Outdoor Learning for Sustainability

Managing the distribution of ecosystem services

Peipsi CTC launched role-playing games during the outdoor education session. The main aim of training was to provide knowledge on basic economic management principles to help adult learners better understand how works institutions of market economy in distribution of public goods.

A role-playing game is a game in which the participants take the roles of characters and in the course of team work create stories in relation to their role. Within the rules, they may improvise freely. Their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games.

Outdoor education or outdoor learning usually refers to organized learning that takes place in the outdoors and often uses or draws upon these related elements and/or informs these areas.

Within the frame of this training participants travelled to the Old Valley of Ahja River near to Suur ja Väike Taevaskoja (in Estonia), see the description of the area below. Trainer introduced the concepts of sustainability, public goods and ecosystem services. Next participants got a task to choose congenial walking trail, walk around and notice ecosystem services that the area offers to society. They were asked to classify these ecosystem services and write on the Worksheet .

After an hour participants gathered and discussed about their findings. They recognized that this is very nice place to walk, enjoy the nature and all cultural services that this ecosystem offers.

After small tea break trainer asked participants to imagine that they are entrepreneurs: timber manufacturer, hydropower plant developer, entrepreneur in touring trade, or whatever the field they feel that is profitable to develop here. As source of inspiration participants was asked to look list of ecosystem services that the area offers. Teamwork was used to work out draft business plans. Each team presented their business plan, followed by discussion.

Finally, participants were asked to imagine that they are Members of Parliament and they have to vote for proposal to change ownership form of the Old Valley of Ahja River near to Suur ja Väike Taevaskoja so that this area will be private property. Before vote trainer summarized discussion of participants after walking as well as discussion after presentation of business plan.

The Old Valley of Ahja River. Suur ja Väike Taevaskoja

Big and Small House of Heaven

The Ahja River old valley nature park was formed in 1957 and is one of the oldest landscape protection areas in Estonia. The aim of the nature park is to preserve the landscape integrity of the Ahja River, its deep valley with the towering sandstone outcrops on the valley slopes, the forest growing on the sides of the valley and the meadows on the valley floor.

The most famous of the outcrops is Suur-Taevaskoja, which is 150 metres long and 24 metres high. This cliff, the river beneath it, the meadows surrounding it and the dark coniferous forests that form its backdrop have such a powerful emotional effect that the area has been famous as sanctuary for centuries. Väike-Taevaskoja is sandstone cliff up to 13 m high.

According to one legend the cliffs is named Heaven’s Hall because Estonians God Taara used to hold meetings here. Another legend says that Old Devil had been excited of the place beauty so that he built various rooms/caves (for example Neistikoobas etc.) here and named the place Heaven’s Hall.

The landscape of the park is dominated by forest, light and dry heath and moor forests, mainly pine, alder and spruce forests. The river generally flows through the forests. You can find a number of rare plants in the nature park: the uncommon umbelliferous Pleurospermum austriacum (a Category II protected species) and Sarcosoma globosum, (a Category I mushroom species). Also you may see here Ahja’s most famous birds: brightly coloured kingfishers and white-fronted dippers.

Here locates also the Saesaare artificial lake, which formed between 1951 and 1953 as a result of the construction of a hydropower plant. Before the construction of plant here was the largest and most beautiful rapid area in Estonia. During the summertime river-boat Lonny is offering 45-minutes-trips along the Saesaare artificial lake. During the boat trip visitors may admire picturesque outcrops covered by pine and spruce forests.

There are hiking trails on both banks of the river valley, winding their way up and down along the valley, across its mossy carpet, and in places close to the edge of the outcrop, producing extraordinary views to the forest and river below. The Ahja River is with its calm flow and beautiful nature the best place for the beginner canoe riders. On the other hand in springtime the river has much faster flow and is suitable only for experienced canoe riders. The area is good place for walking, jogging, meditation, recreation etc.

It is said that every Estonian must visit the place at least once in their lifetime.