Boosting the biodiversity of Lithuania’s wetlands
Conservation measures carried out in the Žuvintas Biosphere Reserve in Lithuania have helped safeguard its rich fauna and flora by restoring large areas of bog, swamp wood and lake habitats.
Though more than 1000 plant species are found in Žuvintas Biosphere Reserve in the southern part of the central Lithuanian lowlands, the reserve is best known for its bird species. Of the 300 registered species in Lithuania, 257 are found in the reserve and 134 breed in the area.
Many of their habitats, however, were suffering from degradation, and a LIFE project was launched in 2007 to arrest this decline. Specifically, Lithuania has lost more than two-thirds of its former ‘mire’ areas in recent decades. Mires are a type of peatland, distinguished from marshes by a lack of flowing surface water. The WETLIFE project, which was carried out by Gamtos paveldo fondas (GPF), an environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO), combated this downward trend by improving conditions in a target area of 1158 hectares (ha) of degraded bog in the Amalvas wetland and other mire areas inside the reserve.
The project helped conserve active raised bog and bog woodland – two priority habitats identified in the EU Habitats Directive – by optimising the conditions for peat formation. These types of bog can be a great sink for storing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Moreover, improved conditions will also substantially reduce the emissions of this greenhouse gas that result from peat degradation.
As a first step, the LIFE project purchased 16 plots of land and obtained permits to block drainage of the target area. The conservation measures then included reconstructing the Amalvas polder, blocking drainage channels in the Amalvas and Žuvintas mires and restoring the natural water levels of these mires. Restored water levels reduce peat degradation, improve conditions for meadow birds and reduce costs at the local pumping station.
Management measures promise long-term benefits
The project also supported grazing activities. The improved hydrological conditions in the Amalvas polder allowed grazing to be introduced on more than 30 ha of peatland. Electric fences were erected and a farmer was contracted for five years, receiving a starting herd of beef cattle of 15 heifers and one bull. Furthermore, the project led to new management regulations for the Žuvintas Lake as well as the Amalvas polder.
At the Žuvintas Lake, restored natural water fluctuation is expected to improve conditions for submerged vegetation, especially the plant-like algae, muskgrass, which is highly important for invertebrates, fish and waterfowl populations. It is also expected to increase spawning grounds for pike and amphibian species, facilitate the development of a boundary zone, and prevent the spread of reed and shrubs.
Finally, guidelines on farming in peatlands were developed in consultation with farmers. Following the reconstruction of the polder, most of the land will be maintained as grasslands since large areas will now meet the criteria for higher agri-environmental EU Rural payments.