August 14, 2010 will mark the 100th anniversary of Vaika Bird Sanctuary, the predecessor of Vilsandi National Park. The date is regarded as the beginning of contemporary nature conservation in Estonia – accordingly, the 100th anniversary of nature conservation in Estonia will be celebrated in 2010.
The foundations for nature conservation in Estonia were laid in 1906 when botanist Prof. Karl Reinhold Kupffer, Vice-President of the Riga Naturalist Society, and ornithologist Ferdinand Erdman Stoll, conservator at the Riga Museum of Nature, began a study of nature in Saaremaa. Their intention was to establish a biology station in Western Saaremaa, an idea they had developed with Edmund Russow, Professor of Botany at the University of Tartu (UT). Russow was in contact with Hugo Conwentz, a founder of the concept of nature conservation in Europe.
During their field study, the scientists met Artur Toom, supervisor of the lighthouse on the island of Vilsandi. Toom had rented, in 1909, the islands of Vaika for the purpose of bird protection. He had restricted collection of eggs from nests and improved the breeding conditions of birds. The scientists were impressed by such dedication. The Riga Naturalist Society started to support him and concluded a rental contract with the pastorate of Kihelkonna on 14 August 1910. This date is regarded as the founding date of the first nature reserve in Estonia. It was the first known conservation area in the Baltic countries and, currently, the conservation area on the islands of Vaika constitutes a part of the Vilsandi National Park.
The Vilsand National Park, created to protect the coastal landscape and natural resources of Western Estonia, the ecosystems of small islands, seabirds and the resting sites of the seals of the Baltic Sea, includes 160 islands and islets. Approximately one third of the 23,760 hectares of the national park area is located on dry land.