Elks of Estonia to get initial ecoduct

Loomasild kui osa ulukite elukeskkonnast.

PHOTO: Pm

Green bridge helps wild animals walk across Tartu Highway, near Kolu – in familiar environment, not having to fear for their lives.

Instead of endangering themselves and drivers while spurting across highways, elks, deer, and what not can – this fall, already – gratefully cross Estonia’s very first green bridge. An ecoduct. The structure will be completed, at Aruvalla-Kose section of Tallinn-Tartu Highway, in November. At the moment, builders are busy covering the wildlife crossing with earth.

As told Postimees by Road Administration environment chief Villu Lükk, ecoduct means steel arcs crossing a road, to be covered by earth. On top of it all comes a 50-60 cm layer of soil, providing for greenery.

This fall already, the bridge will be greened up with local tree and bush species, with some left for spring. In addition to hazels, rowans, spruces and pines, cuttings will be tried on the bridge – hopefully luring animals to try out the crossing.

The animals’ bridge is aimed to be as maintenance free as possible. Meaning: the plants will grow wild, no additional works nor mowing will take place. According to Mr Lükk, the ecoduct must look natural – the animals only embracing it if they deem it to be part of their usual environment. At the same time, hitting the animals’ traditional routes is vital. «To wild animals, ecoducts may not feel artificial. For instance, it cannot have overly steep slopes; importantly, a forest must beckon over there, on the other side,» explained Mr Lükk.

Ecoduct edges will be fenced in with 2-metres high tight wooden barriers so the animals will not fall off. Also, this will keep headlights from scaring the crossers. Also, the edges will be camouflaged with earth, dry branches etc. Passing through a tunnel like this, the animals are supposed to consider it pure nature.

Approach by human beings to ecoduct is restricted – and not welcome. To guide animals unto the structure, 2.2 metre high fences will be lining the highway, keeping animals «in» and humans «out».

Asked about the location of the ecoduct, Mr Lükk said this was a migration corridor travelled by elks: «Seasonally, elks travel the North-South route. In the fall, it is North-wards, to feed; come spring, they head towards swamplands in Mid-Estonia. Here, migrating moose have been spotted both by hunters and biologists, as well as locals – participating in environmental impact assessment.»

The next three ecoducts in the pipeline are planned for Kose-Mäo section of the highway. The first of these will be erected at Rõõsa, as the Kose-Ardu section construction gets underway. The remaining two are harder to predict; probably, they will appear post-2020.

According to Mr Lükk, more ecoducts could be considered – should Estonian environmental funds of EU money become available. An ecoduct is expensive, to the tune of €2-6m to build, depending on its size.

Roads funded by EU Cohesion Fund prescribe freedom of movement for wild animals. Migration of animals is also to be considered pursuant to Estonia’s Nature Conservation Act.

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