Kadriorg Park is a garden paradise. Flower beds in elaborate patterns bloom in bright purples and reds at the foot of Estonia’s Presidential Palace. There is a rose garden, a Japanese garden, a swan pond. Tall trees line quiet walkways. On a sunny day, you can wander for hours, ending at the sea shore.
Harakka Island, a quick boat ride away from Helsinki’s southern coast, is home to an extraordinary rich flora and fauna, including numerous birds that nest in a protected area from April to August. A nature trail snakes through island and leads to a bird-watching point. An on-site Nature Centre offers free-of-charge nature excursions, island adventures, exhibitions and public events.
These are the kinds of natural gems that are the focus of NATTOURS – Sustainable Urban Nature Routes Using New IT Solutions. Launched this month by SEI’s Tallinn Centre, the City of Helsinki Environment Centre, and the Environment Department of Tallinn City Government, the project aims to raise the profile of high-nature value sites in Tallinn and Helsinki and further develop them, including through new nature education programmes.
NATTOURS will work to promote nature tourism across both cities, but with a special focus on five sites: the Rocca al Mare area, Kadriorg Park and Paljassaare special protection area in Tallinn, and Harakka Island and the Viikki area in the Helsinki archipelago. Plans for the Tallinn sites, for example, include a bird-watching tower on the Rocca al Mare promenade and several new nature trails in Kadriorg Park and in Paljassaare – a rather undiscovered peninsula that is a haven for migratory birds.
SEI Tallinn’s role in NATTOURS is to deliver background studies on biodiversity, ecosystem services and visitors in the focus areas in both Tallinn and Helsinki.
“Our research will be used for better understanding the profile and aim of the visitors and to gather information about nature tourists’ routes and destinations,” says SEI Senior Expert Meelis Uustal. “The visitor surveys will also give us the input to our ecosystem services study, where we will explore the range and scope of ecosystem services that these urban woodland and wetland areas supply to people. More specifically, we will gather information about pollinators, dragonflies, breeding birds, bats and vascular plants that will eventually find their way into the information materials produced by our NATTOURS partners.”
Technology is a big part of the project as well. By 2018, the project aims to develop a joint Helsinki-Tallinn nature tourism web portal showcasing information about the cities’ nature tourism and nature educations sites and offerings. There are also plans for mobile applications that provide maps, GPS-guided excursions, and maybe even tools to identify birds by their songs.
“We are still exploring all the options,” says Uustal. “Our background surveys will also help us understand what the nature in the targeted locations can offer and what our visitors expect and need. Another thing to bear in mind is that information technology is developing very fast – so who knows what the world of applications will look like by 2018. So we also have to be able to look ahead in time and create something that the visitors will be able to use for many years to come.”
A blossoming partnership
The cities are developing their green potential at a strategic time: Finland and Estonia will celebrate their centennials in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Tallinn officials are also hoping that in 2018, the city will be chosen as Europe’s Green Capital, as part of a competition sponsored by the European Commission.
Tallinn and Helsinki already collaborate extensively. The two capital cities are just 80 kilometres apart – a 90-minute ferry ride – so many tourists who visit Helsinki also choose to visit Tallinn, and vice versa.
“Now and then there is even talk of creating a joint city – Talsinki, or a tunnel under the Baltic Sea to connect the two cities,” says Uustal. “So bearing in mind this context, having a joint tourism and education project really seems to make sense – particularly one focusing on our natural treasures.”
NATTOURS is funded by the Central Baltic Programme 2014–2020, a programme financing cross-border cooperation projects in the central Baltic Sea region. The participating countries are Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Sweden. A total of €115 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is made available to support cross-border cooperation projects between partners in at least two countries at a time.