A wintry forest in Estonia.

Want to cut down a Christmas tree in Estonia? There’s an app for that

Estonia has a state app for helping people choose and cut down their own Christmas tree; Adam Rang ventured into the forest to see how well it really works.

Estonia’s State Forest Management Centre, known as the RMK, has released an improved mobile app service to help people in Estonia find their own Christmas tree from a state forest.

The RMK app guides people to a suitable spruce that is not in a protected area and would have no hope of growing anyway, such as under a power line. They can then pay the fee through their phone and cut the tree down themselves.

The app is available in Estonian, English and Russian. 

The RMK began inviting Estonians to cut down their own Christmas trees from state forests in 2008. Their main objective is to simply maintain the tradition and encourage Estonians to spend more time in the wilderness. Several state institutions and companies choose this option over shop-bought alternatives and sometimes even see it as a team building exercise.

The app received some criticism in 2018 for not offering enough clarity about how to choose a suitable tree, although the RMK has invested in improving the app to address those issues.

To see how well the new RMK app works, this writer went to the forest to pick his own Christmas tree.

Firstly, the upgraded map that shows your location is incredibly easy to use. The state forests where you can cut down trees are marked in dark green, while private forests (where you can only cut down trees with the permission of the land owner) are marked in light green, and nature reserves (where taking trees is strictly prohibited) are marked in brown. Most helpfully, power lines are marked as blue lines and beneath those are the easiest places to find spruce trees that would need cutting down anyway.

The ideal tree was found under a power line in the state forest near Saku.

All the prices are the same as in 2018 and are based on the tree’s height. These are listed inside the app, along with the phone number to call to get your one-time tree cutting license that’s paid directly from your phone bill. You can also pay by bank transfer. 

The app lists prices for trees up to five metres (16.4 ft), although you can pay for trees above that too by bank transfer only. In case you are interested, a tree taller than 20 metres (65.6 ft) will cost you €640. This writer’s tree is a more modest 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) tall, which cost €8. 

According to the Estonian Forest Act, you are also allowed to take ornamental branches, such as for a Christmas tree wreath, as long as you do not harm the rest of the tree. Taking just the top off a tree, for example, is prohibited.

You must pay for your Christmas tree before cutting it down. Although this is difficult to police, it’s possible that authorities may stop you when carrying a tree and ask to see your proof of payment. And you can’t get away with saying you couldn’t connect to make the payment because even the forests of Estonia tend to have good connectivity.

There are few things more Estonian than enjoying the wilderness and using digital services. In addition, the Christmas tree tradition can actually be traced back to Estonia (even though Latvia says the same thing).

This is an edited version of the article originally published by Adam Rang in Medium.

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