LATVIA: A CULTURAL JOURNEY NOT JUST A NATURAL ONE!
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LATVIA: A CULTURAL JOURNEY NOT JUST A NATURAL ONE!

From the wetlands of Kemeri National Park through to the wooded sand stone valley of Gauja National Park the visiting tourist cannot fail to be impressed by the abundance of information signs, play areas, picnic spots, fire pits, boarded walks and walking trails which manage to make you feel welcome without compromising on the natural beauty of the landscape. I think all in the group would agree that we were excited about the accessibility of Latvia to a tourist with return trips already being mapped out. Nothing demonstrates this tourism infrastructure more than the Latvian Nature app, freely available and translated into English it enables you to maximise your visit to Latvia from the comfort of your pocket.

Forestry in Latvia
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Forestry in Latvia

In terms of organisational structure there are strong similarities to Scotland. The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) develops policy. The State Forest Service sits within the MOA and enforces legislation across the industry whilst providing support and issuing licences/permits for all forests regardless of ownership. Finally, the Latvia State Forests Joint Stock Company operates as a commercial entity and manages all state owned forests.

However as Normunds went into more detail and as we visited more forests throughout the week it became clear that organisational structure was where any similarities to forestry in Scotland ended. In terms of forest cover, ownership and management Scotland and Latvia could hardly be more different.
It was fascinating to spend time in a country with such a different approach, where forestry seems to be winning out over intensive tree farming. Since being back at work I’ve been looking at my sites differently, wondering how much of what I saw could work here and daydreaming of Wolf , Moose, Lynx and Bear…. Paldies Latvia!

Deer, Moose & Forestry in Latvia
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Deer, Moose & Forestry in Latvia

In Latvia deer management is administered centrally by the State Forest Service and there is a national register of hunters who require a license to hunt. However management is devolved to the 2074 hunting districts with cull targets and objective agreed locally. This and the requirement of a minimum land area over which to hunt different species means that there is a more collaborative approach to hunting in Latvia. Cull reporting is more rigorous than in Scotland and hunters are required to record where, when and how many deer they harvest.

Forest Management, Disease & Control: Perspectives from Latvia
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Forest Management, Disease & Control: Perspectives from Latvia

Given the extent and value of both Norway and Sitka spruce stands in both Scotland and the wider UK, it is vitally important economically and environmentally as described above to minimize and control any outbreaks of dangerous forest pests in coming years. Lessons learned in Latvia as well as other European countries indicate the importance of early detection through annual monitoring and indeed the important relevant intervention to control outbreaks and minimize losses as well as preventing further spread of infestations.

Institute for Environmental Solutions
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Institute for Environmental Solutions

It is an impressive set up, with a (for Latvia) diverse staff of 35, who are highly skilled and experienced in their fields of biology, chemistry, electronics, and others. The umbrella vision for IES and the other 11 companies is an ethos of environmental thinking through medicine, art, beauty, and gastronomy.

There is a conscious effort to break the barriers between science based knowledge and the experience of people who have gained a deep understanding of the land through years of working and living with it, blending the two to gain a higher level of understanding. This is done through job swaps, careful recruitment, local projects, and shadowing.

Reflections on Latvia –  a GIS Storymap Report
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Reflections on Latvia – a GIS Storymap Report

Whilst this is just one example of cultural heritage as green infrastructure, we encountered numerous others. From traditional barrel making to organic production of medicinal herbs (linked to rigorous scientific analysis and development); from an environment that invites you to swim in every lake, river and seashore…
 …to foraged berries and fresh meals cooked with fresh food every day – our daily experiences and memories made were based on the health and integrity of the environment around us and its place in culture and history.
Without this we would not have found the social cohesion in our group that came about from sitting by the river in the evenings blethering away, listening for wolf calls at night, or stargazing under the Milky Way.

Managing Natural and Cultural Heritage Assets in Latvia
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Managing Natural and Cultural Heritage Assets in Latvia

I found myself drawn to as the week went on was the story of the history of landownership and land use in Latvia, the way in which forestry plays an important role in the economy of the country and how the people of Latvia interact with the woodland and wildlife in their country. I found it particularly thought provoking how that history has shaped the habitats and ecosystems that exist and how they function. (Alison Austin)

Latvia Joint Report 2013
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Latvia Joint Report 2013

At first glance, Latvia is a land of forests and woodlands – some natural, pristine and undisturbed, while others are expertly managed for the benefit of biodiversity, access, recreation and timber production. Interspersed among the forests are many farms and homesteads, managing the land in a welcome low-intensive way and many with their own special […]

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