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The Commission for Nature Conservation of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, founded 45 years ago, on 23 November 1955, by resolution of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Estonian SSR, is the first nature conservation organisation set up in Estonia after World War II and existent up to the present day. Today it is attached to the Department of Biology, Geology and Chemistry of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.

As the main objectives of the Commission, the following tasks were put forward: the elaboration of the organisation and legislation of nature conservation, the establishment of the network of nature conservation areas, the registration of nature monuments, research work, and dissemination of nature protection conceptions.

At the beginning nature protection ideas were not acceptable to everybody. The suggestions of protecting endangered animal and plant species, rare objects of nonliving nature, or statements against irrational use of natural resources were accepted as ungrounded grumbling or extravagance of a few natural scientists. The publication of articles on nature conservation was arduous. The members of the commission Endel Varep, Eerik Kumari, Viktor Masing, August Karu, Karl Orviku, Karl Eichwald were the first to touch upon this subject (they did that even before the commission was set up) in their articles.

At the beginning of 1955, a Commission for Nature Conservation of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR was set up in Moscow. E. Kumari represented Estonia in the commission. At the enthusiastic initiative of E. Kumari, preparations for the foundation of the Commission for Nature Conservation of the Estonian Academy of Sciences were started. Eerik Kumari, DSc, Scientific Director of the Institute of Zoology and Botany, became the first chairman of the newly founded commission and he held this post for nearly thirty years (1955-1984). After E. Kumari, Arvi Järvekülg, DSc, Head of the Department of Hydrobiology of the Institute was elected to the post of the chairman (1984-1996). The next chairman (1996-1998) was Vilju Lilleleht, PhD, Head of the Department of Bird Ecology of the Institute. The fourth chairman of the commission is Urmas Tartes, D Phil, Director of the Institute of Zoology and Botany of the Estonian Agricultural University. During its whole history, the commission has located in the working rooms of the Institute of Zoology and Botany (since 1978 in Baer House).

The first staff of the commission included 12 persons: Eerik Kumari as a chairman, Endel Varep as a vice-chairman, Hans Trass as a learned secretary, and Karl Eichwald, August Karu, Evald Lall, Viktor Masing, Aleksander Niine, Karl Orviku, Roman Spor, Aleksander Valsiner and Herbert Viiding as members. Of the founders of the commission there is only one person, Hans Trass, member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, who today can retell the story of the foundation of the commission. During the 45 years of the existence of the commission, among the 114 members there were mainly renowned naturalists of universities and institutes of the Academy of Sciences: chemists, medical doctors, artists, researchers of technical fields, specialists of nature and environment protection. The present commission of 32 members and the statute were approved by the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences in 1998.

The first years of the existence of the commission were laborious. The drafting of legislation projects to introduce official nature conservation needed much time and great effort. E. Kumari knew well the organisation of nature conservation in German Democratic Republic and Federal Republic of Germany, in Czechoslovakia and other countries. Their experience could be used in the work of the newly-founded commission. The members of the commission carried out the registration of the objects requiring protection (it had been started by the Estonian Naturalists' Society). The preliminary list of nature protection areas together with respective supplements was compiled by Endel Varep, the list of animal and plant species requiring protection and of primeval trees was compiled by E. Kumari, K. Eichwald, V. Masing. Big erratic boulders and other objects of nonliving nature were registered by Karl Orviku and Herbert Viiding.

On 7 June 1957, the Supreme Council of the Estonian SSR passed the Nature Conservancy Law. The draft project was presented by Endel Varep, vice-chairman of the Commission for Nature Conservation. Protected areas and reserves were established and the Nature Conservancy Board was set up. The organisation of nature conservation research became the priority of the commission.

The statute and the membership of the commission have changed repeatedly during the 45 years (1958, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1967, 1974, 1998, 2010) of existence, but the principal functions of this administratively independent community of scientists have remained the same: the popularisation of nature conservation ideas, the publishing of nature conservation books, the arising and discussion of nature protection problems and submitting proposals concerning nature conservation to organisations and institutions. The organisation of work mainly includes general meetings and plenary assemblies. The activities of the commission have been manifold and varied during its existence. The commission has been an initiator of many nature conservation ideas and traditions. It has also been instrumental at the organisation of research and continuous popularisation of nature conservation ideas, at the introduction of the subject of nature conservation in universities programmes, at the celebration of nature conservation days. The initiative of the creation of the nature conservation emblem, the investigation of the damage caused by pesticides, the idea of making topical "life defence", and the publication of nature calendars also belonged to the commission. The commission was the first to start international contacts. Several projects of the foundation of nature protection areas and reserves were drawn up by members of the commission. Projects for the protection of springs, lakes, bird sanctuaries, of Käina Bay and many other objects were compiled by members of the commission.

It is interesting to mention that Eerik Kumari drew up a draft project of the foundation of a bird sanctuary at Matsalu in 1936 already. It became a reality only in 1957. Several memorial stones mark the contribution of E. Kumari to nature conservation. The nature conservation prize named after Kumari, is awarded every year (since 1989) on the International Environment Day.

One of the most important tasks of the commission has been the compilation of the Red Data Book of Estonia. It was initiated by E. Kumari. The practical work started in 1975. The first handwritten version of the red data book was completed in 1979. It included data on 155 plant and 104 animal species (authors were mainly researchers of the Institute of Zoology and Botany). The book meant for wide public was published in 1982 (compiler E. Kumari). The next red data book was compiled by A. Järvekülg, lists of species were ready for 1988. The book, however, was not published (the lists of species were published in 1993). The third red data book (a result of collaboration of 25 authors-natural scientists) containing data on 1312 species was compiled and edited by Vilju Lilleleht. Its printed version appeared in 1998.

The initiative of compiling a book on virgin nature was also born in the commission. It was conditioned by the need to compile a similar data bank of nonliving nature as the red data book. The idea was first put forward by Herbert Viiding, vice-chairman of the commission, in 1980. The instruction for the compilation of the book was adopted in 1982. The work started and was conducted under the supervision of Herbert Viiding, it was continued by the next vice-chairman Ulo Heinsalu and is now carried out by a member of the commission, Enn Pirrus, at the Institute of Geology of the Technical University of Tallinn. During the 45 years of its existence, the commission has held 227 general meetings, it is 5-6 meetings per year. In some years like 1961, 1977, 2000 and some others only 2-3 meetings were held. At the meetings, which are usually also attended by invited lecturers and experts from different institutions, as a rule, several nature conservation or environment protection problems are treated. Kumari has read 178, Varep 61, Viiding 49 reports at general meetings. All in all 1050 reports have been performed. The usual number of participants is 15-20. At the meeting on 13 December 1968, however, there were only 7 participants. The most numerous meeting (42 participants) was the one held on 26 August 1992. General meetings have frequently also been held outside Tartu, for example, in Tallinn, Rakvere and other places. 35 meetings of the Board of the Commission for Nature Conservation have taken place.

Chairmen in the past:

Eerik Kumari
Eerik Kumari

Arvi Järvekülg
Arvi Järvekülg

Vilju Lilleleht
Vilju Lilleleht

Vice chairmen in the past:
Endel Varep

Aleksander Valsiner

Herbert Viiding

Aare Mäemets
Ülo Heinsalu

Avo Miidel

Members of the Commission in the past

Photos of Commission activities:

TA LKK 1964