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World Wetlands Day 2014 in Riga

In the field of nature conservation in Latvia, February was a month when wetlands were in the spotlight. Various activities aiming to promote sustainable management of wetlands were organised throughout the country. LIFE+ Project “National Conservation and Management Programme for Natura 2000 Sites in Latvia” NAT-PROGRAMME, implemented by the Nature Conservation Agency of Latvia, actively contributed to raising awareness about the importance of responsible and effective management of wetlands.

For the second year in a row Project NAT-PROGRAMME in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Latvia organised a seminar dedicated to the World Wetlands Day. Although Latvia is in the top 50 countries in terms of water availability, improving water quality has become a significant topic among not only scientists and experts, but also land owners. Therefore, the seminar gathered a rather diverse audience (scientists, land owners, representatives from NGOs and governmental institutions - totalling 70 participants!), to provide an opportunity to discuss the most urgent issues in water management, as well as their potential solutions.

The event was opened by Juris Jātnieks – the Ramsar National Focal Point and Manager of the project NAT-PROGRAMME. J.Jātnieks emphasized that for Latvia diversity of organisms and support an array of functions, jointly known as ecosystem services.

In order to gain feedback about the problems presented during the seminar, three discussion groups were formed, each focusing on a different topic – rivers, lakes and water tourism. The aim of these discussion groups was to identify the most significant problems in water management that should be addressed in the Freshwater Habitat Management Guidelines that the Project NAT-PROGRAMME is currently drafting. Participants were also encouraged to discuss already suggested potential solutions to these problems. Altogether, 40 different solutions to existing challenges were suggested.

NAT-PROGRAMME freshwater habitats expert Andris Urtāns, who is also the Ramsar National Focal point for Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel, coordinated work in these discussion groups and has summed up the suggestions, particularly highlighting the following recommendations:

• We need to learn and develop an integrated approach to the way we think about water management and biological diversity. We need to understand that freshwaters are not only an asset in terms of their economical value, but also host a large proportion of the Earth’s biodiversity.
• Close collaboration is needed between various organisations and institutions that represent the Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive, so that we can successfully achieve our joint goals for improved water quality.
• We need continuous evaluation of the efficiency of existing habitat restoration and management activities.
• A comprehensive toolkit providing the best methods for managing freshwater biodiversity is needed.
• As a local problem we urgently need to evaluate the effects of European beaver (Castor fiber) activity and find appropriate and site specific solutions.
• The current state and functionality of riparian buffer belts must be clarified at all levels to maintain water quality.
• Motivation and education of land owners is a crucial starting point for successful and long-term sustainable management of water habitats in Latvia.

These are some of the main challenges that we need to address to stop deterioration of water quality and related biological diversity. Project NAT-PROGRAMME aims to contribute to improving the quality of water habitats in Latvia by drafting comprehensive Freshwater Habitat Management Guidelines.


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