Country Profiles

Lithuania - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Lithuanian ecosystems include natural and semi-natural (forests, bogs, wetlands, meadows), and anthropogenic (agrarian and urban) ecosystems. Among natural ecosystems, forests are particularly important to Lithuania, covering 33% of the country’s territory. Wetlands (raised bogs, fens, transitional mires, etc.) cover 7.9 % of the country, with 70% of wetlands having been lost due to drainage and peat extraction between 1960 and 1980. Changes in wetland plant communities resulted in the replacement of moss and grass communities by trees and shrubs, and fens not directly affected by land reclamation have become drier as a result of a drop in the water table. Lithuanian meadows are of two types: flooded meadows, which are naturally occurring and regularly inundated preventing overgrowth of shrubs and trees; and dry (or continental) meadows occurring on grazed or mown forest glades and drained swamps. Their overall status is not better than that of other natural ecosystems. As a matter of fact, half of all meadows were destroyed during land reclamation and expansion of pasture and arable land area, or due to a decline in grazing and mowing, to the extent that there are, at present, no remaining large continental meadows. The situation of aquatic ecosystems is also a matter of concern. There are 29,000 rivers with a total length of 64,000 km in Lithuania, the Nemunas River basin occupying 74% of the territory of the country. Due to the construction of dams, approximately 70% of spawning sites of potential catadromous fish species have disappeared. In some cases, river and lake ecosystems continue to be impacted by anthropogenic eutrophication.

The same negative trend is observed in regard to anthropogenic ecosystems. While agricultural land comprises 54% of Lithuania’s territory (roughly 70% of that is arable land and 30% meadows and pastures), approximately 400,000 ha of agricultural land is not farmed, and acts as an ecological niche for weeds and invasive plant species. Habitat deterioration is occurring in regions with very productive and expensive lands as crop areas are expanded. Finally, the expansion of built-up areas in urban ecosystems comes at the expense of parks and other urban plantations. At the same time, new parks and plantations are using alien and non-native plant species which are less sensitive to air and soil pollution, thus replacing native species. The degradation of ecosystems results in loss of habitats, with major consequences on wildlife species. Currently, 18.9% of all plant species, including 1.87% of all known fungi species and 31% of all known species of lichens, are listed in the Lithuanian Red Data Book. The list also contains 8% of all fish species.

In recent years, commercial fish populations have decreased both in the Curonian Lagoon and Baltic Sea, mainly as a result of water pollution, changes in food abundance and invasive species. In addition, 5 of the county’s 13 amphibian and reptile species, as well as 80 bird species, occur in the Lithuanian Red Data Book, threatened by loss, degradation or fragmentation of habitats. Among mammals, 18 of 70 known species have been reported as endangered. At the same time, the number of invasive species in Lithuania is rapidly increasing. There are 548 known alien plant species in the country, of which 46 are invasive and another 60 being potentially invasive. Thirty-five species are included in the List of Invasive Species of Lithuania approved by Ministerial Order. For instance, Sosnovsky Cow Parsnip (Heracleum sosnovsky) was introduced for agricultural purposes as a forage plant but, because of its ornamental appearance, has since spread in farmsteads. At present, this fast self-spreading species is successfully entering protected areas, exterminating native species.

An example of the dependency of the Lithuanian society on natural resources is provided by declining fishing stocks, which have a negative social effect both in terms of employment and income.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The status of biological diversity and biological resources in Lithuania is mainly influenced by the following processes: essential changes in geo-ecological conditions due to land drainage during the Soviet period; intensive forest felling; damage of forest ecosystems as a result of natural disasters (pests, etc.) and pollution; destruction of the biological diversity of ligneous plants as a result of the use of selected tree species; changes in the ecological conditions of meadows due to a decline of economic activities there; diffuse agricultural pollution, consisting of loads of organic matter, nitrogen and phosphorus compounds which enter soil with manure and mineral fertilisers, as well as point pollution, consisting of loads of discharge from wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), surface runoff and industrial wastewater which are key factors affecting the ecological status of water bodies; morphological changes of water bodies during Soviet times as a result of the straightening of riverbeds resulting in the destruction of specific habitats of water organisms; illegal fishing in natural inland waters, inefficient stock-taking; pollution of the sea with industrial and municipal waste waters; growth of recreation activities in the natural environment; destruction and decrease of natural landscape islands in urbanized environments; development of road networks and their load intensification.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Lithuania’s National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (NBCSAP) was published in 1998. The NBCSAP was designed to cover a 20-year period with most of the actions meant to be implemented within 5 years. It was foreseen that the Action Plan should be revised five years following initial publication, but unfortunately this has not been done.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Lithuania has made some progress toward the 2020 targets, notably in terms of the conservation of natural resources. Although Target 11 regarding terrestrial protected areas has not yet been met, its network already covers 15.64% of the country’s territory, having increased from 12% since 2004. Milestones have notably been reached in the forest environment, with an increase of 2% in forest cover since 2001 due to a large reforestation policy, a decline of 11% in the logging rate in the last few years, 54% of the Natura 2000 network composed of forest and 30% of all forests included in protected areas. Similarly, almost all wetland habitats are now listed as protected under the EU Habitats Directive, 82 special protected areas have been designated under the Birds Directive and 92 of a total of 406 potential Sites of Community Importance under the Habitats Directive was approved by the government. Lithuania is also developing a comprehensive network of marine and coastal protected areas, covering over 10% of territorial waters, with the adoption of a Sea Coastal Zone Management Program for the 2008-2013 period with some positive trends already recorded in terms of fish species recovery (e.g. Alosa fallax fallax have sufficiently recovered to allow fishing again). Overall, more than 100 nature management plans for various protected areas (e.g. Forests, Coastal, Inland Water, Wetlands and Meadows, Anthropogenic Environment and the “Nature Frame”) were prepared from 2006 to 2008 that focused on concrete actions on conservation, restoration and management of valuable/rare habitats and species, with 70 such plans now officially approved.

Lithuania undertakes a number of successful measures dedicated to species conservation (for instance, strict protection measures and breeding resulted in an increase of the salmon population) and reinforces its legislation (with initiatives such as the adoption of the Law on Sea Protection and the Law on Fisheries; ratification of the Bonn Convention; establishment of legal acts for protective zones of birds’ wintering sites, resting sites, fish spawning grounds by amending the Law on Protected Areas; development of the coastal protection regulations; and regulations for the protection of fish spawning grounds). It also promotes ex situ conservation through the establishment of botanical reserves, notably for the natural meadows. Lithuania also has the fastest expanding rate of organic farming in the European Union, demonstrating a steady increase from 9 organic farms in 1993 (148 ha) to 2504 farms in 2012, occupying almost 155,780 ha.

While there are no indigenous communities for the purposes of Art. 8(j) of the Convention in Lithuania, people carrying traditional knowledge could, to some extent, be regarded as indigenous but they do not form distinct communities. The country enhances public participation and awareness, through the National Educational Strategy (2007-2015), as well as different national and local programs. Similarly, the Rural Development Programme for Lithuania (2007-2013) contains a number of measures related to the promotion of traditional uses of nature (the most important is restoration and maintenance of natural/seminatural habitats). Finally, EIA and SEA legislation is in place, along with plans and programs, and includes mandatory assessment of the planned economic activity on biodiversity.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Although capacity-building and cooperation are not well-developed in Lithuania, some successful projects have already been launched that bring together various public bodies (e.g. an NGO-led project to protect and restore and manage 505 ha of threatened coastal habitat, involved for the first time in Lithuania, four municipalities, states’ institutions, a research institution and NGOs).

In addition, there are a number of nation-level, cross-sectoral planning documents that endorse sectoral mainstreaming of biodiversity protection. The Master Plan of the Republic of Lithuania, for example, recommends integration of landscape and biodiversity protection into strategies, programs and action plans of all sectors of the economy, and implementation of the requirements and recommendations of international conventions and EU directives on landscape and biodiversity protection. Mainstreaming activities have notably been achieved for the following sectors: agriculture (e.g. Agri-environment Payment Measure, Organic Farming Scheme, Rare Breeds Scheme, Support for Natura 2000 territories), fisheries (e.g. restrictions in fishing net sizes and seasonal use are in place to mitigate accidental sea bird mortality), forestry (e.g. National Programme for Forestry Development (2012-2020), 51 land use plans for afforestation transport, forest agri-environmental payments, forest certification, Forest Law of the Republic of Lithuania), tourism (e.g. preparation of protected natural territories for visitors), education (e.g. National Education Strategy for 2003-2012), energy, climate change and EIA.

The domestic budget for nature conservation produces a small percentage of the national budget and, despite EU financial support, funds should be increased.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The Law on Environmental Monitoring of the Republic of Lithuania is the main national act establishing an environmental monitoring system in Lithuania, and the State Environmental Monitoring Programme comprehensively describes all measures of state environmental monitoring according to components of the environment observed. The government-approved State Environmental Monitoring Programme (2011–2017) currently in operation also includes a part on nature monitoring which relates to the monitoring of all species/habitats of EU concern and to forest, fish, regulated game and invasive species.

The monitoring of species of EU concern should be conducted within a period of 1 to 6 years and carried out not only in protected areas (for some species, 25% of monitoring should be implemented outside protected areas). Examples of milestones achieved include the organization of the Baltic Sea, Curonian Lagoon and coastal zone biological monitoring program; monitoring programs on water bodies with studies of river biota and rare species; and participation in the international (HELCOM) monitoring programme and in other international projects of HELCOM, ICES, BOOS, EUROGOOS, BEEP EDIOS, BEWERS, PAPA, SEA-SEARCH.