Conditions of coastal habitats and their typical flora and fauna have taken a turn for the better. That is the general message from 70 experts from five Baltic coun-tries meeting in Kiel to discuss the results from the EU LIFE_BaltCoast nature conservation project.
Conditions of natural coastal habitats along the Baltic Sea, from beaches, beach berms and dunes to lagoons and adjacent salt meadows are gradually becoming more suitable for the native flora and fauna. This is a major finding agreed by 70 experts who met in the Atlantic Hotel in Kiel for a final seminar to examine the EU (cofinanced) LIFE+ Balt-Coast Project.
During the last seven years biologists and engineers from Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia and Sweden have worked to improve the living conditions for plants and animals in a total of 34 project sites, 11 of them in Schleswig-Holstein.
The project focussed on species which are protected in Europe and whose preferred habitats along the Baltic Sea coast are being lost due to intensive land-use, diking and drainage. „In particular Dunlin and Ruff have very specific habitat needs“, explained Hauke Drews, project leader from the Stiftung Naturschutz. Along our coasts these birds stopped breeding many years ago due to habitat loss”? However, now we have restored the former breeding sites and we hope to soon find nests at our Schleswig-Holstein coast again.” And the 15 project partners are also optimistic that other, less rare species will benefit from the measures, amongst them Redshank, Lapwing and Oystercatcher, whose populations have also decreased recently. Restoration efforts in Sweden, Denmark and Estonia have already been successful: Dunlin and Ruff are breeding again in four project sites.
„To guarantee the success of the project, a large package of measures has been implemented in the respective areas“ said Drews. „It has been essential that ornitholo-gists, botanists and amphibian experts have worked hand in hand and co-ordinated measures to maximise their effectiveness, speed and flexibility.“
The restoration of a natural hydrology system has been instrumental in the management of lagoon habitats and adjacent salt marshes / meadows. 17 km of drainage ditches have been backfilled, artificial drains have been closed off and five lagoons - disconnected from the Baltic Sea - re-connected. To provide freshwater for spawning on the coastal meadows, numerous small ponds have been created or restored. In parallel, more than 100,000 young toads were reared from spawn under controlled conditions before being released into the project’s wild sites. As a result, five new wild populations have established themselves and several smaller populations are also being monitored and managed. To ensure the amphibian ponds stay clear of scrub and offer open landscapes for breeding birds, project partners have created numerous grazing pastures where hardy cattle, sheep and horses (Koniks) are “landscape workers” that keep invasive Japanese Rose, reed and other aggressive plants short.
„Not only nature benefits from this mix of measures“, Drews said, “because these re-stored coastal landscapes are also attractive for tourists and people seeking recreation.” Consequently, the project also created a visitor information system with interpretation boards, signs, leaflets and guided tours. As the project draws to a close, in December of this year, a handbook is due to be published to provide nature conservationists work-ing in similar coastal environments with a guide to management techniques that proved successful on the Baltic coast.
The opening speech of Dr. Walter Hemmerling, director of the Stiftung Naturschutz, is available here as PDF.
A fact sheet of LIFE-BaltCoast including the results is available her as PDF.
A fact sheet of Stiftung Naturschutz Schleswig-Holstein is available her as PDF.
A photo gallery from the final seminar you can see here.