“Nature and Green Infrastructure”
Forestry, Large carnivore management, research and legislation, Peat bogs and wetland management, Nature protection system and practices, Cultural Heritage & Green Infrastructure and Digital tools in conservation.
Although a trip focused on understanding the management of nature conservation in Latvia our hosts made sure we received a healthy dose of cultural history to compliment and broaden our understanding of Latvia and its people. A nation with a long complex history Latvia’s castles and medieval towns have so much to discover, a guided tour of Cesis old town and the castle was fascinating and filled with folk tales, legends and facts. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were previously known as Livonia, this was one of the last pagan strongholds in continental Europe, officially right into the late 1100’s unofficially surviving much longer after the Northern crusades finally brought Christianity to the tribal pagans. To put this into context Iona Monastery had already been established in Scotland for more than 600 years!
The history of Cesis and its castle reflects that of Livonia, conquered, capture, occupied and passed around bloody battle after bloody battle. Even just between the Teutonic Knights northern crusades set on bringing Christianity to the pagan in the 11th Century to the besiege of Cesis castle by the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1577 (ending in a mass suicide) I could write pages and pages. In fact I already did, but this is the edited version! Despite the turbulent history Latvians have retained their national identity. Although the Republic of Latvia did not officially declared until 1918 many of the tribes during the Northern crusades of the 11th Century began to fight battles under the same red and white flag we associate with Latvia today. Independence as the Republic of Latvia was finally recognised in 1921 but as we all know the occupation of Latvia by foreign nations was not yet over.
The modern history of Latvia is as fascinating as it medieval past, but what of the Latvia of today. There are five large national parks dotted across the country; tourism is a developing sector one which the Latvians are keen to capitalise on. 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. Now I realise I sound as though I am working on commission but I am confident in saying that I do echo the feelings of the group as a whole.
Teirumnīku purva taka trial
Wherever we went in Latvia be it city, forest or country we were welcomed by friendly, helpful Latvian’s. This was truly demonstrated by our hosts for a night close to Valmeria in eastern Latvia, with the young apprentices of the family in attendance we were taught the intricate process of barrel making. A truly captivating, spectacular and at points beautiful skill which in Latvia is dying out, only three barrel makers remain in the country our hosts were determined to continue the tradition into future generations.
Author: Richard Cooper – Peatland ACTION Project Officer, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority
Leader: Janis Kuze of the Nature Conservation Agency (Latvia)
Ķemeri National Park (Latvian: Ķemeru nacionālais parks) lies 30 miles west of Riga, and west of the city of Jūrmala . Designated in 1997, Ķemeri is Latvia’s third largest national park covering an area over 380km² with diverse habitats including a number of European importance such as bog woodland, black alder swamps, intermediate and raised bogs, rich fens, and coastal dunes.
The park is mostly occupied by forests (57%) and mires (24%), the most significant of these being The Great Ķemeri Bog (Latvian: Lielais Ķemeru tīrelis). Forestry activity (e.g. thinning) no longer takes place in the National Park in order to reduce disturbance, although some conservation management such as fell-to-waste still takes place.
The Great Ķemeri Bog
Ķemeri Bog is a large area of raised mire (6,192ha) with varying degrees of woodland cover. From the air, and tourist observation towers, the spectacular bog patterning of a large intact “wet” bog can be seen, but there are parts of the bog that have had damaging activities and recent positive interventions.
Formation of bogs in Latvia started in the postglacial period, approximately 10,000 – 7,000 years ago as the climate became warmer and more humid.
The landscape was created by a combination of sands and gravels being dumped as glaciers retreated, and the formation of raised beaches as the land level rose in isostatic readjustment. This created an area inland with dunes and occasional cone shaped gravel hills. Subsequent climactic change allowed fen then bog formation to slowly engulfed large parts of the low-lying landscape. There are still refuges of the original heathland vegetation remaining on the old gravel cones that now form islands poking through the bog: heather and older pine trees. It is these areas that are home to mammals such as pine marten and fox, as well as birds including waders, Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Crane, owls, Golden Eagle, Osprey, and White-tailed Sea Eagle. Nesting platforms are constructed on these “islands” for Golden Eagle although perhaps only 1 in 10 are occupied with less than half of these being productive pairs. Unlike Scotland there are virtually no natural cliffs in Latvia which could provide alternative nest sites.
Photo: Relic dune within Ķemeri Bog
The Jurmala area was important during the Soviet period as Ķemeri was a Spa town frequented by locals and soviet officials. The spa waters were a result of the area’s bogs overlying Dolomitic Sandstones and resulting in many natural sulphur springs: a sublayer of gypsum and soil bacteria form H2S gas which easily dissolves in water. The therapeutic mineral waters and muds found in Ķemeri are used in health resorts to treat mostly digestive system and skin problems.
However, a decline in the area’s water quality coincided with a decline in the Spa’s fortunes.
Although the bog has not experienced large-scale economic exploitation as other bogs in Latvia, it was nevertheless affected by the peat extraction carried out in the second half of the 20th century, lasting up to the 1980s. The ditch network was created in order to drain the exploitation area. These ditches not only affected the exploitation area, but also the adjacent bog by causing enhanced tree growth, the decline in Sphagnum, and an increase in heather and other dwarf shrub cover.”
Peat milling operations, especially close to the edge of the mire, have removed the top 2m of peat. At the time these operations were approved as “bog was considered a disease of nature”.
During the Soviet era large “bog quarries” had been promoted where some of the areas of the deepest peat were removed down to the base of the mire. This was so deep it caused contamination of the water table. It was these waters that fed the Spa industry of the adjacent town and so the Soviet administration stopped the extraction due to the adverse effect it had on the Sulphur Waters that were so important to the spring. (Restoration of these particular deep extraction sites is still proving problematical and has not taken place.)
An EU funded programme of restoration began in on the more peripheral area of the mire where peat milling had taken place. Peat dams had been used to stem the flow of water along the 1-2m wide ditches previously put in place to drain the peat before the commercial peat extraction.
The peat dams are substantially bigger (wider and more robust) than Scottish ones. The reason: beaver have colonised the artificial ditches as broadleaved trees fringe these. As beaver burrow into banks the peat dams need to be over-engineered, to ensure they do not collapse should the beavers burrow into them.
Photo: Wide dam (foreground) blocking drainage ditch.
Photo: Evidence of beaver.
It was said that if the blocking of ditches were to be done now they would use surface peat to completely fill the ditch, and not leave it open – possibly in a response to the arrival of beavers.
Setbacks in restoration occurred in 2005 including storms and a 300ha wildfire.
“Conservation of Wetlands in Kemeri National Park”. (LIFE02NAT/LV/8496)
The former peat extraction area was still dominated by bare peat fields where the bog vegetation did not recover due to excessively dry conditions. Using EU funding these fields were rewetted. In the surrounding ditch at the edge of the peat fields an excavator built 50 peat dams from locally won peat. Additionally, three large dams were built in the marginal area. The former extraction road was increased in height to form a central dam in a 1.4 km stretch, and three culverts installed.
Photo: Former extraction road – now central dam
EU LIFE project “Sustainable and Responsible Management and Re-use of Degraded Peatlands in Latvia” (LIFE14 CCM/LV/001103, LIFE REstore)
In some areas of the former peat extraction fields, natural bog vegetation was still not restoring even after raising the water level. As part of a €1.8 million LIFE REstore project, re-naturalisation took place in a 4.3ha area by way of profiling the territory and sphagnum planting (a method unprecedented in Latvia on such a scale). In order to evaluate the most effective sphagnum planting strategy for natural conditions, various species of Sphagnum were planted in different combinations in differently prepared areas. The results of this are yet to be published.
Photo: Rewetted bog (although after 2 dry summers the water table is low)
Project dates: 01 September 2015 – 31 August 2019
|Administration of Latvian Nature protection fund||554,288|
Areas of undamaged bog receive no management input or grazing as their water levels are sufficient to maintain equilibrium.
Typical bog species of Ķemeri Bog
Photo: Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) Photo: Wild Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia)
Photo: Marsh Labrador Tea (Ledum Paulstre) Photo: Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
The restoration works undertaken so far are led by the fact that this is a natural habitat (now designated under European law, as well as the country’s own designations – see elsewhere in this report). The principle driver was therefore nature conservation. Only in passing was any mention of a carbon store made. The size of Ķemeri Bog makes it a key habitat in the mitigation of climate change.
Notably the Latvians take pride in restoring their “Natura 2000” sites. However, commercial cutting of peat still continues outside these areas. At a visit to the tree nursery (see elsewhere in this report) the growing medium used was 30% peat – obviously a locally harvested product for the forest industry!
The Meadows of Dunduri (Melnragi Meadows)
On the western flanks of the Ķemeri National Park flows the River Slampe. The flood plain forms the boundary to the raised mire. This river was canalised in 1974 to take drains cut into the forest and bog to the east and then flow southwards ultimately to drain into the River Lielupe. In the early years of the new millennium threats had emerged to the conservation status of the habitats and species around the river. These were linked to land use changes which had drained wetland environments and many of the hay meadows were becoming increasingly overgrown following the abandonment of traditional agricultural practices by local farmers. Urbanisation and visitor pressure were also noted as representing ongoing.
In 2005 the first river restoration project in the country secured LIFE funding to prepare a management plan, acquire the land, restore the river, and identify mechanisms for maintaining the site on a long-term basis.
Restoration works implemented by the Administration of Ķemeri National Park with around 730 ha of meadows purchased and 450 ha restored to natural flood plain meadows. An 8-year LIFE project ensued involving a great deal of time communicating with the locals to get their buy-in to the project. Their opinion on such matters makes a project work, or not as there can be unforeseen consequences of planned actions:
Photo: Downstream – Man-made dam
A man-made dam constructed to hold water back in the north of the project area helped attract a beaver which constructed a more effective dam slightly upstream and resulted in the seasonal flooding of the adjacent meadows – greater than the planned area. A local farmer has subsequently lost an area of land he uses for production. However, the percentage of his landholding lost is small and he tolerates this loss. Vegetation has reacted quickly to the changed management (as visible in the photo above).
Photo: Upstream – beaver dam
Photo: Water backed-up from beaver dam – great vegetation regrowth
To the south of the project area a 2.1km section of the canalised river was realigned to a more natural riverbed again, with the total length of meanders now reaching 4.6 km.
The restoration used historical data to pin-point the shape of river meanders prior to being straightened. Excavators were then used to reinstate the river to its old course. Fen habitats developed on the floodplain which quickly became home to a variety of bird species including many species of warblers, water rail, Marsh Harrier and Lesser Spotted Eagle.
Photos: Views from the observation tower – showing the canalised river now cut off and the meanders recreated.
The meadows themselves are now grazed by a mixture of Konik Ponies and Hex Cattle. These are left out all year and have no intervention. Dead animals are left in-situ acting as a carrion source for the many carrion feeders natural to the area: wolf, eagles, buzzards, and wild boar, amongst the many other vertebrates and invertebrates that help remove and recycle the carcasses. Grazing of the stock into the mire edge is not restricted and it is hoped that in the longer term this will aid a more graduated and natural edge between floodplain and mire to develop.
Photo: The observation tower overseeing the Melnragi Meadows
Public viewing towers have been built using LIFE funding and the floodplain can support 5000 waterfowl during the period of flooding that follows the snow melt.
Futher reading is available at http://www.kemerunacionalaisparks.lv/images/files/DunduriENw.pdf
The project provided a useful capacity building experience for the Latvian authorities involved in nature conservation work. Introducing livestock to graze the meadows by river Slampe was a first step in shifting to away from mechanised hay-making methods towards self-sustainable meadow management.
Also, many useful lessons have been learnt during the forging of closer cooperation between landowners, farmers and local communities in the planning and implementation of these projects. Outcomes here led to more land in the park being managed from a conservation perspective.
An interactive map of the locations by the author can be found at:
The above is an account following field visit as part of a course developed by ARCH, funded through the -Erasmus+ programme and hosted by Andis Purs of the Latvian State Forest Service.
‘Latvian State Forests’ managed Birch and Norway Spruce stands
On our 2nd day we were given a presentation by Normunds Struve of the Latvian State Forest Service. This provided an outline of how Forestry in Latvia is structured with breakdowns by ownership, species composition, age structure, management types and exports/production.
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.
Latvia is the fourth most forested country in Europe. Cover has steadily increased from 27% in 1925 and now stands at 53% and rising (compared to 19% in Scotland). Most of this increase occurred post WW2 under the Soviet Union. Initially agriculture wasn’t a priority in Soviet Latvia and areas of poorer quality land were colonised by forest. This trend is continuing (albeit more gradually) across Latvia today as the rural population declines. There is currently around 300,000ha of abandoned agricultural land in Latvia, the poorer parts of which have good potential for further forest expansion.
Recolonised agricultural land
Currently 49% of the forest area is state owned, with 50% privately owned and 1% in the hands of local municipalities. In Scotland 33% is state owned, with 67% privately owned. Privately owned forests in Latvia are spread between approximately 135,000 private forest owners. Despite the fact that some of those owners will be companies and investors it is still a very high figure for a country with a population of under 2,000,000. Of the 135,000 private forest owners 78% own just 10ha or less. This is in marked contrast to Scotland where large areas owned by traditional estates and investors dominate the private sector. The following figures outline the huge gap in both the concentration of forest ownership and the sizes of forest holdings between Latvia and Scotland.
- 32% of private forest area in Latvia is in holdings of >100ha (93% in Scotland)
- 2.1% of forest holdings in Latvia are >50ha (55% in Scotland)
- The average private forest in Latvia = approx. 10.6 (230ha in Scotland)
Interestingly, Normunds presentation highlighted that the pattern of ownership in Latvia is changing, with larger holdings steadily increasing their share of the private forest area.
State owned forests in Latvia are mainly managed on a clearfell and restock system, which was all sounding quite familiar until Normunds informed us that the maximum clearfell in Latvia is just 5ha (with an average of approximately 1.5ha). Coming from my world of up to 200ha restocks, this was quite a shock. State forests are mainly restocked by planting. Scots Pine, Norway Spruce and Birch are the dominant species (see below).
Species Composition of state and privately owned forest
In the private sector continuous cover forestry (CCF), selective felling and natural regeneration are common on smaller holdings as owners look to avoid restocking costs and limit workload while generating a steady, long-term income. The combination of sensitive management on sites where trees have naturally recolonised has resulted in high growth and regeneration rates . This allows many owners to steadily fell less volume than they are gaining through annual increments and continually increase the value of their stands. Deciduous species such as Birch, Aspen and Alder form the majority of cover in private forestry, along with reduced components of Norway Spruce & Scots Pine (see above). Private forests are favouring Norway Spruce (18%) over Scots Pine (7%) for restocking, as it better meets the shade-tolerant requirements of CCF.
Overall 54% of Latvia’s forest area is deciduous and 46% conifer. Another interesting difference with Scotland is that 68% of restocking occurs through natural regeneration and only 32% by planting.
Normunds explained that the Ministry Of Agriculture are aiming to double the export value of timber and forestry products within the next 20 years. It will be interesting to see how they work towards this. Will there be a gradual increase in pressure to move towards more intensive management? Or will the current forest age structure combined with a focus on value added products at the manufacturing stage mean that it will happen fairly naturally?
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!
Paul Roberts – Scottish Natural Heritage
This report was written following an Archnetwork nature exchange study tour to Latvia in August 2019. I’ve worked for Scottish Natural Heritage for ten years and prior to this worked for the Deer Commission for Scotland. Seeing first-hand how the Latvian State Forest Service manages their forests and wildlife; the challenges, opportunities and some of the solutions they have found was a valuable experience for me that will influence both my professional and personal life.
Forestry in Latvia
Over half of Latvia (52%) is covered by native forest made up of; Scot’s pine (34%), birch (30%) and spruce (18%), with aspen and alder making up the remainder. Of this 49% is owned and managed by the Latvian State Forest Service; Latvijas Valsts Mezi on behalf of the Latvian Ministry of Agriculture. The remaining 51% is privately owned by increasing large and multinational companies (for example Ikea are the second largest private forest owner managing 90,000ha of forest). This compares to Scotland which has 18% forest cover, of which 33% is owned by Scottish Forestry and 66% privately owned.
Latvia has 683 protected areas; 333 natura sites and a further 350 areas protected by domestic legislation. Approximately half of Latvia’s forests (30% of state owned forest) have some form of protection from commercial timber extraction:
- Protected forests (in state reserves, national parks and wildlife parks), 12.6 percent;
- Restricted management forests (in protected landscape areas and for environmental protection), 38.5 percent;
- Exploitable forests (all other forests), 48.9 percent.
Where management takes place this consists of clear felling small stands of between 5 – 10ha of mature trees. Two-thirds of cleared forest regenerates naturally from seed by trees deliberately left within the stands, from the seed bank in the soil and from surrounding trees. A third of cleared forest is planted with commercially grown saplings. Commercial thinning also takes place and again regeneration is allowed to take place naturally from seeds. All regeneration is by native trees and saplings are grown from Latvian forest stock.
Forestry is economically important in Latvia. In 2018 forest products were worth 2500 million Euros which is 20% of Latvia’s export revenue. Other economic benefits include employment, tourism, recreation and hunting; non-wood products are worth 100 million Euros. Forestry is also important in Latvian culture and society and there is a strong, Scandinavian connection to the forest. Hunting, foraging and mushroom and berry picking are popular activities. The public have recreational access to all state owned forests but restrictions apply to private forest land.
Damage to young trees by herbivores has a significant economic impact. In 2018 15,000ha of forest was damaged. Of this 85% was caused by herbivores, 5% by insects, 5% from windblow and the remainder from drought, fire etc. The cost of protecting trees is also significant at 2.3 million Euros. Chemical repellents are widely used as a deterrent and fencing is rare and expensive. Distraction feeding by leaving piles of leafy branches to draw moose away from young trees is also used.
The two forest–dwelling herbivores that damage tree are moose and red deer (also called elk). Roe deer are also widespread in Lativa but are not considered to cause significant damage to young trees. The populations of both red deer and moose are increasing, with red deer being more numerous in the west of the country and moose in east. The estimated density of both species is approximately 0.5 – 1.0 ha. Both species are hunted across the country to control damage to young trees but also because hunting is culturally embedded in Latvian society.
Herbivore management: Hunting
Hunting is a popular activity in Lativa and there are approximately 22,000 registered hunters and it is estimated that hunting is worth 37 million Euros a year. There is a strong history and tradition of forest hunting and an influential political lobby with many senior politicians being active hunters. Although there is a rural/urban split in attitudes to hunting in Latvia (with urban populations more likely to have negative views of hunting) this is not as marked as Scotland. Overall hunting is generally accepted as both a sporting activity and an evidence-based mechanism for controlling both herbivore and carnivore populations.
Hunting and game management in Latvia is supervised by three government authorities: the State Forest Service, part of the Ministry of Agriculture, manages population estimates, quotas, permits, damage assessment, register of hunters; the State Police, firearms regulation and enforcement and the Ministry of Environment, management of protected species and hunting in protected areas.
As in Scotland, wild deer in Latvia aren’t owned by anyone and hunting rights go with the land but can be sold or leased to third parties. The State Forest Service leases hunting to 923 hunting organisations and issues licences at a cost of 1.42 Euros a year plus 0.50 Euros per hectare. On private land hunting rent is set by the landowner. There are no Deer Management Groups in Latvia, instead the country is divided into 2074 hunting districts which manage hunting at a local level. State Forest Service leases are issued to individual hunters, hunting syndicates and hunting associations on agreement of a set of conditions including overall land management objectives, cull targets and agreed collaboration with neighbours.
Cull targets as based on damage to the forest as estimated by the State Forest Service. Hunters are given bag limit to meet within the legally-defined hunting season, if the limit is reached before the season ends hunting stops. Hunters record deer taken online logging the time, place, species and sex and carcasses are tagged so that they can be traced back to the individual hunter. A mobile phone app is being developed to facilitate this. The data collected is used to monitor cull targets and assess damage management across the country.
Although the right to hunt comes with land ownership, a minimum area of land is required by law in order to hunt each game species:
- roe deer; no less than 200 ha of woodlands and farmlands
- red deer hinds and calves; no less than 1000 ha of woodlands
- red deer stags; no less than 2000 ha of woodlands
- moose; less than 2500 ha of woodlands
This is calculated by estimating the winter forage areas required for each species. The average land holding is 10ha so this minimum land area requirement ensures collaboration between hunters and encourages population scale management. It also prevents the subdivision of land for hunting into smaller and smaller areas.
There is no qualification required to demonstrate competence to hunt. Hunting is so popular and widespread in Latvia that the State Forest Service does not employ professional stalkers or rangers and all deer and moose management on state owned forest is carried out by what we would call ‘recreational’ hunters. Hunting tourism is also popular in Latvia and provides revenue for private landowners. There is a general trend of rural de-population across Latvia and this may be partly responsible for hunters being an aging population. However, demand for land to hunt over remains high often leading to conflict between hunters or between hunting organisations and the State Forest Service.
Latvian forest also have beaver, wildboar, lynx, wolves; all of which are hunted. Lynx and wolves are European protected species and Latvia has secured a derogation under the Habitats Directive to allow harvesting of both species. European brown bears are expanding their range into Latvia from Estonia and Russia, however the population is small and to date hunting has not been allowed.
Comparisons with Scotland
Latvia and Scotland face similar challenges in growing trees commercially and managing the damage caused by herbivores. They also share the same challenges in managing their forests to facilitate access and recreation and to protect key habitats notified under Eurpoean and domestic legislation. Hunting in Latvia and stalking in Scotland is commercially important but also has a long history and a significant cultural and societal value which brings similar challenges to both countries.
A key difference between the two countries is that half of Latvia is covered by native forest. Felling and regeneration (compared to replanting) is more extensive and takes place at a smaller scale (stands of 5-10ha) across the country. This differs to monoculture stands of non-native sitka spruce, often large forest blocks which are clear felled forest and replanted.
Another fundamental difference between the two countries is land ownership. The State Forest Service owns half of Latvia’s forest (approximately 25% of the country) as a result of the legacy of the Soviet occupation (1941 – 1991). Although private companies own large areas of land the average land holding size is only 10ha. Latvia’s red deer and moose (the key herbivores that damage commercial tree crops) are forest dwelling and live at lower densities than in Scotland. Latvia does not have any open hill ground and does not have the history and culture of open hill (red) deer stalking. Consequently there is less conflict between land managers, managing large estates who have competing objectives; for forestry (and low deer numbers) verses commercial deer stalking (and high deer numbers). Another consequence of the more integrated approach is the absence of deer fences in Latvia. Also the popularity of hunting in Latvia means that the State Forest Service does not need to employ professional stalkers to manage deer on public land.
Roe deer are managed in forests and woodland in the lowlands of Scotland and this is mostly done at a local scale by individual forest managers. Roe deer are not considered to be a significant cause of tree damage in Latvia; partly because they are found in lower densities due to the presence of forest dwelling red deer and moose. Roe deer are hunted in Latvia to manage crop damage on agricultural land and as trophy animals rather than to prevent tree damage.
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.
Latvia has strong forest culture which feels very Scandinavian. There is a strong connection between the people and the forest which includes recreation and access but also encompasses foraging, berry and mushroom picking and hunting (both herbivores and carnivores). Latvia’s extensive, natural forest is seen as a key national asset and makes a significant contribution to the Latvian economy. The land ownership pattern and the lack of different habitats mean that conflicting land management objectives for deer are rare.
Wildlife management is highly devolved giving a sense of local ownership of the objectives for deer and carnivore hunting but with a national, strategic overview. The overall impression is that Latvia’s native forests are managed for deer and trees and conservation.
Paul Roberts – September 2019
C Fairgrieve | Erasmus+ Archnetwork exchange | 29/08/2019-05/09/2019
Include a range of insect species (Coleoptera, Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera) as well as several fungal pathogens and bacteria affecting a range of tree species (Stokmane, M., Smits, A., and Zalkans, O. 2018). Prior to the year of plant protection in Europe (2020) these pests and diseases pose a considerable threat to production forestry as well as national forest conservation. In Latvia as elsewhere in Europe, at a time of great uncertainty caused by climate change, increased mobility of plant pathogens, and corresponding increasing vulnerability, it is vital that an effective control strategy be part of a package of solutions to minimize losses. With specific reference to Latvia, this translates into identifying and protecting good stands of trees which are under threat rather than complete elimination of threat, and monitoring and control are conducted in the complex setting of ownership status of both managed and conservation forests. In addition, conflicts of interest between private, state sector and nature conservation forests complicate control strategies and the practicalities and logistics of control pose considerable challenges to owners, researchers and forest workers. Some of these conflicts may be reduced by change to legislative processes and frameworks in future but the forest sector must take some actions to mitigate damage losses and control further spread.
SPRUCE BARK BEETLE (IPS TYPOGRAPHUS) DAMAGE, CONFLICT AND SOLUTIONS
One such forest pest that constitutes a significant risk to mature stands of Norway Spruce both in Latvia and throughout central Europe is the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle, Ips typographus. With a widespread European distribution this beetle causes damage to mature (>50 yr old or >20cm diameter) spruce trees in stands rather than in single trees and has the potential to spread rapidly with beetles dispersing between 0.5 km up to 40km.
Although the beetle is natural to spruce forests, and may have a role in their ecosystem, it can spread devastatingly through single species spruce forests planted in the last two centuries (Lopatka 2018). Damage results from males drilling holes in mature Norway spruce to attract females who then make breeding ‘galleries’ where larvae subsequently infest and cause extensive damage. Infestations then occur when subsequent generations of beetles are reproduced and spread throughout vulnerable stands. Smaller and younger trees do not sustain large populations of beetles or larvae as trees are killed before infestation at high density occurs. Data from Latvia indicate heavy infestations in mature stands of Norway spruce can reach over 40,000 beetles per cubic metre (A. Smits pers. comm.) and although presence in the UK does not yet reach significant levels, threat is perceived high enough to warrant annual Protected Zone monitoring (B. Fairgrieve pers. comm).
Throughout central Europe, in countries including Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Poland, there have been recent incidences and outbreaks ranging in extent, particularly exacerbated in recent years by drought induced effects of climate change (Lopatka, J. 2018). For example, in the Czech Republic, during a very dry spring, with large areas of the country experiencing drought and trees accordingly weakened defensively, conditions for the beetle to spread were also favorable, and the results were devastating. An estimated 18 million cubic metres of spruce (more than 10 times usual infestation rate) were affected at a potential total financial loss to the timber economy of up to £671.5 million. These losses were incurred not just in terms of damaged timber production but also lowering timber prices, premature felling of trees, and logistical costs, and were predicted to rise further this year (Lopatka 2018). These figures probably do not take into account additional losses of natural capital/ecosystem services such as water conservation, carbon capture, flood prevention, soil protection, nature conservation and amenity value.
We were told in during this study tour in the Latvia context, subsequent to heavy storm damage in Latvia during 2005, critical levels of bark beetle infestation were detected in 2007/8 via a programme of ongoing monitoring. Following strategic and timely intervention of the part of the State Forest Service research institute (‘Silava’) and Latvian Forest Service staff, this outbreak was effectively contained to manageable levels by 2010 (Smits, A. pers. comm.). Damaged timber is useable but stained blue and logistical and financial costs are involved in removing infected timber from sites and between sites as well as treating it at processing sawmills. Although spruce bark beetle is therefore an endemic threat and damage is common, especially in the Eastern part of the Latvia, damage can be minimized and the extent of the spread of beetle infestations can be controlled to sustainable levels. In Latvia as in Scotland, there are no known natural controls for Ips typographus, and although climate can influence both vulnerability of tree stands as well as the extent of distribution of Ips there is a growing concern at the risk posed to timber production and nature conservation in (mature) European and UK spruce forests (see above). Additionally, in the context of controlling outbreaks in Latvia and where some lessons may be learned in anticipation of potential outbreaks in Scotland, ownership status and management priorities of forest stands bear considerable relevance. For example, in the Latvian setting, stands of trees in a given forest area may often be owned by different individuals/agencies where different importance is placed on for example timber production and conservation. In some sites, different management objectives e.g. leaving fallen windthrow, or mature trees unharvested, may lead to differing levels of risk from infestation by Ips typographus due to an increase in substrate stems allowing high levels of bark beetles to accrue. Furthermore, once infestation has been detected and established in a stand, there may reasons to allow outbreaks to run their course to comply with nature conservation objectives. Where stands have been affected, standard practice by the Latvia State Forest Service is to clear-fell the affected stand/area and thereafter establish monitoring and control via pheromone traps, which although requiring some input to establish and empty periodically, are relatively effective and simple way of reducing beetle numbers.
Currently the UK has Protected Zone status for Ips typographus, and as consequence has experienced little threat from significant outbreaks. However, some threat and occurrence in recent years has led to the Plant Health (England) Order 2019 for introduction of emergency measures in response to outbreaks. Regular inspections and interception at ports where poor quality timber is returned to host country or contained at port if risk of importing spruce bark beetle (or other pathogens) is detected as high are part of strict controls already in place. Conditions on import standards e.g. all timber treated, kiln dried, covered by a plant passport and officially stamped are further measures designed to maintain the Protected Zone status (B. Fairgrieve pers. comm.).
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.
What struck me particularly as well as the learning experience during the Latvia exchange was the extremely delicate situation when influences of climate change and pest migration are concerned. Working with efforts to control an invasive mammal, the North American Grey squirrel, to conserve native Red Squirrel populations I have direct experience of the efforts required to control introduced species and conserve an iconic native mammal. With regard to plant pests and pathogens it was made very apparent during this exchange the risks posed and costs associated with invasive management in a European context for the timber sector in both Scotland and the UK.
I would like to extend special thanks and great appreciation to our Erasmus+ host, Andis Purs, and in particular for the presentation and site visits offered on Ips typographus, I would like to thank Senior Researchers Dr. Agnis Smits, Oskars Zalkans and Janis Petersons of the SILAVA institute, Latvian State Forest Service.
Lopatka, J. (2018) https:/uk.news.yahoo.com/climate-change-blame-bark-beetles-ravage-central-europes-142631203.html
Stokmane, M, Smits, A., and Zalkans, O.: Bistamakie meza kaitekli un slimbas Latvija (Ed Purs, A.) Valsts meza dienests 2018.
Andis, in his understated fashion, advised us we were to visit the Institute for Environmental Solutions, but left the explanation for what this was to the hosts. Our arrival at an equally understated building with a small airfield and areas of allotments turned out to be an incredible place. Introduced to us as being owned by the Latvian Richard Branson, the Institute for Environmental Solutions (IES) is a not for profit NGO, which aims to engineer solutions to environmental questions, designing equipment and methodologies that can then be used by the 11 other companies owned by the founder in a for profit basis.
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.
One of the main themes of discussion was on the best use of existing agricultural land to maximise products, and diversifying that product to reduce the need to clear more land for farming as the population continued to increase. This is done through looking at the potential of other crops and ‘weeds’, and looking at best ways to cultivate products currently being unsustainably harvested, such as ginseng, and camomile.
The topic that caused greatest discussion here was their use of technology to monitor and assess growth of species, from dandelions to wolves. Through the use of their monitoring plane, an ex UK Police plane, or through pre-programmed drones who carry out fixed point flights and analyse the data automatically via dedicated software, these ideas prompted many thoughts amongst the group.
Some of the equipment used for ecological monitoring.
In our current situation with the management of deer, helicopters count deer pushed out of woods, dung is counted and tree damage is measured. Through the use of visual video, thermal video, and spectral screening, these drones and software can potentially count fairly open woodland with less disturbance, and can also assess the hot points for damage through use of the spectral screen. This would allow the land manager to better understand the population, where it spends its time, and where it is hitting trees hardest. With fixed point flights, this can be done more frequently at a fraction of the cost of the helicopter and is directly comparable, with the software producing usable data, and not requiring manual counting of population.
Monitoring ground ivy growth using visual and infared drone cameras on a fixed flight transect.
One of themes running throughout the trip was the ability to recall where we had been, or who we had visited according to the food eaten. This place was unforgettable. An incredible lunch provided by the company, with the opportunity to discuss further with some of the staff who we met through the morning. During this, it provided valuable time to discuss their thoughts and experiences of herbivore monitoring further, prompting discussion amongst members of the group on how to move things like this forward in Scotland, who would lead this type of work, and how it may be paid for.
The finishing pitch from host Ugis Rotbergs was to offer the opportunity to host secondments at the Institute to allow people to further understand and experience the topics relevant. Every single one of the group left that place with their heads reeling with information, and plotting a way to return.
During our time in Latvia, the hospitality was not disappointing. It is felt it would be useful to highlight some of the areas we stayed in along with some delicious drinks and 10/10 desert choice Andis choose for us.
The group would like to say Thank You to Andis Purs, Latvian State Forestry Service for hosting us, The Firm of ARCH and Erasmus+ for funding this project.
Latvian 2019 group
Bearded Tit (heard only)
Great Grey Shrike
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great White Egret
Tawny Owl (heard only)
White-tailed Sea Eagle