February 2nd was World Wetlands Day, a fact that didn’t escape the Nature Conservation Agency of Latvia. Throughout February a range of activities were organised with the intention of drawing attention to the management and preservation of wetlands throughout the country.

The centre point was a seminar organised by Latvia’s Natural History Museum and The National Conservation and Management Programme for Natura 2000 Sites in Latvia’ (NAT-PROGRAMME). The meeting bought together seventy participants, including scientists, land owners and representatives from government institutions, to discuss the most pressing issues regarding water management in Latvia and to assist in the drafting of the Freshwater Habitat Management Guidelines the NAT-PROGRAMME is currently working on.

Latvia has several wetlands that are part of the Natura 2000 Europe-wide initiative designed to preserve Europe’s waterways. Included on the Ramsar list of sites of international importance are Lake Kanieris, Lake Engure, the Teiči and Pelečāre swamps, Lake Lubana wetland complex and the North swamps. Of particular interest are the calcareous fens in these areas which are fascinating but vulnerable places in need of protection. They are home to a variety of rare and endangered species, such as the brown bog-rush, common butterwort and Geyer’s whorl-snail, that can only survive in these habitats.

By Dāvis Kļaviņš (Panoramio) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dāvis Kļaviņš (Panoramio) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately Latvia has only a small amount of these calcareous fens, 900 ha in total, of which only 840 ha are protected by the Natura 2000 project, according to a study by the Latvian Fund for Nature. Draining of the fens for agricultural purposes has severely disrupted their ecosystems, allowing new species to invade and causing the native ones to die out. One of the most significant focuses of the NAT-PROGRAMME has been to research and start implementing methods to preserve and in some cases rebuild these areas.

In 2013 the program began to implement different approaches in various national parks to discover the best means of repairing the calcareous fens. The research has proved successful and by the time of Wetlands day was able to show significant progress. In Slitere National Park 5.2ha of fens have been restored, while another 5ha have been restored in Kemeri and Gauja National Parks. It is a small step, but hopefully the knowledge gained from these successes can be reused at other locations to continue the progress already made.

The biodiversity of Europe has been in a precarious state for some time, and the decline of certain ecosystems is of course a major contributor to this process. The NAT-PROGRAMME in Latvia demonstrates a productive and reasoned process to combating these problems, combining research, debate and action to reverse some of the damage that has been done.