The year 2022 has brought changes, rapid political decisions and many still unclear issues in the field of nature protection in Latvia and the world. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also affected nature protection throughout the European Union (EU): the fast-moving law on the simplified procedure for wind farms, including solar collectors, has been drafted; under the guise of the energy crisis, changes in the regulations on felling trees in forest lands were approved, allowing the felling of younger trees; the current forest compensation system has not been changed and continues to dissatisfy forest owners. Meanwhile, the EU's Green Deal requires member states to increase specially protected natural areas in the amount of 30% of the country's land area. But in Latvia, with the active involvement of the public, after several years of discussions, the lynx has been excluded from the list of hunted species. These and other decisions have affected and will affect the diversity of nature in Latvia, directly affecting the work of the Nature Conservation Agency.
Last year, nature protection in Latvia celebrated its 110th anniversary. The foundations of this area were laid in June 1912, when Moricsala was granted the first status of a specially protected natural area. Many significant natural values have been preserved in Latvia thanks to the introduction of nature protection practices, including the created 658 specially protected natural areas covering ~18% of the country's territory, where natural values are rare not only on the Baltic, but also on a European scale.
Along with annual funding from the state budget, since the reorganization of the administration in 2009, it has implemented more than 50 projects, attracting an additional 75 million euros for nature protection, of which ~70% is funding from foreign funds. Even now, several major administrative activities are possible thanks to projects co-financed by various funds.
- The success of conservation of natural diversity largely depends on the motivation of landowners to take care of the natural values in their possession. Therefore, in 2022, the administration launched two new pilot programs in the LIFE-IP LatViaNature project implemented together with partners, promoting the voluntary involvement of landowners in the preservation of biological diversity. The pilot program “Ziedu pļavas” (Flower meadows) is intended for owners of long-term grasslands - meadows and pastures, giving them the opportunity to gradually improve the quality of their grasslands, while receiving advice from an expert on grassland habitats, as well as financial support. On the other hand, in the “Dzīvais mežs” (Living Forest) pilot program, new cooperation models are created for the preservation of natural values in private forests. Consultative and financial support is intended for those owners of private forests who undertake to observe a higher standard of conservation of natural diversity in their forests than is provided for by regulatory acts.
- Invasive species - both plant and animal - are recognized as one of the most significant threats to biodiversity. The presence, diversity and rapid spread of these species is also confirmed by a new invasive species found in Latvia last year - freshwater jellyfish. As the administration expands more and more informational activities, it can be seen that the knowledge and understanding of the society and landowners about measures to limit invasive species is improving. The “Invazīvo sugu pārvaldnieks” (Manager of Invasive Species) website has more than doubled the number of reports received last year, reaching 3,129 reports (801 - 2021). A mobile version of the report has also been created for more convenient reporting.
- With the help of the implemented Life REEF project, the administration has carried out deep sea mapping and started the development of a unified nature protection plan for the existing seven specially protected marine Natura 2000 areas, as well as potential protected marine areas. For more successful research and data acquisition of the round sea breams (an invasive species) found in the Baltic Sea, 2,000 sea breams were marked on the coast of Latvia last year, and marine territories were also studied in depth, which, thanks to the public's involvement, acquired new names - Zēgelnieku sekli, Alku seklis and Papes kalva.
- In the Life FOR SPECIES project, the administration, together with cooperation partners, continues to work on the development of the new Latvian Red Book, assessing threats to Latvian wild species. In order to improve the protection of endangered species and to promote the acquisition of data about them, expert trainings and public educational events were organized last year.
- With the support of the Cohesion Fund, the administration has carried out significant and hitherto unprecedented habitat restoration works. In other words, she cleaned up 1,987 trees in protected alleys and planted 40 large saplings in the break sections of two protected alleys. On the authority's task, 95 kilometers of fast-flowing sections of rivers in the Gauja National Park have been cleared of fallen trees, drifts and beaver dams, and more than 15 kilometers of Latvian thickets have been cut along the banks of these rivers, conditions have been improved in the habitats of the white sandpiper and Siberian sedge, fragmentation of reed stands in Rāzna and Vaidava has been started. in the lake. At the same time, improved conditions in the light and heat-demanding aspen forests and wooded seaside dunes on an area of more than 100 hectares, as well as meadows cleared of overgrowth on an area of ~200 hectares and at least 100 hectares of heath, have gained more living space.
By implementing regular monitoring of natural diversity, it is possible to obtain data that allows you to ascertain the impact of decisions and actions taken in various sectors on the environment. Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, the annual monitoring, the data of which is also used in the preparation of international reports and shows the impact of existing economic activity and development on natural values, marks a negative trend in Latvia. Namely, the Countryside Bird Index, which shows changes in the number of birds in the countryside, decreases every year. The monitoring of night birds in agricultural lands also shows that since 2012 there has been a rapid decrease in the number of the plover, the river plover and the willow plover. These two monitorings confirm that the current agricultural policy has a negative impact on biodiversity. On the other hand, the Forest Bird Index, which shows changes in the number of birds in forests, has fluctuated in recent years.
Every year, the administration receives applications for compensation for the significant damage caused by non-hunted species and migratory animals to crop production, beekeeping and aquaculture. Last year, no livestock damage was claimed for compensation. The number of applications for crop damage decreased (56 applications in 2021 and 37 in 2022), while the number of compensation requests for damage to beekeeping and aquaculture was similar (11 and 13 in beekeeping, 18 and 19 in aquaculture, respectively).
The main bird species that caused damage to crops in 2022 were geese, cranes and ravens. The administration has paid out compensation for substantial damages caused to crops in the amount of 67,530 euros, while 13,286 euros have been paid for damages caused by bears to beekeeping. The largest amount of compensation was paid for the damage to aquaculture caused by herons, herons, sea ravens, ospreys and sea eagles, as well as otters - almost 250,000 euros. For the second season, losses caused to aquaculture are calculated according to the new procedure, and the data show that otters cause the most significant damage in the aquaculture sector.
In order to reduce the damage caused by non-game birds during the spring bird migration, lethal scaring of migratory geese from flocks is allowed for the third year in Latvia. Although 151 permits for shooting geese were issued last year with a total limit of 1,000 geese, a total of 12 geese were shot during the season - three sows and nine white-fronted geese. However, during the conducted controls, it was concluded that the conditions of the permit are not being followed, and in one case the permit issued to the farmer was cancelled."
A giant sedge growing in Mārupe experienced a pitifully harsh fate, which became an obstacle to the development of a multi-apartment building, marking a significant problem with the unintentional or intentional lack of competence of local government building authorities and ignorance of the regulatory framework. The destroyers of this big tree are still being sought, while the culprit of the destruction of the big linden in Vainode has been sentenced to a fine of almost 24,000 euros. In order to protect big trees more effectively, in the opinion of the administration, a more effective tool would be a ban on any kind of construction in the given territory for 5-10 years, if a big tree dies unnaturally (is poisoned) or is destroyed, regardless of who performed these actions.
These large trees were among the more than 13,000 large trees identified in the country so far (the number of identified large trees has increased by ~17% compared to 2021). Most often, large and well-known trees to Latvians are registered in this list - common oak, common pine and common linden. A large number of these giant trees have been identified thanks to the involvement of the public, who report their observations every year. Anyone can apply for a big tree, so starting in 2022, after granting the status of a big tree, the administration will inform the landowner who is responsible for preserving the big tree.
At the beginning of 2022, the story of one of the teenage bears ended fatally, which, after being separated from the other bear, unfortunately returned to the atypical habit of a wild animal to look for food near people. Both this case and the public survey conducted by the administration clearly showed the low level of understanding and knowledge of the difference between wild animals and domestic animals in part of the society. Namely, the bear was fed not only vegetables, but also chips and candies on the roadside. On the other hand, almost half of the survey participants believe that a wild animal can be tamed as a pet. In order to dispel these myths and reduce people's desire to bring home a baby animal or bird found in the wild, the administration implemented the informational campaign “Neizdzēs dzīvību!” (Don't erase life!), in addition to starting a discussion with a wide range of institutions about the necessary improvements to simplify and streamline the rescue and rehabilitation of animals in a helpless state and release into the wild.
Last year, the administration continued to improve the material and technical base with modern equipment. For example, night vision devices were purchased - binoculars, glasses and an underwater drone -, special cameras were placed in nature, tablets were prepared, various devices for moving and moving things. Modern equipment expands the range of control options of the surveyed areas, viewpoints and access to otherwise hard-to-reach areas, increasing work efficiency and travel quality. In general, this makes it possible to further limit the possibilities of potential violations, as well as to gain valuable information about the state of water bodies and other habitats.
Analyzing the administration's public activities, it can be seen that the public increasingly wants practical and productive involvement in nature conservation, that is, the interest in participating in educational events has decreased slightly, but the number of participants in public involvement campaigns and activities has increased, for example, reporting rule breakers, clean-ups, surveying large trees , saving protected species, etc. Also, during the spring amphibian migration, responding to the administration's call, the “Misija – KRUPIS” (Mission - TOAD) campaign identified a total of 41 road sections crossing the toad migration route, and almost 1,500 toads were saved with the help of 100 volunteers. On the other hand, the annual campaign “Uzmanību – liedagā ronis!” (Attention - seal at beach!), in which the administration explains why seals rest on the beach and how dangerous dogs that are not kept on a leash are for them, results in a decreasing number of injured seals. In 2022, only three injured seals were brought to the Riga National Zoo.
When three river mouths were temporarily closed for the first time in order to allow the former population of small terns to re-emerge in them, the regular surveys of the administration concluded that the public's understanding and desire to support the restoration of natural diversity is high. Deliberate non-observance of the ban was only rarely found.
With the end of the restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19, people's habits of going out into nature have also changed. As the offer expands – shops, cinema, festivals, foreign trips, etc. – the number of visitors to specially protected natural areas has decreased, but it has not returned to the pre-pandemic level. People's interest in going to further destinations has increased. If the nature tourism routes and objects near Riga were visited less than in 2021, then those further away, for example Kristakrūga observation tower, Veczemju klintis, Kolka pine trail, experienced a significant (30-80%) increase in the number of visitors. For more accurate measurements and data analysis, the administration has placed 11 new visitor counters in nature and, together with Vidzeme University, continues to work on the development of a joint database. In order to inspire new destinations and recreation in nature, the administration has developed and published a new website www.tiekamiesdaba.lv.
2022 was a year of investment and innovation in nature education. Expanding the opportunities for nature exploration, the administration has developed and introduced several new offers. Now nature exploration is possible not only in the five management nature centers and Līgatne nature trails, but also the newly created Mobile nature class helps to ensure it, making nature exploration more accessible, as well as demonstrably demonstrating the use of renewable (solar) energy in providing mobile services. In October, a new nature information point was opened - the nature center of the Gauja National Park in Sigulda, allowing visitors to understand the formation of the old valley of the Gauja in the Devonian period and the nature and landscape values that must be preserved in a concentrated way. On the other hand, the visitors of the Līgatne nature trails will be provided with a free guide in the virtual environment - the mobile app "LDT guide" (Google Play) / "LDT guide" (App Store) - thus supplementing the walking trails with knowledge and education.
Latvia's nature is not separated from the rest of the world, it was reminded of this several times last year - in July a walrus washed up on the shore of the Baltic Sea, which is a very atypical animal for our climate zone, a few weeks later a swordfish was also washed up in Kurzeme, and in September the lush grass of Latgale was enjoyed by bison who came from other countries . In this way, wild animals remind us of climate change as a result of ill-considered decisions and actions.
In order to reduce the negative impact caused by humans, the Green Course adopted by the EU at the end of 2022 was supplemented by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as work on the development of the EU Nature Restoration Law, including restoration goals for various ecosystems throughout the EU, was started. In Latvia, it is an opportunity to strengthen the nature conservation industry, but at the same time it is also a huge challenge, looking for a compromise and balance between economic and natural interests.