LATVIA – 2015
Gauja River – Latvia
As seen by; (left to right) Ewan Campbell (Scottish Natural Heritage), John McTague (Scottish Wildlife Trust), Sarah West (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), Ian Stewart (Forest Enterprise Scotland), Rab Potter (Scottish Wildlife Trust), Kate Sampson (The National Trust for Scotland)
This report provides feedback/information/reflections/musings and good sound advice* gleaned through a 7 day visit to Latvia from a small delegation from the bonny banks of….Scotland.
*by no means do any members of the delegation guarantee that below advice is sound or good.
Acknowledgements; Organised by – ARCH, Funded by – Erasmus +Programme, Hosted by – The Latvian State Forest Service. And a thanks to all the individuals that took time to present information and show us around the country.
Natura 2000 site protection and implementation in Latvia – Ewan Campbell
The main nature protection tools in Latvia are:- Specially protected nature sites (90% are classified as Natura 2000 sites); Micro Reserves including protection areas for Capercaillie, Black stork, Lesser spotted eagle, and specially protected habitats (20% are classified as Natura 2000 sites); Protection belts (buffers); and other specific nature protection requirements e.g. forestry regulations.
The Natura 2000 network (SACs and/or SPAs) in Latvia is largely based on the existing specially protected nature territories (SPNT) and includes a total of 333 sites to date, covering approximately 12% of the total area of the country. In Latvia, all of the Natura 2000 sites are underpinned by national designations. Scotland by comparison has 393 Natura 2000 sites which accounts for approximately 15% of Scotland’s land surface (most of which are also underpinned by Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) legislation).
There are also notable contrasts in protected areas ownership between Scotland and Latvia – 38% of Latvia’s SPNTs are under public ownership whereas approximately 12% of SSSIs in Scotland are under public ownership. State-owned forests take up 50% of Latvia’s total resource (in Scotland the Forestry Commission own 36% of Scotland’s forests).
There is an ongoing monitoring and reporting requirement for Natura 2000 habitats and species. The most recent Article 17 status evaluation report (2007-2012) of Latvia’s species and habitats showed that only 31% of habitats and 50% of species (other than birds) of EU importance were in a ‘favourable’ conservation status in the country. A EU-funded LIFE+ Nature project was recently established to draft guidelines for the long-term management of each terrestrial habitat type within Latvia’s Natura 2000 network (including some 55 Annex I habitats), and to inform and complement the 2014-2020 Latvian Rural Development Programme (RDP) which is the main funding stream available to support this management. There are also a range of compensation payments available under the RDP to prevent certain forestry practices within Natura 2000 classified Micro Reserves, including clear-cutting and thinning. Many Natura 2000 sites also receive specific EU Life+ Project funding e.g. for Capercaillie.
We visited the Ziemeļvidzemes Biosphere Reserve on 4th September 2015 which is located in the territory of Salacgrīva. The Reserve is 475514ha (6% of Latvia’s land mass) and includes 60 km of intertidal habitat on the Bay of Riga, as well as the entire catchment of the Salaca River SAC (95km long). The Reserve contains 25 protected areas including Ziemeļu Marsh, Augstroze, and Vidusburtnieks which are all important Ramsar classified wetland territories for birds. We visited several Annex 1 habitats within the Reserve including:
7110 ‘Active raised bogs’ – Ziemeļvidzemes contains 767ha of active raised bog, including patterned raised bogs which can host a complex of tree stands, bog pools, and lakes. The area is important for migratory and breeding birds with plant composition typical of untouched mires and is covered by both SAC and SPA classifications.
Our guide, Jānis Ozoliņš, explained that natural occlusion of man-made drains across the active raised bog had been supplemented in the past by the occasional beaver dam which had helped restore some of the natural hydrology in places. He also went on to mention that Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) regeneration, development, and encroachment across the mire expanse at Ziemeļvidzemes is not considered to be a priority for management under the current Management Plan.
Whereas management of similar Natura 2000 bog habitats in Scotland would tend to prioritise hydrological restoration i.e. ditch-blocking followed by removal of trees/scrub to prevent hydroseral succession and further water loss through transpiration, I got the impression from Jānis that he considered that the hydrological regime on many SAC bogs had almost reached a state of ‘natural equilibrium’ which did not necessitate any immediate anthropic interference. Furthermore, many of the tree clusters across the mire provided important cover for a range of mammal species (inc. large carnivores). However, overall this provides a ‘good fit’ with the over-arching objectives for the Biosphere i.e. “to provide protection and natural development of ecosystems, maintaining habitat suitability for certain species within the reserve, the study of natural processes and planning and implementation of management tasks”.
We also visited several Annex 1 Bog woodland habitats within Gauja National Park on our trip:
91DO ‘Bog woodland’ – This is a significant habitat for Capercaillie. The hydrological regime is the determining factor and restoration activities tend to focus on the hydrological regime and improving the shrub layer for Capercaillie.
Viesturs Lārmanis explaining the principles behind a ‘leaky’ timber dam.
Based on our experience, there appears to be some fundamental issues associated with funding baseline surveys, habitat/species monitoring, and the efficacy and suitability of current EU incentive/compensation schemes to support positive conservation management. However, the most notable differences between Latvia and Scotland with regards to Natura 2000 implementation are the amount of protected areas under public ownership in Latvia compared to Scotland, the fact that all Natura 2000 sites are underpinned with national designations in Latvia, and that the majority of Natura 2000 sites in Scotland are out-with Nature Reserves and National Parks unlike Latvia. Overall, the sheer scale of the forests and other Natura 2000 qualifying habitats in Latvia is immense, and influences how people can co-exist with species such as beaver, wild boar and wolf, and also how species can be sustainably managed.
The following were outlined as key objectives for the future of Natura 2000 in Latvia:-
- Extention and planned management of the SPA network;
- Multifunctional use of SPAs to help support nature conservation values;
- Assessement of ecosystem services provided by SPAs;
- Better integration of nature protection requirements in different economic sectors;
- Better integration of “conservative” and “dynamic” nature protection systems. orestry than bodies in Scotland do, including hunting, nature reserves and habitat legislation. This of course means that there can be a consistent approach to the management of habitat and species across the country which is reflected in the other aspects of this report.
Cultural heritage as green infrastructure; incorporated site visited throughout the visit – John McTague
Osmoderma eremita – hermit beetle
The hermit beetle Osmoderma eremita is a large, glossy beetle distributed quite widely across northern and western Europe, but not the British Isles. It is classed as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN and is a European Protected Species (listed on Annex IV of the Habitats Directive) due to its requirement for a specific habitat type that is fragmented and declining. The species gets its common name as its entire lifecycle can occur in a hollow within a single tree. It is an elusive species, requiring decaying heartwood of large, old trees – especially oaks – in quite open habitats as it requires heat. For this reason, parkland and wood-pasture habitats are vital. In Latvia, this habitat occurs quite widely on former Manorial estates. In the grounds of the Ungurmuiža Manor, there is a hermit beetle conservation project funded through the EU LIFE programme. The habitat is managed for the conservation of this species, e.g. through selective felling of trees and thinning of regenerating scrub, to ensure open habitats with veteran trees surrounded by grassland. These meadows can be exceptionally species-rich and are a vitally important habitat in their own right, with management typically involving annual mowing. The huge oaks, several hundred years old, also support a wealth of other biodiversity and are one of the richest terrestrial habitats in Europe.
Parkland habitat, home of the hermit beetle
A visit to a farm in Bekas village, Gauja National Park in the north of the country was a great example of how cultural heritage, such as traditional farming methods and buildings, can be a way of maintaining active land management for biodiversity conservation. Farm buildings supported breeding birds and bats, including 20 pairs of white wagtails Motacilla alba in one barn alone, while a maternity colony of approximately 200 Nathusius’s pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii occurred in a wooden wall of the farmhouse. Remains of a watermill, last active in the 19th century, and a restored smithy are on-site with interpretation panels describing the history of the settlement. Today, one 140 hectare farm comprises several previous holdings, but land management is sensitive and there is no intensive agriculture to be seen. Several meadow conservation projects are in progress. Pastures are subject to occasional flooding from the nearby River Gauja and are grazed at low stocking densities to encourage a species-rich sward, with over 60 species per square metre recorded. Historically, much of the area would have comprised wood pasture, and there are plans to restore some areas to this habitat through an EU LIFE project.
Floodplain pastures and mixed woodland in the Gauja National Park
A visit to the farm Jaun-Ieviņas in the Rauna municipality (Vidzeme) showed how diversification of a rural business can ensure profitable farming, biodiversity conservation and cultural heritage preservation can coexist. The farm is entirely organic, with low-intensity beef cattle, apiculture (bee-keeping), woodland management for charcoal, quince production and an amazing variety of free range chickens for egg production. The farm is also a tourism enterprise, with accommodation for visiting groups. A guided walk around the farm included seeing mature mixed woodland, species-rich grasslands, and small wetlands dotted around. The variety of habitats meant that the area was exceptionally rich in wildlife, with nuthatches and willow tits calling, flocks of fieldfares in the scrub, a huge badger sett, and tales of lynx visiting at night and nesting lesser spotted eagles. A key point of interest was the herd of Koniks, a semi-feral breed of horse from Poland, used for conservation-grazing projects. These horses are ideally suited to wetland conservation projects, such as on wet grasslands. Their diet varies throughout the year, and their grazing and trampling improves and diversifies the vegetation structure, enhancing the biodiversity value of a site.
Diversification of farming, to include tourism, low-intensity organic practices and sustainable woodland management
The Integration of Capercaillie Protection into Forest Management – Sarah West
The Capercaillie population in Latvia has been declining for the past 100 years. Their range has been contracting since the 1940’s and there was a major population decline between 1940-1993, leaving just 4000 birds present today. There are large areas of good quality forest habitat suitable for Capercaillie but there are few birds using these areas at present.
Capercaillie Population Trends
There were found to be four causes for this decline:
- Hunting/poaching – Capercaillie used to be hunted as game birds in Latvia, but are now a protected species and few are legally hunted
- Forestry and wetland drainage – hen Capercaillie with young chicks often utilise wet and boggy areas within a forest landscape, as they are an essential source of food and 86% of leks in Latvia are on wet soils, but these areas are often drained for farmland or forestry
- Predation – the main predator of Capercaillie in Latvia is the Pine Marten which has increased in number in the past 30 years, although Goshawk, Lynx, wild boar, foxes and crows will also predate Capercaillie and their eggs and chicks
- Climate change – causing less extreme weather conditions; warmer wetter winters and cooler summers are not great for Capercaillie as these conditions affect food plant growth and insect hatching times, affecting brood success
The fragmentation of forest habitats due to clearfelling practices and walls of young spruce, and human disturbance caused by people foraging for mushrooms and berries in the forest are also issues for Capercaillie. Some birds also get killed on the roads each year as they are gritting on the roadsides.
The State Forestry Service in Latvia has been working with experts in Capercaillie management from Finland to try and halt this decline. The area around all known Capercaillie lek sites has been given state protection as a Micro Reserve (about 100ha for each site), a designation which brings strong restrictions for forest management to ensure the lek site isn’t destroyed. Around each Micro Reserve is a buffer which have fewer management restrictions. In addition to this, all bird observations are recorded in a database and guidelines for forest management both within Capercaillie lek areas and outside of lek areas are being developed.
Distribution of Capercaillie Micro Reserves
The lek sites are all overlapped with forestry data to allow a spatial analysis of the lek habitat. This has found that Capercaillie prefer rich mesic forests with heather, lichens, and vaccinium species in the field layer, but avoid nutrient-rich forests such as broadleaved woods. Capercaillie were also shown to use areas of forest bogs frequently, and to prefer older forests, and those of a medium tree density, with 40-80% forest cover. This information allows the Forestry Service to select the best habitat for protection for Capercaillie.
The Capercaillie population is monitored annually by the State Forestry Service. All known lek sites are visited between the start of April-15th May and the location of each lekking male is recorded and mapped, to form the lek site and buffer zones. To get an idea of numbers, they count males as they fly in to roost at the lek sites and assume a ratio of 1 male:5 females. Broods are surveyed in August using an adapted version of the Finnish triangle method. This is where three people walk in a line, 20m apart, in a double triangle across a 1km square as shown, and all birds are recorded with a GPS. This monitoring is now in its fourth year, with 77 census routes covered each year, which covers all Capercaillie areas within State forests. All staff are trained in these survey methods and all droppings and signs are recorded by staff when found during their daily work in the forests.
Capercaillie habitat management involves thinning to produce more branched trees and to allow more light to the forest floor, ground flora management, and removal of young spruce in the understory to prevent the forests from becoming too thick, although some are left as cover. Windthrow is removed but root plates are left for dust baths and gritting stations, and they have found that Capercaillie often use areas just after thinning due to the easy access to the pine needles left as brash. A large hydrological restoration scheme is also underway; to block drainage ditches and restore boggy areas within the forests, although no management is permitted in a Capercaillie area between 1st March and 31st July. There are clearfell restrictions in Capercaillie areas, which can only be restocked with pine, and they are trying to link areas of suitable habitat with corridors of pine.
Ditch-blocking for Capercaillie
Capercaillie Micro Reserve
Forest management in Latvia – Ian Stewart
Even on the approach to the airport into Riga I knew that the makeup of the land management in Latvia was going to be different from Scotland. I could not help but be a bit envious of the amount of forest cover that could be seen from the window of the plane as we came in for touchdown in the capital city Riga. Throughout our visit to the country it was apparent that not only is there a rich history to forest management in Latvia but it has played a big part in creating the landscape they have today.
Throughout the history of Latvia there has been a number of occupying rulers; one of which for a few hundred years was the Germans. One of the things that the German ideology brought was the structure of forest management geared towards growth for timber production. Even through occupation of by other ruling states (Russia being one of them) Latvian’s were able to hold onto their forestry values which have resulted in Latvia having a forest cover of over 42% (2.7 million hectares) and by the look of it additional fringe zones. The desire to maintain a healthy forest environment started early with the protection of belts along the Baltic coast in 1838 and the first nature reserve in Latvia created in 1912. The systems that have been employed and regulated throughout this history have led to the current status of not only forest management but wildlife, habitat and diversity across the country.
Forest management maps detailing tree species and site plan. This is the site pictured in the Capercaillie section
The highest proportions of the forests in Latvia are state owned but an even higher percentage falls under the regulation of the State Forest Service. A section of the state forest service is the regulating body for all the forestry activity across both private and public ground. However they monitor a wider scope of forestry than bodies in Scotland do, including hunting, nature reserves and habitat legislation. This of course means that there can be a consistent approach to the management of habitat and species across the country which is reflected in the other aspects of this report.
The other section of the State Forest Service manages the commercial aspect of the forestry. The leading species of tree in Latvia is what we call Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) which makes up 55%, then Norway Spruce (Picea abies) and Birch (Betula pendula) (22 and 19% respectively). One of the forest districts (10 districts throughout Latvia) we visited was the Eastern Vidzeme Forestry Region which out of its 203,000 hectares manages 180,00 hectares as commercial forest. Even though they cut 600,00m3 a year they clear cut less than 2000 hectares per year, the majority of timber volume comes from thinning. Having this high proportion of thinning in comparison to clearfell means a different planting and regeneration regime from Scotland, encouraging continuous cover forestry and natural regeneration opposed to planting (only 1000ha). This ethos on forest management is another one of the reasons that Latvia has maintained this unique landscape and habitat.
Commercially managed stand of Scots Pine
Even though Latvia has a long history of forest management they are also adapting to new pressures on the natural environment. They have over 28% of their forest cover with extra management criteria through their number of reserve types. They are actively seeking funding through the European Union to maintain and promote the biodiversity in their forest landscape. It does seem like they are trying to achieve a balance between the commercial aspects of forest management and biodiversity. As Scotland is making changes to expand and improve its forest cover it was interesting to see the management and philosophy that Latvia has and is adapting to. It shows that there are ways of managing a forest for commercial purposes while providing habitat and diversity for a range of values and species, it just has to be done in the correct way.
Commercially managed stand of Birch
Population Ecology and Sustainable use of Large Carnivores in Latvia Considering Conservation Policy and Legislation at EU Scale – Janis Ozolins – Rab Potter
This very interesting presentation showed us how the population evaluation of large carnivores was assessed in Latvia. There was three main areas of study; Field Studies, Pedigree Analysis and Population Viability Analysis.
Hunting wolves has only been regulated in Latvia since 2004, and there is a very short closed season between 1st April and 14th July. Historical records show hunting bags of just under 400 in 1996, dropping to between 100 – 150 between 2000 and 2007 and between 200 – 300 since 2008.
There is an annual quota for shooting lynx, with an open season only between December and the end of March
There is also an annual quota for hunting bears.
The main reasons hunting in such numbers is allowed (a) good legislation and (b) increases in prey species of roe deer and wild boar.
Wolves and lynx are protected under Annexe 2 of the European Habitats Directive – (Special Protected Areas – SPA) and Annexe 4 – an exploitation ban. However in Baltic countries wolves have been moved to Annexe 5 – can be hunted using methods not banned by Directive, although population monitoring is required. Six yearly reports are required looking at range, population, habitat, future prospects, overall assessment and overall trend in population status.
77 territories corresponding to Local State Forest areas were studied. The carcases of shot wolves were examined (over 1000 since 2004) and details of age and litter size by placental scars recorded. This provided a record of the age structure of the wolf population. Hunting pressure spatial patterns were also determined.
Samples of wolves hunted were examined genetically. This showed the maximum number of packs for Latvia to be 20. It also showed that related wolves can travel from one side of the country to the other. These samples were also used to determine absolute age by counting cement increment lines in root slices of canine teeth and uterine horns checked for embryos or placental scars
The regularity of successful hunting was recorded, as was male/female and pup ratio in hunting bags from 2004 to 2013. In 38 of the 77 territories studied less than 10 wolves were shot over the last 10 years. These territories are assumed to be most resistant to hunting pressure and are presumably holding sustainable packs. Once again age distribution and genetics were recorded through DNA sampling.
The conclusion of these studies is that currently the neither the age range nor numbers of pups is fluctuating and therefore the Population Evaluation is the wolf population is in favourable status. By default this implies they can sustain the current hunting pressures.
Similar studies in the Lynx population have shown;
- Many kinship relationships
- Lynx are not monogamous
- An increase in lynx population to just under 900 in 2014/15
- Fecundity is also increasing
- Average range of male lynx around 500 square kilometres
- They prefer continuous or mosaic landscape much more than wolves.Much discussion followed especially in light of the proposed trial reintroductions of lynx into three fenced areas in Britain. If there was any conclusion to these discussions it was that there are huge supplies of much easier prey for lynx in the UK (rabbits, pheasants, grouse and large numbers of unprotected livestock) before the population would need to tackle larger prey such as roe deer.These discussions continued on Friday during very enjoyable field surveys for signs of large carnivores.
Racoon Dog tracks
Fresh wolf track – front paw
Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) – Kate Sampson
This is a private company established in 2008. It has focused on the development of innovative solutions to the management of natural resources. The company develops ad hoc teams of scientists, artists, engineers and environmentalists to come up with creative solutions to environmental issues.
IES is involved in a diverse number of projects. We were shown two examples, ARSENAL, and the production of herbs for medicines and teas. The company is based at Cẽsis where it owns an aerodrome and runway as well as forestry and land for growing herbs.
This stands for Airborne Surveillance and Environmental Monitoring System.
The company has invested in the purchase of a Defender BN-2T-4S aircraft.
This has been adapted to carry 8 different sensors, spanning the spectral range from infrared (12,000 nm wavelength) through to ultraviolet (280nm wavelength). The equipment includes a high resolution camera (in the visible range) and a laser scanner (LIDAR).
The advantages of the aircraft is that it can carry the 400kg weight of the equipment, can take off from very short (500m) unprepared runways and can survey 100 km2 of land in an hour and fly for 7 hrs at a time.
The potential applications of ARSENAL are beyond the imagination, but are limited by the development of algorithms to convert the data from the images obtained to actual environmental conditions on or below the ground, and by the lack of customers with an understanding of its potential. IES is therefore spending a lot of effort in developing the market for ARSENAL by show casing applications, and are also investing in development of the necessary algorithms to interpret the data.
Their success is evident in the number of applications of the system that they were able to demonstrate. For example, ARSENAL was used in the Gauja National Park Capercaillie project, helping to map the locations of the best habitat for Capercaillie. ARSENAL produced a 3D digital model of the Gauja river and adjacent ditches, mapping the hydrological system within the forest. This enabled targeted blocking of ditches so that cost effective improvements would recreate the ‘bog forest’, a component essential for the long term retention of Capercaillie.
Other applications include: using hyperspectral data to differentiate between different tree species and tree vitality within a forest; the ability to assess algae blooms and chlorophyll concentrations in the Baltic over a wide area and within a short time period; using thermal images to catch poachers and to assess the population of species from birds in the Baltic to wolves in the forests; habitat mapping such as mapping the extent of giant hog weed, and assessing the biomass of grasslands.
One of the advantages of ARSENAL is the ability collect data on a landscape scale in a short time period. This approach comes into its own when analysing a dynamic system. For example, when looking at the chlorophyll in the Baltic, ARSENAL can survey the same area in an hour that a boat could do in a day with 20M data points compared to 20 by boat. One down side it is quite expensive, although if 20,000 ha are surveyed then the costs come down to approximately 3/5 euros per hectare.
While we visited the aerodrome we also saw another IES project in action. The company had adapted small fixed wing aircraft to disperse a rabies vaccine. This was being flown into forest areas where rabies was still present in the racoon dog and fox population. Ariel dispersal of the vaccine over the past 2 years had reduced rabies, once widespread throughout Latvia, to only two small pockets of forest.
One thing that IES has been particularly good at is collaborating with as many different agencies as possible. This has enabled them to develop their data collection system and algorithms through a series of EU funded LIFE projects, through state funded projects to reduce poaching and combat oil spills, and now through the European Space Agency Sentinel satellite programme. They are utilising their expertise in algorithms to help analyse satellite images and comparing them to their ARSENAL system and to environmental conditions on the ground.
For more information go to www.videsinstituts.lv
Thermal image of a wolf using one of ARSENALS detectors
Herb Growing at Cẽsis
A little more conventional a project was the medicinal herb growing and packaging company IES has established. Owning land and forestry, IES researched what herbs would grow best in Latvia’s climate and would have a market value in Europe. They decided to invest in growing organic camomile for use in medicines and teas. 5 years later, they now grow herbs on 200 ha of land around Cẽsis, 180 ha of which is camomile, the rest is marigold, mint, and caraway.
Innovative as ever, IES developed their own harvesting machine by drawing on the skills of local mechanics to adapt conventional combine harvesters. The cut herbs are dried using hot air from furnaces fuelled by wood from their forests. Once dry, the plants are sorted by an amazing automated conveyor belt with various cutters, shifting plates and rotating drums. This turns a camomile plant into 5 products; dried flower heads, pollen, petals, seed, and chopped up stems and leaves. All the products have a market value either for herbal teas or medicines, and are boxed and transported to manufacturers in Italy, Austria, Germany and France.
Sorting machine for dried flower heads Pollen product
At present the operation is limited by their drying space and the capacity of their sorting machine. To develop further they are considering producing secondary products with a higher market value than their raw materials. The company provide employment in the Cẽsis area for factory and farm workers, mainly for manual weeding of the crops (no spraying allowed as it is an organic product), and hand sorting of unwanted plant material on the conveyor belts.
Throughout the course there was numerous group discussions on land management in Latvia and how it compares to Scotland; good, bad and what lessons we can learn from there systems. It will be interesting to see how Scotland deals with adapting its land management as Latvia seems to be making an effort through both its state regulation and private enterprise.