EAF Projects Lithuania Nemunas Delta

 

Rusne Island, Nemunas Delta

Aim
Nature protection and rural development of Rusne island, contributing to the sustainable conservation of the natural heritage of the Nemunas Delta Regional Park, through land lease and management.

Location
The Nemunas delta is situated on the Russian (Kaliningrad) /Lithuanian border, which is formed by the river Nemunas, in the western part of the delta, bordering the Curonian lagoon. It covers an area of 23,950 ha., on the eastern side of the Curonian lagoon. It has the status of Regional Park and a management plan for the park has been developed. The area consists of cultivated, inhabited, private and state owned lands. In several places the river and its branches are enclosed between dikes to prevent flooding of agricultural land. However, almost every year, large areas are flooded by river water which makes it a very dynamic and natural area.

In the Nemunas delta there is a large variety of animals, which includes species such as fox, beaver, elk, wild boar and otter. The delta is of particular importance for birds. Many species are breeding here or use the area as a resting and feeding place during their migration. Several of them are considered internationally endangered e.g. white-tailed eagle, barnacle goose, crane, dunlin and aquatic warbler. For migratory birds, the Nemunas delta is one of the most important stop-over areas in the northern part of the Western-Palaearctic migration route.

On locations with a history of agricultural use the vegetation is influenced by, and adapted to, cattle grazing and haymaking. Fish ponds which are pumped dry result in temporary mud-flats, which provides feeding grounds ducks, geese, herons, terns, gulls, waders and marshland species. The open meadows are especially important for migratory geese, ducks and waders.

Rusne Island, five square kilometres of grassland, fishponds, reed beds, and swampy areas, is situated in the centre of the Nemunas delta, 50 km south of Klaipeda town and 10 km west of Silute town. Rusne island, and the surrounding parts of the Nemunas Delta Park like Minija nature reserve, Dreverna area and Minde grassland, are extremely important breeding and stopover places for grassland birds. The island is of major importance for migratory and meadow birds: corncrake, stork, lapwing, dunlin, several duck and geese species. Only 2,230 people inhabit the island, mostly living from self-supporting agriculture.

Problems
Since independence, agricultural management has declined and many grasslands remain unattended. Scattered throughout the area are derelict collective farms and fish pond pumping stations, relics of former land uses. This has lead to encroachment of reeds, bushes and trees, repelling geese and meadow birds which prefer large open grasslands. Habitat changes due to vegetation succession are currently the most important factor negatively affecting bird breeding places on Rusne.

However, on several grasslands, agricultural activities are intensifying leading to overgrazing and a decrease of the natural values of these lands. Another new and important feature of the local economy is non-sustainable tourism development.

The decline of the aquatic warbler population is a recognized problem in the Nemunas Delta Park. One key breeding site supports nearly three quarters of the total estimated national population and is, therefore, particularly vulnerable.

Activities & achievements

Land lease and management
A management plan for Rusne Island has been prepared which will prevent the meadows from being encroached by bushes and scrub and lead to extra income for the farmers. Areas previously abandoned for 5-6 years and overgrown by bushes and reedbeds have been managed and completely restored. The local farmers now make silage without the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and conduct their first mowing after the bird breeding season. The results have been a spectacular success and the formerly neglected meadows were already used by geese again during the first winter.

Furthermore, 40 - 50 hectares of grassland areas, which are very important as a breeding place and resting site for migrating geese, is being leased from the local municipality, the first time that a nature protection NGO has leased land on Rusne Island. Management will include mowing, removing trees and bushes from grassland areas and promoting the change of intensive into extensive grazing. Restoration of plough-damaged land will also be conducted.

Management of aquatic warbler areas
The local organization will incorporate its Aquatic warbler management scheme in the Minija nature reserve and Dreverna area where most of the remaining birds can be found.


farm-museum

Raising public awareness and educational activities
Eco-agriculture activities will be promoted in the area and the ethnographic museum (farm-museum) will be further improved by the distribution of information on nature conservation to the increasing number of tourists. This museum is an initiative of the local population: an old farm has been renovated and now serves as a museum giving information about the history and nature of the island. It attracts increasing numbers of (foreign) tourists, each year since 1996 the number has more then doubled: more than 6000 visitors/year are received.
A plan for a Tourist Information Center will also be supported.

This is an excellent example of nature protection embracing local human needs and showing that conservation can occur hand-in-hand with an improved economy for communities through sustainable agriculture and tourism.

Budget and co-ordination
The Lithuanian Fund for Nature is in charge of the project which so far has used € 169,450.