URBANCOWS: Restoration of urban coastal meadows in the town of Pärnu
The Pärnu coastal meadow complex is an interesting example of a Natura 2000 site protection priority for conservation of Boreal Baltic coastal meadows and coastal lagoons located in an urban environment. The nature reserve is home to many nationally important species as well as the Marsh angelica (Angelica palustris), which is protected by the EU Habitats Directive.
The area has suffered from a lack of management due to the end of traditional activities such as grazing and haymaking, resulting from changes in agricultural practice during the second half of the 20th century. The lack of management has resulted in these areas becoming overgrown with reed and bushes, which directly damages the natural values of the habitat. Reed beds are an unsuitable habitat for most meadow species, as a result biodiversity in the area has declined. Most of the lagoons were in a poor conservation state due to overgrowth, eutrophication, pollution from rubbish and wastewater. They had therefore also lost their recreational potential.
The Estonian Environmental Board, with the help of EU LIFE funding, has tackled this problem using the tried and tested method of mechanically removing old reeds and bushes and then reintroducing cattle across 200 hectares of coastal meadows — in an urban setting! In addition, water regime restoration improved the conservation status of several lagoons. The location near a major town combined with waste management problems meant that public education was an important aspect of the project activities. A public awareness plan was implemented and included building a visitor centre, two observation towers and a nature trail.