Everyman’s right and public access to natural areas

In Estonia, it is permitted to access natural and cultural landscapes on foot, by bicycle, skis, boat or on horseback. Unmarked and unrestricted private property may be accessed any time and pick berries, mushrooms, medicinal plants, fallen or dried branches, unless the owner forbids it verbally.

On unmarked and unrestricted private property camping is allowed for 24 hours, unless the owner forbids it verbally. Camping is allowed outside visibility and hearing range from residential buildings. During the stay on a privately owned plot and camping one must restrain from harming the environment and private property. The owner of a private property might allow trespassing the area but forbid camping or picking berries etc. In this case the restriction must be clear - either a sign or an oral prohibition.

All of the rights and responsibilities regarding humans’ interaction with nature are collectively termed everyman’s right. Everyman’s right does not pertain to the organizing of sporting events or other public events in open country. To organize these, the permission of the landowners or other possessors of land, and if necessary, of the local government, must be sought.

Private property distinction

When trespassing a marked or restricted private property, a permission of the owner is required to proceed. A single boundary stone or an old dilapidated fence cannot be considered marking or restriction. The distance between the signs must be sufficient and not too far apart. The markings must be visible to anyone.

Land owners may not block access to land, roads or bodies of water that are public or designated for public use, including ice and shore paths. Land owner cannot forbid using private roads on foot, by bicycle, skis or similar means if the usage is well-established and does not burden the road.

Shore paths and access to water bodies

All bodies of water that are public or designated for public use have public shore paths that are up to 4 m wide. The shore path along a navigable body of water may extend to a distance of 10 m of the water line. The owner may not close this path even if the private property is fenced or marked with no-trespassing signs.

The owner or possessor of a shore path may prohibit the movement on the shore path by written consent of local government unit or the Agricultural Board and upon justified need, such as grazing animals or soil drainage. Shore path may be closed in case of excessive public or private interest in a comprehensive plan. Grazing areas and other enclosed areas along the shore paths must have stiles for access. A passage be ensured for closed shore path.

Ponds with no outlet located entirely on the land of one land owner and lakes smaller than five hectares located on land belonging to more than one land owner are not designated for public use. Permission from the landowner is required to access such bodies of water. Neither do bodies of water protected as sources of drinking water or which are in use by aquaculture or are in other special use have a shore path.

The following is permitted in nature

  • Accessing areas by foot, on bicycle, skis, boat or horseback in all places not prohibited on the basis of law(s).
  • Being present in any area where access is permitted (and camping for 24 hours if not prohibited by land owner).
  • Gathering wild berries, mushrooms, flowers, medicinal plants, hazelnuts and other natural products not under nature protection. Private land owner may prohibit to pick natural products.
  • Fishing bodies of water that are public or designated for public use with a simple hand line.

The following is prohibited in nature

  • Accessing the immediate proximity of a person’s yard, plantations, apiaries, sown crops, grain field and other cropland where damage is thereby incurred by the owner.
  • Lighting fires and camping without permission from the land owner or possessor.
  • Hunting and fishing without relevant license, except for simple hand line.
  • Injuring trees and bushes.
  • Disrupting the peace of local inhabitants.
  • Damaging the habitats and nests of forest animals and birds, gathering or removing their eggs, or otherwise doing harm to them.
  • Damaging nature protection objects and protected species.
  • Using motor vehicles where prohibited.
  • Polluting nature.

Compiled by: Ministry of the Environment