This EU LIFE project encompasses 16 priority floodplain meadows in Latvia representing a combined area of 14,085 ha. The project sites, not previously addressed under other nature conservation initiatives, are all of unique regional, national and international importance and harbor the best floodplain meadows in the country, including 50% of its Fennoscandian wooded meadows and over 6530 ha of alluvial forests. These meadows provide crucial habitat for several priority bird species–chief among them the Great Snipe (Gallingo media)–and although restoration methodology varied in accordance with specific site characteristics, the interventions were all aimed at rehabilitating fragmented and overgrown meadows in order to protect and expand this habitat. Practitioners actively enlisted the help and support of local landowners and land managers in every phase of the project, and the ongoing management of project sites depends largely on the participation of these stakeholders. While monitoring activities thus far conducted on the restored floodplains show an overall increase in the populations of target species, a more accurate assessment of the project’s success must await longer-term trends and analyses.
Latvia, 56.879635, 24.60318899999993
Country or Territory:
Montane Grasslands & Shrublands, Grasslands & Savannas - Temperate
Area being restored:
University / Academic Institution
Primary Causes of DegradationFragmentation, Urbanization, Transportation & Industry
Because these floodplains are regularly inundated, they have never been used for intensive agricultural production. Instead, most areas were partly drained during the 20th century to increase hay production for livestock. Beginning in the 1980s, however, the need for hay decreased dramatically, as collective farms operating under the socialist system collapsed and the number of cattle decreased more than 2 fold. Consequently, the majority of these floodplain meadows were abandoned, and their habitat value has since declined due to the lack of management.
In the absence of cutting and grazing, overgrowth affects all types of meadows present at the sites. Bushes and trees are now invading these meadows and decreasing the area of suitable habitat available to important bird species. In fact, large areas of former floodplain meadows have gradually turned into shrub lands and even forests.
Fragmentation is another problem threatening the project sites. Drainage ditches now overgrown with bushes have become dense tree/shrub belts that divide once-continuous meadows into narrow strips. Although these belts themselves may not occupy large areas and may not significantly reduce the total area of the meadow, they diminish the effective meadow area, or core area, and result in less extensive habitat for target species. This, in turn, results in significantly lower population densities and decreased total population size in these areas.
These tree/shrub belts also serve as perches for avian predators (e.g. Corvids), as well as sources of seed for further shrub dispersion. Moreover, they increase the proportion of shaded areas in these meadows and create unfavorable conditions for light-demanding plant species, thereby altering vegetation structure and reducing species richness.
Reference Ecosystem Description
All 16 project sites represent typical floodplain meadow areas that are more or less regularly flooded. These meadows are restricted nature areas of critical importance for several globally threatened species, and they host Latvia’s highest breeding densities of the LIFE priority bird species Crex crex (Corn Crake) (400-685 individuals) and Aguila pomarina (Lesser Spotted Eagle) (59-120 individuals), as well as a third of the Latvian Gallingo media (Great Snipe) population (59-120 individuals).
To restore 15 of the most ecologically significant floodplains and Natura 2000 sites in Latvia in order to ensure favorable conservation status of several EU protected habitats (wooded meadows, floodplain meadows, lowland hay meadows, etc.) and species (Corn Crake (Crex crex), Great Snipe (Gallinago media), Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina), Hermit Beetle (Osmoderma eremite), etc.).
To engage local landowners in the long-term management of project sites and encourage stewardship of important habitats and species.
The project does not have a monitoring plan.
Since the project’s longâˆ’term management and success are highly dependent upon agricultural stakeholders, project planners are promoting the new agroâˆ’environment schemes in Latvia and are helping farmers apply for them. The participation of over 400 farmers has been actively solicited, and study tours, educational seminars and oneâˆ’onâˆ’one discussions have been organized where appropriate to stimulate interest and involvement.
Description of Project Activities:
All habitat restoration work took place outside the bird nesting season (1 April to 15 July), and in 95% of cases, landowners were contracted to carry out the restoration work. Although more difficult to coordinate and administer, this approach will help increase the sustainability of project results by involving land managers and local stakeholders from an early stage. Habitat restoration was conducted using the following methods: --Bush cutting took place over approx 1100 ha across all project sites. Bushes were cut using a chainsaw or bush-cutter, and stubs were left as short as possible--not more than 5 cm--to allow for post-restoration meadow management. --Uprooting carried out in small areas as an experiment to prevent the sprouting of already cleared bushes. Roots of the cut bushes were either shredded or extracted using appropriate machinery. In total, uprooting of bushes took place over an area of approx 9,55 ha in the Burga Meadows, Lake Burtnieks Meadows, Sita and Pededze Floodplain, and SvÄ“te Floodplain. --Wooded meadows that had long been overgrown were restored by removing shrubs around oak trees. A portion of the bushes was removed the first year and the rest the year after in order to gradually expose the oak trees to increasing amounts of light. Restoration of wooded meadows was conducted on 60 ha in the Vidusburtnieks, Sita and Pededze Floodplain, Mugurve Meadows and Pededze Lower Reaches. --Fencing was installed in the Lake Burtnieks Meadows and the Lielupe Floodplain Meadows to contain grazing animals. In Burtnieki, floodplain meadows are grazed by purebred horses of the Burtnieki horse farm, and in the Lielupe meadows (situated in central Jelgava), grazing is done by Konik horses acquired in cooperation with the Dutch ARK Foundation. The project also helped reinstate grazing in the Dviete Floodplain and the Sita and Pededze Floodplain with the help of financial contributions from local landowners. In these two floodplains, grazing is done by wild animals. --Controlled burning was a method employed at 11 project sites over an area of approx 380 ha. This method was used only for very overgrown sites and only after specific site management plans had been devised. In cases where other options were not feasible, the burning of cut bushes was also performed on site. Controlled burning was not applied in the Lielupe Floodplain Meadows, Kalnciems Meadows, RaÄ·upe Valley or Lake Durbe Meadows. --Initial mowing was the most extensive (about 2250 ha altogether) and most frequently used floodplain meadow restoration method. It was applied in floodplains where, in spite of having been abandoned for a number of years, bushes were not sufficiently dense for cutting. Initial mowing was combined with bush cutting in many cases, and was carried out in one of the following ways: --Manual mowing is the most expensive and most time consuming, and it was therefore used only in sites where no other options were available due to poor access or wet conditions. It was also used to remove sprouts after bushes had been cut. --Mechanical mowing followed by the removal of cut grass was used at sites where there was a use for hay and where possibilities for its removal existed. --Although it is not the most ecologically sound method, grass produced by mechanical mowing was often shredded and left at the site. In many cases, this was the only feasible choice for meadow restoration, so in lieu of leaving the site unrestored (i.e. as a developing scrub), it was decided to restore this way.
Ecological Outcomes Achieved
Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
Floodplain restoration was carried out over an area of 2400 ha. As a result, favorable conservation status was enhanced for the following habitats of European importance: species-rich Nardus grassland on siliceous substrates; Boreal alluvial meadows; eutrophic tall herb communities; lowland hay meadows; etc. Restoration of wooded meadows--a rare and protected habitat in Latvia and Europe--was achieved by removing bushes surrounding oak trees. Removal of undergrowth around oaks also created a suitable environment for the populations of the Hermit Beatle (Osmoderma eremite) found within the project sites. The effectiveness of floodplain meadow restoration and management measures has been assessed using the number of nesting birds. Bird monitoring was begun in 2004 and continued for the duration of the project. The monitoring was carried out using a uniform methodology and focused on counting the globally threatened Corn Crake (Crex crex) and Great Snipe (Gallinago media), along with other indicator species. The results thus far demonstrate an increase in the populations of the project's target species, as a positive trend has been observed in the numbers of both the Corn Crake and Great Snipe. In fact, comparisons between the number of these birds within the project sites and in the country as a whole demonstrate that floodplain restoration efforts have been successful. Although the number of singing Corn Crake males at project sites decreased in 2006, the change was less marked than in the rest of the country, and their increase the following year was more rapid. Furthermore, around half of Latvia's population of breeding Great Snipes is currently found within the project sites; and while there has been an overall drop in their population since the inception of monitoring in 1999, the number of Great Snipes on restored floodplains has actually increased--boosting figures for the country as a whole. Floodplain restoration measures and subsequent site management have also taken place in areas that are suitable feeding grounds for the Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina) during its nesting season, and for waterbirds and waders during their migration. Thus, a favorable impact on the populations of these species is expected as well.
Factors limiting recovery of the ecosystem:
In spite of ongoing monitoring efforts and preliminary indicators of success, the full extent of recovery (along with any limiting factors) will not be known for some time to come.
Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved
Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
Not only did this project provide a temporary solution to unemployment by involving local people in restoration activities, it is assisting landowners in obtaining subsidies to more effectively manage their resources and is affording local communities a valuable opportunity to become more active in shaping land use policies.
Key Lessons Learned
The results obtained in the course of this project will provide considerable help for River Basin Administrations in formulating the goals of water status in the 16 selected sites of NATURA 2000.
Sustainability of the project results can only be achieved with the assistance of knowledgeable and motivated landowners. Hence, an important aspect of the project was to educate the landowners and involve them in project activities from the outset. Training on EU subsidies available through the agro-environment scheme of the Rural Development Program was offered between 2006 and 2008, and study trips to Estonia, Finland and Sweden were also organized. Site management plans and educational leaflets were also prepared and disseminated to raise awareness and encourage stewardship.
As a result of these outreach activities, the owners of restored floodplain meadows and landowners who were contracted to assist with the restoration are now educated and committed to long-term floodplain management. The health of these biologically valuable grasslands will depend upon extensive grazing and mowing to control shrubs and other prolific colonizing species. Financing for the ongoing maintenance will be obtained primarily through agro-environment payments for biologically valuable grasslands under the Rural Development Program.
To encourage floodplain management outside the restored sites, an informative brochure was distributed across the country in an attempt to garner public support and ensure greater participation in these conservation initiatives.
Sources and Amounts of Funding
1,600,366 Euro 71.50% of the project’s budget, or 1,144,184 Euro, was provided through the EU LIFE-Nature program, with additional financing from the Ministry of the Environment of Latvia and UNDP (Global Environment Facility). A loan from the SEB Bank was also obtained for the final phase of the project.
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Latvian Fund for Nature