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Implementation of management plan for Lake Engure Nature Park (ENGURE)
Date du début: 1 oct. 2001, Date de fin: 30 sept. 2004 PROJET  TERMINÉ 

Background Lake Engure Nature Park, 18,000 ha with its marine territory, has been protected since 1998. It has been a bird reserve since 1957. The 3,500 hectare lake, which also includes several islands, is the centre of the park. Over 20 km of Baltic Sea coast is within the park; along its shoreline are fens, reedbeds and rushes, beyond which the forests start. In terms of habitat types and species biodiversity is very high: 18 habitat types and 12 species listed in the Habitats Directive and 22 bird species on the Birds Directive, of which Botaurus stellaris, Aythya nyroca, Aquila pomarina and Crex crex are priority species for LIFE funding and breeding in the area. Aquila clanga is staging here. However, a decline in water bird population during the 1990s had been observed. The lake was filling with reeds, meadows were overgrowing, tree cutting was uncontrolled and the increasing tourism was not being managed. A management plan was drawn up for the nature park in 1999 and LIFE-Nature would enable the park to implement it. Objectives The LIFE project would tackle the overgrowing of the lake's shorelines and islands and of the coastal meadows by cutting reed from 330 ha, restoring 107 ha of coastal meadows and starting up grazing again together with local farmers. The effects of these management measures would be closely monitored. About 49 ha of forest was to be bought from local owners to prevent forest cutting in Haliaetus albicilla breeding territory and potential breeding areas of Aquila clanga and A. pomarina (this action was later replaced by the more effective measure of establishing 45 micro-reserves covering a total of 700 ha). At least 2,000 visitors per year were expected to visit the nature park, thus contributing to the economic development of the region, which had a high unemployment rate. Tourism would be organised and supported by building two bird observation towers, one nature path and a summer lecture room where the area can be presented to visitors. Also a film, seminars and booklets about the area were foreseen. Wardens would be hired to prevent illegal activities in the vast park. Results The main output was the implementation of the management plan (from 1998-99) through the restoration and maintenance of habitats, a detailed inventory of nature values, involvement of local stakeholders into the nature park management and protection activities and raising public awareness. · The main actions for the long-term maintenance of the nature conservation value of the area were carried out as foreseen: evaluation of the nature values, restoration and maintenance of shore and coastal grassland habitats and of freshwater habitats, establishing micro-reserves in the forests and regular wardening control of the protection regime. · Information material (leaflets, booklets, information panels, video, websites) was produced. A summer lecture facility, 2 bird-watching towers and an "orchid trail", attracting a noticeable number of visitors, were built. The conservation benefits for the Natura 2000 site, and the species and habitats targeted, include: · The introductory inventories resulted in an extended list of FFH habitats identified for the project sites: 22 habitats in total, including three priority types. This includes five new habitats (including the three priority ones) not listed in the project application: European dry heaths (4030), Juniperus communis formations on calcareous grasslands (5130), Fennoscandian lowland species-rich dry to mesic grasslands (*6270), western taiga (*9010, large areas) and alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (*91E0). The restored meadow areas host the following habitats: Molinia meadows (6410), calcareous fens (*7210), Juniperus communis formations on calcareous grasslands (5130), boreal Baltic coastal meadows (*1630) and lowland hay meadows (6510). · The monitoring already indicated positive responses in 2004 with reference to vegetation and bird fauna in the areas restored in 2002, showing that the efforts to stop the degradation of meadow areas had been successful. Reed beds decreased by 80% in sample plots over the 2 years management took place within the project. Typical meadow and fen communities had recovered, thus expanding the meadow habitat area, including Molinia meadows (habitat 6410). Five nationally protected plant species were found in the restored areas as well. · The habitat improvements benefited several birds, including species listed in annex 1 of the Birds Directive. Lake Engure is among the best 5 best sites in Latvia for common tern (Sterna hirundo) and from 2002 to 2004 their nests on the islands increased from 68 to 179. Two wader species, lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and redshank (Tringa totanus), returned as breeders and the black–tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) was observed. Other species, such as common cranes (Grus grus) and greylag geese (Anser anser), were observed feeding, as well as many ducks. The introduction of grazing animals and the implementation of reed cutting brought positive results for red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio): 3 pairs were recorded in 2004. · With the establishment of a network of microreserves, a direct legal protection was achieved for sites with habitat types such as transition mires (7140), calcareous fens (*7210), alkaline fens (*7230), residual alluvial forests (*91E0), western taiga (*9010) and deciduous swamp woods (*9080*), as well as for bird species such as lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina), eagle owl (Bubo bubo), white–tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)and white–backed woodpecker (Dendrocopus leucotos) and for rare plants such as Dactylorhiza cruenta, Ophrys insectifera, Hydrocotyle vulgaris and Corallorrhiza trifida. The site was included in the first Latvian proposal for the Natura 2000 network, submitted in April 2004, and proposed both as SPA and pSCI. · The Engure project was the first project in Latvia to introduce a system of breeding meat cattle for nature conservation purposes, combined with support to farmers. · The project facilitated the development of nature-friendly tourism in the nature park, and the number of visitors to Lake Engure Nature Park (LENP) increased fivefold since the project commenced. About 8600 people visited LENP in 2004. As an added value to the project activities, the Lake Engure Nature Park fund was entrusted by a municipality to manage a boating station in Mersrags (a coastal village) and obtained funding from the Dutch Embassy in Latvia to develop a small information centre there. Following the park's initiative, Mersrags municipality, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Latvia and the state-owned enterprise Latvian State Forests invested in the development of tourism infrastructure in LENP. · Nationally, the project activities served demonstration purposes, notably the recurring and non-recurring biotope management actions – reed cutting, restoration of meadows, introducing cattle. The reed-cutting machine bought for the project was the first one of its kind in Latvia and will be further used for the management of Lake Engure and also other protected areas. · The project put a lot of emphasis on local dialogue, transparency and co-operation with local communities. It showed that nature and local sustainable development initiatives can work hand in hand and that nature conservationists are open to dialogue. This approach was recorded in the film produced by the project which could be an important communication tool for what Natura 2000 means in practice for stakeholders, not only in the project area but also in other regions, as local inhabitants and municipal leaders express their point of view showing a clear understanding of the need for maintaining nature values as well as caring for the lake's sustainability. · The project encouraged local farmers to re-start grazing in the park and they received cattle and support payments when they concluded a contract with the project partner Lake Engure Nature Fund. Unfortunately there is still scepticism amongst farmers about starting up grazing, as they have doubts about it in economic terms and many landowners/farmers can not handle grazing supervision due to their age. · Re-introduction of cattle to coastal meadows for grazing was appreciated by locals, the general public and the media and there is a willingness to have or see cattle and horses in more areas, especially a native breed, the Latvian blue cow. · The project had a local employment effect: most of its actions were using local staff to assist – e.g. for fencing, scrub clearance, building the lecture centre, bird-watching towers and boardwalk, etc. · Some commercial reed harvesting is done by private enterprises (the reed is used for roofing), but this exploitation is not enough to balance the overgrowth by Phragmites. Provided that the commercial activities are monitored, they are judged by the beneficiary to be primarily to the benefit of bird-life and other nature conservation values.