URBANCOWS - Restoration and Public Access of Urban Coastal Meadow Complex in Parnu Town

LIFE10 NAT/EE/000107

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Contact details:

Contact person: Bert HOLM
Tel: +372 53 010834
Email:  info@keskkonnaamet.ee

Project description:


Pärnu (population 43 000) is a popular summer tourist destination, receiving around half a million visitors every year. This makes coastal meadow management a major challenge. Boreal Baltic coastal meadows, a habitat type listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive, have a relatively high occurrence in Estonia, so the country has special responsibility for their conservation. This habitat type, found on the western coastline, also forms semi-natural habitats together with other coastal habitat types. The coast of Pärnu consists of boreal coastal meadows, coastal lagoons and dunes habitats, covering more than 250 ha in the Pärnu urban area. Due to a lack of management, large areas of habitat require restoration. Experience from previous LIFE projects, involving the restoration of boreal coastal meadows, shows that the most cost-effective action is grazing combined with reed cutting. The coastal meadows of Pärnu town became overgrown with reed when grazing was discontinued in the 1970s and 1980s. Reed cutting and mowing during the last ten years has not been successful. It is therefore necessary to reintroduce grazing. This represents a challenge in an urban environment, located close to a public beach and resort centre, which requires investment that has to date been unavailable.


The goal of the URBANCOWS project was to improve the conservation status of ‘Boreal Baltic coastal meadows’ and ‘Coastal lagoons’, as well as the characteristic species of these habitats, in the Pärnu Coastal Meadow Nature Reserve Natura 2000 network site. The project planned to achieve this through habitat management actions, and raising awareness among local residents and visitors about their ecological value. Specific project aims included clearing unwanted vegetation from the coastal meadow habitat; introducing grazing and erecting fencing and other necessary infrastructure; restoring the natural hydrology of coastal lagoons; establishing visitor infrastructure; and developing management recommendations for urban coastal pastures.


The URBANCOWS project restored and ensured the ongoing management of 226 ha of ‘Boreal Baltic coastal meadows’ and 75 ha of ‘Coastal lagoons’, two priority habitat types of Annex I of the Habitats Directive. Post-restoration monitoring showed significant positive impacts on the characteristic species of these habitats, including breeding bird species of conservation concern. The project achieved its goal through the reintroduction of cattle grazing, the traditional management of the Pärnu coastal meadow and lagoon habitat complex, and by raising awareness of the local community, visitors and decision makers, about the importance of the protected areas.

The project team introduced grazing and/or cleared unwanted vegetation (reed and bushes) from 226 ha of the coastal meadows habitat complex. They established the infrastructure necessary for grazing, comprising electric and permanent wooden fences, and built four cattle shelters. The project restored the natural hydrology on 75 ha of coastal lagoons, mainly by removing the rhizome layer of reeds, to also enable cattle to graze to the water edge. Vehicle access to coastal meadows was restricted, for instance, using barriers to prevent off-road driving.

In terms of visitor infrastructure and education, the project beneficiaries constructed 2 observation towers and a nature trail, 14 information boards, and a portable exhibition. The project team published and distributed 'Best practise guidelines for management of semi-natural communities in urban areas', pre- and post-monitoring reports and a brochure. The main best practise lessons learnt from the restoration actions were that grazing has to be started as early in spring as possible before the reeds have rolled out their leaves and grazing pressure has to be adequate to depress the regeneration of reed plants; the previous removal of old reed is necessary as it favours more homogenous usage of the pasture by cattle; and cattle are capable of keeping the lagoons open by themselves as soon as floating reed rhizome is mechanically removed from the edges of coastal lagoons. For the funds invested (average €1 000 per ha), the project rescued 155 ha of coastal meadow from degradation and maintained the favourable conservation status of an additional 45 ha. The restored areas are also suitable habitat for plants listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, such as marsh angelica (Angelica palustris) and fen orchid (Liparis loeselii).

Post-restoration monitoring showed increased numbers of breeding pairs of bird species, which are expected to either increase slightly or become stable. Birds Directive species that benefit are the Annex I species Eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris), and several Annex II species, including black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa), common redshank (Tringa totanus), mute swan (Cygnus olor), Eurasian coot (Fulica atra), northern lapwaing (Vanellus vanellus) and common snipe (Gallinago gallinago). The project helps achieve several strategic targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, in terms of species and habitats protection, maintaining and restoring ecosystems, achieving more sustainable agriculture, and stopping biodiversity loss. In addition, it supports priority areas of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to protect and enhance the EU's rural heritage, by preserving 'natural' farming systems and traditional agricultural landscapes. The key to the sustainability of the after-LIFE activities is the management subsidy paid to farmers under CAP measures to continue grazing the restored areas.

The project areas were close to highly-visited tourist destinations, which served as excellent locations to demonstrate coastal meadow management to a wider audience. The project showed the feasibility of grazing in protected urban coastal areas. Previously, some local municipalities in Estonia have been too cautious by not favouring grazing in similar conditions to Pärnu. During the project lifetime, Kuressaare town in Saaremaa also introduced traditional cattle grazing to urban coastal meadows, and the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, is planning to initiate grazing in the Paljassaare peninsula nature reserve. Thus, the project had a significant demonstration and replicability impact. Socio-economic benefits include new business opportunities for local tourism entrepreneurs, due to the enhanced visitor infrastructure and improved appearance of the landscape (e.g. organised birdwatching tours). For cattle owners, economic benefits arise from the higher subsidies they can get for grazing, from the freeing of land closer to farms for growing crops when cattle are grazed for half-a-year on coastal meadows, and the opportunity to sell high-quality meat produced sustainably on a nature reserve. Local “meadow meat” has good sales potential in Pärnu restaurants.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Coastal


environmental impact of agriculture‚  grazing‚  protected area‚  landscape protection‚  environmental awareness‚  urban area‚  tourist facility‚  wetland‚  restoration measure

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 2009/147 - Conservation of wild birds - Birds Directive (codified version of Directive ...
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 ...
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...

Target Habitat types

  • 1150 - Coastal lagoons
  • 1630 - Boreal Baltic coastal meadows

Natura 2000 sites

SCI EE0040348 Rannaniidu



Coordinator Environmental Board
Type of organisation National authority
Description The Environmental Board (EB) is part of the Estonian environment ministry. Its task is to implement and enforce national policies on the environment and nature conservation and to contribute to the development and improvement of legal acts and other official documents related to the environment. The EB also has the authority to issue permits and licences (for the use of natural resources etc.), to approve plans and projects, to act as the administrator of nature protection projects, coordinates the establishment of protected areas, draws up management plans and species action plans and their enforcement, draws up invasive species action plans, carries out research and monitoring of nature conservation projects, enforces protective measures to safeguard protected species, coordinates the selection of forest key habitats, defines the use of hunting areas, and is charge of environmental education, nature education, public awareness and publicity related issues.
Partners Pärnu Town Government, Estonia University of Tartu, Estonia


Project reference LIFE10 NAT/EE/000107
Duration 01-JAN-2012 to 31-DEC -2016
Total budget 1,138,413.00 €
EU contribution 853,809.00 €
Project location Lääne-Eesti(Estonia Eesti)


Read more:

Leaflet "Coastal meadows and urban cows in Pärnu" (2.13 MB ...
Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Publication: Case study "Pärnu linna sonnide ehk rannikulõugaste taimestik ...
Publication: Case study "Pärnu rannaniidu liikide elupaikade hoolduskava: ...
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "The coastal meadows and urban cattle of Pärnu: Be ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Management plan "Pärnu rannaniidu looduskaitseala rannikulougaste ...
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version