Semi-natural biotic communities need more help from the state

Toomas Mattson | 3/31/2015 | 10:00 AM

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TALLINN, 31 March 2015 – The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the maintenance of semi-natural biotic communities, which are valuable habitats from the viewpoint of nature conservation, needs more effort from the state. In order to achieve nature conservation goals, it is necessary to encourage land maintainers to also maintain biotic communities that are not economically profitable in terms of mowing or herding, guarantee the necessary maintenance work on state-owned land in protected areas and inform private land owners of the maintenance needs of the biotic communities located on their land and of support measures. It would also be reasonable if all necessary nature conservation works in protected areas were organised by the same agency irrespective of the ownership of land.

The semi-natural biotic communities in Estonia are important in terms of nature conservation in Europe and their preservation and improvement requires maintaining them in the traditional manner, i.e. by mowing and herding. Maintenance of several types of biotic communities is not agriculturally profitable in this day and age, which is why the restoration, maintenance and establishment of the necessary infrastructure is given financial support by the European Union as well as the state of Estonia.

Irrespective of European Union funding, the state has still not managed to maintain semi-natural biotic communities in protected areas to the planned extent. The area of land maintained in protected areas in 2013 was 10,000 ha less than the planned 35,000 ha. The objective set for 2030 is to maintain 60,000 ha of semi-natural biotic communities. The habitats necessary for the species associated with these communities may disappear and the condition of the communities and the species may deteriorate unless the maintenance of such communities in protected areas expands at the intended speed.

The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the maintenance objectives of semi-natural communities have not been achieved because the necessary maintenance works have been left up to land maintainers, i.e. farmers, and they therefore depend entirely on the interest of land maintainers to maintain such land. The support measures developed by the state for the maintenance of communities have not been motivating enough for land maintainers, which is why their interest in maintaining the land has not been sufficient in many protected areas.

Maintenance of wooded meadows and alvars is the most problematic. The quality of maintenance also suffers due to modest support rates and inadequate inspection. The organisation of nature conservation work is fragmented between agencies depending on the ownership of land and the nature of the works (the Environmental Board and State Forest Management Centre), which makes duties and responsibility unclear and hinders the comprehensive management of protected areas.

The maintenance of biotic communities on state-owned land, on which ca half of the biotic communities in protected areas are located and where the achievement of nature conservation goals is an obligation of the state as the land owner, has not been more successful than on private land. The state has not done the necessary works itself on its land in cases where the land maintainer has shown no interest.

The National Audit Office is of the opinion that improving the condition of semi-natural biotic communities requires:

  • organisation of works also in communities for which no maintainers have been found with the present support scheme, especially on state-owned land. It would also be necessary to turn more attention to community types that are currently in a bad condition, such as wooded meadows and alvars;
  • motivating land maintainers to maintain semi-natural areas by, if necessary, adjusting the support rates and reducing rent fees, land tax and bureaucracy in taking on land for maintenance;
  • informing land maintainers and private land owners of the need to protect semi-natural areas and of support measures, incl. guaranteeing the quick and easy accessibility of information related to the location and maintenance of semi-natural biotic communities;
  • more thorough inspection of the quality of maintenance works; and
  • reducing the fragmentation of the duties of agencies and establishing clearer obligations in the organisation and performance of nature conservation works.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager, National Audit Office
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  • Posted: 3/31/2015 10:00 AM
  • Last Update: 8/15/2015 11:07 PM
  • Last Review: 8/15/2015 11:07 PM

Sheep grazing on the Orissaare coastal meadow.

Author: Viire Viss / National Audit Office

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