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Grasslands of latvia status and conservation of semi-natural grasslands

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Royal Dutch Society for Nature Conservation

Latvian Fund for Nature

Table of Contents

General introduction in semi-natural grassland mapping projects………………3

Grassland biodiversity in general…………………………………………………...6

Agri-environmental measures…………………………………………………….. 18

Working methods…………………………………………………………………...20

Classification of grasslands………………………………………………………...23

Mapped semi-natural grassland habitats in Latvia………………………………42

Management recommendations……………………………………………………43

Figures Nr. 1 – Nr. 15

Maps Nr. 1 – Nr. 6

“Grasslands of Latvia” is the sixth report in the series of Publications National Grassland Inventory Projects in Central and Eastern Europe.

Already published reports in the programme “Joint European Grassland Inventory Project” are:
Report Nr.1 “Proceedings of Technical Workshop National Grassland Inventory, Bratislava, 1999”;

Report Nr.2 “Inventory of Semi-Natural Grasslands in Estonia”, 2001, Estonian Fund for Nature;

Report Nr.3 “Natural and Semi-Natural Grasslands in Hungary”, 2001, Authority for Nature Conservation, Ministry of Environment, Hungary;

Report Nr.4 “Grasslands of Slovakia”, 2002, Daphne, Institute of Applied Ecology, Slovakia;

Report Nr.5 “Grasslands of Slovenia”, 2003, society for natural History in Slovenia;

Copies of these reports can be obtained from website:

Report compiled by:
Ivars Kabucis

Solvita Rūsiņa

Peter Veen

Published by

© Latvian Fund for Nature


Baiba Strazdina

This project was funded by the PIN-MATRA programme of the Ministries of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and Foreign Affairs
Project partner in the Netherlands Royal Dutch Society for Nature Conservation

General introduction in semi-natural grassland mapping projects
In the framework of the Dutch Program International Nature Management (PIN-MATRA) semi-natural grassland projects were established in EC pre-accession countries by the Royal Dutch Society for Nature Conservation in close collaboration with local partners like ministries for environment and agriculture, other governmental bodies, scientific institutes, directorates of National Parks and non-governmental organisations. Main goal of these projects is to develop a national Geographical Information System (GIS) database concerning biodiversity aspects for semi-natural grassland ecosystems in Central – and Eastern European Countries in order to facilitate the input of biodiversity data in policy making processes like the designation of the Natura 2000 network, the preparation of agri-environmental schemes and the assessment of environmental impacts on project development in the rural areas. Also the database will be a flexible tool for a selection of so-called Important Plant Areas.
Semi-natural grasslands belong to the most valuable ecosystems within the agricultural landscapes and are a result of stable agricultural management over centuries by using the grasslands as hayfields or as pasture fields. As a result of this stable management the grassland ecosystem is well developed and characteristic for the bio-geographical region. Also typical for semi-natural grasslands is the low input of nutrients in the grassland ecosystems, which results in a rather low annual biomass production. As a result of this, less competitive grassland species are able to survive in these grasslands. Last but not least, semi-natural grasslands need management by continuation of farming traditions like pasturing and/or cutting of grasslands. If the semi-natural grasslands are not managed in the proper way, for instance by land abandonment or over-grazing, the biodiversity of the grassland community will decrease by development of shrub encroachment or dominance of some competitive grassland species.
The national semi-natural grassland mapping projects follow generally speaking a six step approach as was defined during the technical workshop on national grassland inventory in Bratislava in 1999 (Veen en Seffer, 1999):

  1. by satellite image processing the permanent grassland complexes will be identified as well as the boundaries of the complexes;

  2. in the screening phase all the potential sites are globally screened by grassland specialists on actual agricultural use and other relevant issues like land abandonment. Also the field research areas will be defined in this phase taking into account the position of the grasslands in the national bio-geographical units and variation in abiotic conditions like climatic factors and soil types.

  3. preparation of national vegetation mapping units in order to reach comparative outputs in the project by the different researchers. The vegetation units are described by selection of so called indicating species which can give an indication of the development of the vegetation at a local site. The selection of the indicating species is based on existing knowledge concerning threatened and endangered species, endemic species and species which reflect the environmental conditions of the grasslands, for instance for nutrient input, continuity in management, water management and others. In some countries even all grassland species are mapped within the designated sites.

  4. During the mapping phase, the selected semi-natural grasslands are mapped in the field by mapping the different vegetation units, listing the species and drawing the boundaries of homogenic vegetation’s or mosaics of vegetation’s. For this purpose, the national project co-ordinators develop a manual for field mapping activities in which is included the system of identification of vegetation mapping units and of indicating species and other requirements like information regarding management of the sites and soil type.

  5. On the base of all the outputs of the previous phases, the GIS database can be build up, including also information for land management, land use, history of land use, specific threats like land abandonment. The boundaries of the mapped vegetation units are digitised and stored also in the GIS. For reaching compatibility which other geographical information systems on the national level, in most countries national digital maps/satellite images are used as a background layer in the database.

  6. Based on the information the project output exists of a flexible database which is available for policy makers and other specialists. The results of the project are interpreted and recommendations for protection and management are described. The results of the project will be disseminated by organising workshops and other activities.

Semi-natural grasslands can also provide an important habitat for other groups of species. For example, for butterflies 65% of the European Red List Butterfly species live in grassland habitats which are used for traditional farming (Van Swaay and Warren, 1999). Semi-natural grasslands can have also an important function for birds like the breeding birds Corn crake, Lesser Grey Shrike, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Red Footed Falcon and White Stork which have strong populations in the Central and Eastern European Countries compared with the Western European Countries (Tucker and Evans, 1997).

This Latvian semi-natural grassland report is the sixth in a sere of reports, which will be published, in the coming period. It is planned that these grassland inventory projects in Central and Eastern European Countries will be finalised with a multi-country synthesis report in order to reach sustainable conditions for protection and management over all the countries. A preliminary assessment proved already that 12,3% of the total agricultural lands in Central – and Eastern European Countries are identified to be important as for semi-natural grassland (Veen and others in Brouwer, Baldock and la Chapelle, 2001).
Peter Veen

General Project co-ordinator Royal Dutch Society for Nature Conservation

The Netherlands


  • Van Swaay, C. and M.Warren, 1999, Red Data Book of European Butterflies (Rhopalocera), Strasbourg, Council of Europe, Nature and Environment, Vol.99

  • Veen, P.H. and J.Seffer, 1999, Proceedings of the Workshop National Grassland Inventory, KNNV/Daphne, Bratislava, Slovakia

  • Tucker, G.M. and M.I.Evans, 1997, Habitats for Birds in Europe. A conservation Strategy for wider Environment. Birdlife, UK. Birdlife Conservation Series No.6

  • Veen, P.H. and others in: Brouwer, F., D.Baldock and Chapelle, 2001, The Relation between Agriculture and Nature Management, Conference, Wassenaar (NL), 22/24 January 2001

Grassland biodiversity in general1

Strategy for biodiversity protection

Meadows and pastures cover 33 % of the agricultural area in Latvia. These ecosystems are dependent on a periodical management by farmers and others. Meadows and pastures are important also as the main components of the characteristic mosaic landscape over large parts of Latvia. A large part of these meadows and pastures were used intensively during the socialist time and also reversion for some period of pastures and meadows in arable fields was quite common. A part from these intensively used grasslands, also extensively used grasslands exist in Latvia which are used as hayfields of pastures over decades and more. These semi-natural grassland ecosystems are rich in plant and animal diversity and they contain one-third of all vascular plant and fern species in Latvia. About 40% of the rare and endangered plant species are dependent on habitats of grasslands. Many bird species nest and feed in grasslands. In official statistics of land use, semi-natural grasslands are not identified separately. In this project, the mapping and the characterisation of these semi-natural grassland complexes was the prime task to do, because these grasslands need attention in the framework of designation of Natura 2000 network and the implementation of agri-environmental schemes in Latvia.

As mentioned before, semi-natural grasslands are restricted till specific locations in Latvia like in river valleys, peat lands and coastal zones. On the contrary, on fertile soils these grasslands were often changed and ploughed. Also, semi-natural grasslands were drained to reduce the groundwater table. As an impact of these changes in land use, the biological diversity decreased and several grassland species became rare in the past.

Objectives for semi-natural grasslands in Biodiversity Strategy focussed on protection and management of these grasslands:

- Develop a network of protected grasslands with the highest biological value, including grassland communities with nationally and regionally rare and protected species and integrate this network into physical planning.

- Involve grassland owners in management, as specified in the European Union Regulation EEC 1257/99 for implementation of agri-environmental schemes.

- Inform the public on the biological diversity value of grasslands and methods for their conservation.

Several semi-natural grassland complexes are under the process of overgrowing by shrubs and tall herbs due to the bad present economic situation in agriculture at the moment. The dry grasslands with a low productivity have been abandoned first, followed by the wet grasslands. In nature reserves and other protected areas, overgrowth of grasslands occurred due to a loss of an active management. The coastal meadows are one of the rarest habitats in Latvia and are found in both inside and outside protected areas. However, since the owners of the sites are no longer involved in agriculture the grasslands are overgrowing with reed (Phragmites communis). It is expected that afforestation of some agricultural land can further dwindle the extension of semi-natural grasslands.

Objectives for semi-natural grasslands in Biodiversity Strategy focussed on impact assessment and monitoring of semi-natural grassland ecosystems:

- Prevent overgrowing of semi-natural meadows and pastures.

- Conduct an environmental impact assessment for the afforestation programme, particularly considering the impact on conservation of valuable grasslands.

- Promote suitable meadow management in protected areas.

- Promote monitoring of grassland management regimes. Optimise management methods for various grassland types and indicator species, to facilitate assessment of meadow condition by landowners and agricultural specialists.

Semi-natural grassland species are adopted on low productive ecosystems with an high light impact on the plant species itself. Grazing, mowing, trampling etc are instruments to reach the open growing conditions. If these impacts on the plants and animals do not exist longer, the species cannot survive over a longer period.

Objectives for semi-natural grasslands in Biodiversity Strategy focussed on conservation of plant and animal species of semi-natural grassland ecosystems:

- Maintain the characteristic plant and animal communities of semi-natural grasslands.
In recent years, the agricultural production has been decreased. In 1995, only 15 % of the agricultural land was used for market-oriented agricultural purposes. However, at the moment farms utilising more intensive production methods have been stabilised. This seems to be especially the case on the Zemgale Plain and on parts of the Coastal Plain around, for example, around Riga and Ventspils.

Objectives for semi-natural grasslands in Biodiversity Strategy focussed on conservation of rural landscapes:

- Maintain the characteristic habitat mosaic of rural landscapes.

- Implement the European Union EEC 1257/99

- Implement and popularise the Code of Good Agricultural Practices

- Promote diversity of land use in rural landscapes.

- Preserve individual trees and shrubs, and groups of trees and shrubs, on agricultural land.

- Preserve large field stones and their groups in fields.

- In large open agricultural landscapes, create protection belts utilising local tree species.

- Popularise the importance of landscape elements in rural areas, to encourage landowners in establishment or maintenance of roadsides with trees, hedgerows and ponds.

Conservation of grasslands should be an integral part of agricultural management. Intensive agricultural activity should be balanced with traditional management of grasslands, which favour biological diversity.

Many grasslands with high biological value are overgrowing, since hay collection is not economically feasible due to their low productivity. Therefore, a subsidy system is required for management of meadows with high biological value. Occasionally, particularly in eastern Latvia, hay is regularly collected in small, usually drained, fens.
Objectives for semi-natural grasslands in Biodiversity Strategy focussed on management of semi-natural grasslands:

- Continuity in hay collection on semi-natural meadows.

- Promote hay collection in specific wet areas, river and lake plains, and traditionally used fens.

- Prevent ploughing of traditionally used grasslands.

- Prevent drainage of grasslands of high biological importance.

- Develop fertilisation application schemes based on up take of nutrients by saving the low natural production of the grasslands.

- On meadows of high biological value, prevent fertiliser use and other cultivation improvements.

- Protect individual trees and shrubs in meadows and pastures.

For a long term strategy the Biodiversity Strategy has been focussed on issues like continuity in traditional management.Objectives for semi-natural grasslands in Biodiversity Strategy focussed on long term management are:

- Continue traditional management of farm pastures.

- At least partly, renew pasture land use in some locations: juniper stands, forest pastures, river and lake plains, and fens.

- Establish pastures on the steepest slopes of hills, lake depressions, river valleys, and on poor and/or calcareous soils.

Implementation of Natura 2000 sites
Several grassland types listed in the Annex I of EU Habitat Directive are found in Latvia (Table 1)

Table 1. List of the EU Habitat Directive Annex I grassland habitats present in Latvia







Boreal Baltic coastal meadows




Fixed coastal dunes with herbaceous vegetation (grey dunes)



Inland dunes with open with Corynephorus and Agrostis grasslands




Rupicolous calcareous or basophilic grasslands of the Alysso-Sedion albi




Xeric sand calcareous grasslands



Semi-natural dry grasslands on calcareous substrates (Festuco Brometalia)(*important orchid sites)




Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on siliceous substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas, in continental Europe)




Fennoscandian lowland species-rich dry to mesic grasslands



Molinia meadows on chalk and clayey-siltladen soils (Molinion caerueae)



Eutrophic tall herbs



Northern boreal alluvial meadows



Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)




Calcareous fens with Cladium mariscus and Carex davalliana

A first screening of management needs of potential Natura 2000 sites has been executed in Latvia. Table 2 presents the outcome of this screening phase.

Table 2: Management needs in proposed Natura 2000 sites for grasslands habitats (source: Biodiversity Implementation Plan, 2003)

Nature 2000 code

Habitat type


Management need


Boreal Baltic coastal meadows


Grazing and mowing. In areas, which are without any management for a long period –reed cutting, clearing of shrubs is necessary.

6110 *

Rupicolous calcareous or basophilic grasslands of the Alysso-Sedion albi


Clearing of bushes.


Xeric sand calcareous grasslands


Grazing, mowing, removal of shrubs.


Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (*important orchid sites)


Grazing ~50LVL/ha, mowing, removal of shrubs.


Species rich Nardus grassland, on siliceous substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas, in continental Europe)


Grazing ~50LVL/ha, mowing, clearing of shrubs, maintenance of drainage ditches.


Fennoscandian lowland species-rich dry to mesic grasslands


Grazing ~50LVL/ha, mowing, clearing of shrubs.


Molinia meadows on calcareous, peaty or clayey-silt-laden soils (Molinion caenuleae)


Grazing ~50LVL/ha, mowing, clearing of shrubs, maintenance of drainage systems, if ditches existed at the beginning of the 20th century.


Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of plains and of the montane to alpine levels

17 500

Management needs to be assessed individually.


Northern boreal alluvial meadows



Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)

20 000

Grazing ~50LVL/ha, mowing, clearing of shrubs, maintenance of drainage systems, if ditches existed at the beginning of the 20th century.


Fennoscandian wooded meadows


Clearing of trees and shrubs including burning of felled material is up to 110 LVL/ha; grazing from 50 LVL/ha increasing to 100 LVL/ha under special circumstances.


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