures that have been mown and grazed for thousands of years make good stopping and nesting sites for birds. Matsalu has been added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
Matsalu National Park comprises the shallow Matsalu Bay, nearly 50 islands and islets and the Väinameri Sea that surrounds them. There are a number of semi-natural floodplains and coastal meadows, which need constant mowing and grazing to be preserved. They include the Kasari flood-meadow – one of Europe’s largest alluvial meadows – which is a very important nesting area for the Corn Crake (Crex crex), the Great Snipe (Gallinago media) and the Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana).
The coastal meadows by Matsalu Bay (covering approximately 3000 ha), which are among the largest in Europe, are an important feeding place for migratory birds and a nesting site for many waders (Charadriiformes) such as the Sandpiper (Scolopacidae), the Lapwing (Vanellinae), the Curlew (Numenius) and the Godwit (Limosa). The Kasari reed bed, which spreads out over nearly 3000 hectares, is the largest of its kind on the Baltic Sea. It is a good stopover and nesting site for many geese (Anserini), swans (Cygnus), ducks (Anatidae), diving ducks (Aythya) and coots (Fulica). Warblers (Passeriformes) and bittern (Botaurinae) can also be heard in the reed bed.
Among rare species, the Baltic Dunlin (Calidris alpina schinzii), the Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) and the White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos)can be spotted in Matsalu. You can watch the White-tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and, among animals, you are most likely to run into a moose (Alces alces).
Matsalu can also offer something to admire to visitors interested in plants. The semi-natural habitats here include biologically diverse wooded meadows, where many species of the orchid family may be found under oaks and hazelnut trees. Coastal limestone terraces formed from Silurian coral reefs add variety to the flat landscape of the west coast. Many old hay barns and fishermen’s huts with thatched roofs have been restored.
The visitor centre of Matsalu National Park is located in Penijõe Manor near Lihula. Here you will enjoy a permanent exhibition on local nature and history, a slide show and videos. If you happen to be in western Estonia, be sure to stop by.