Country Profiles

Latvia - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

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

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The nature of Latvia is determined by its geographical location in the western part of the East European plain and on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. The biological diversity of Latvia is significantly enriched by the unique brackish water communities and ecosystems of the Baltic Sea and waters of the Gulf of Riga. The coastal waters provide rich fish resources. The Irbe Strait of the Gulf of Riga is an important wintering site for water birds. The seacoast area is also intensively used for recreation. The deeps of the sea basin are important spawning areas, but an accumulation of organic pollution has created zones of oxygen deficiency and conditions for producing hydrogen sulphide. High amounts of organic matter and mineral nutrients enter the sea with municipal and industrial waste waters, and agricultural runoff, which is most detrimental to the deeps, causing mortality of roe and fish fry.

The Latvian seacoast stretches for almost 500 km, including a 300 km long zone (on the Kurzeme coast for the most part) that has been largely undisturbed and supports natural ecosystems. The beaches and dunes are mostly sandy; gravel, pebble and rocky shores are uncommon. On the beach and dunes, the ecosystems are formed by a rather small number of species which are adapted to the unique conditions. The vegetation is usually sparse, making it very sensitive to human activity. In depressions between dunes, where the moisture regime is unstable, the communities include species typical of both dunes and meadows, and even of mires and waters. Along some stretches, beaches have become overgrown with reeds and bulrushes. Cliffs are rare along the Latvian coast, but they can be found, for example, at Jurkalne and Tuja.

There are over 12,400 rivers and 2,256 lakes in Latvia, covering 3.7% of the territory. The shallow coastal lakes are particularly important for biological diversity, as the high primary productivity of these ecosystems ensures a food reserve for water birds and other animals. Of high interest are lakes with emergent vegetation typical of clear water, poor in organic substances; these lakes are however threatened by pollution and intensive recreation. Long river stretches have been regulated on plains and lowlands, destroying their typical ecosystems. Forests cover 44.6% of the area of Latvia and there are very few wooded areas that have not been previously used for agriculture.

There are 18,047 animal, 5,396 plant and about 4,000 fungi species recorded in Latvia. Scientists estimate that about 907 species (3.3% of the total number) are rare and threatened. Brown and red algae macrophyte beds play a major role in the self-purification and oxygen enrichment of waters. These beds provide an important habitat for fish prey organisms, and are also spawning areas and locations for early development of many fish species. Over a long period of intermittent incidents of oil release to the sea, the macrophyte beds on rocky gravel have decreased in size or, in some cases, have even disappeared.

Almost half of Latvia's population lives in the country’s six largest cities. The human-formed environment serves as a refuge for many species adapted to this habitat. Often, the artificially created habitats also support local wild species. Good conditions for survival of wild species can be ensured by the maintenance of suitable microhabitats or by the creation of specially tended park territories.

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

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The main threats to biodiversity in agricultural lands are the polarization of the agricultural landscape and overgrowing due to lack of management and melioration. Threats to biodiversity in other ecosystems include peat extraction and overgrowing of bogs due to melioration; eutrophication, functioning of small hydro-electric power stations and poaching (in inland waters); in coastal areas, the main threats are habitat degradation (due to tourism and recreational activities, illegal car driving), habitat loss (due to housing and inappropriate management) and expansion of invasive species. Low environmental awareness of the general public and politicians can also be cited as one of the major threats to biodiversity in the country.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The first National Program on Biological Diversity was adopted by the Government in 2000. It was supplemented with an Action Plan containing a list of detailed activities to be fulfilled to ensure biodiversity protection in each ecosystem type and economic sector. The majority of activities listed in the Action Plan were fulfilled by 2003, prompting the update of the Action Plan. In 2004, the National Environmental Policy Plan (2004-2008) was adopted, which also defined policy goals in biodiversity protection. It was later replaced by the Environmental Policy Concept (2009-2015) which is the current and most important environmental planning document in force and notably includes provisions for biodiversity protection.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Before submission to the Cabinet of Ministers for adoption, all documents elaborated by the Ministry of Environment are made available on the ministry's website, where the public at large can post comments on the documents, where consultations with NGOs can take place, etc. The Consultative Board on Environment uniting 20 environmental and nature NGOs has been established by the Ministry of Environment. The goal of this Board is to facilitate public involvement in the elaboration and implementation of environmental policy.

As previously mentioned, the Environmental Policy Concept (2009-2015) is currently the most important environmental planning document in force and notably also covers biodiversity protection issues. The Latvian Sustainable Development Strategy 2030 is being elaborated and will constitute the most important national long-term development planning document. Nature as future capital is defined as one of the directions of strategic development. Until the adoption of the Latvian Sustainable Development Strategy 2030, the Latvian Sustainable Development Concept (2002) will be in force. Biodiversity and nature conservation issues are significantly reflected in the Concept, with its targets having been adapted from the Principles of the Rio Declaration, in accordance with the national situation.

The Convention’s goals and targets have, to a certain extent, been included in several very important sectoral plans and programmes (e.g. Programme on the Sustainable Use and Long-term Conservation of the Genetic Resources of Plants and Animals, Forests and Fishes used in Agriculture and Food (2007-2009), Rural Development Programme (2007-2013), National Forest Policy). The Land Use Policy Concept (2008-2014) is a medium-term policy planning document defining principles, targets, and results of land use policy, associated problems and required actions. The Concept addresses biodiversity issues to some extent (e.g. conservation of biologically valuable territories is highlighted as an intended result of implementation). Also, the Spatial Development Concept of the Coastal Zone, elaborated by the Ministry of Regional Development and Local Governments, has been set for implementation between 2011 and 2017.

Following the accession of Latvia to the European Union, 336 Natura 2000 territories were designated, including 4 Strict Nature Reserves and 4 National Parks, increasing the total protected area from 8.9% to 11.9%. Marine territories are included in 7 terrestrial protected areas. According to national legislation, all Natura 2000 territories have legal protection status. Management plans are being prepared for protected areas at an average rate of 30 per year. The Law on Protection of Species and Habitats also provides for the establishment of micro-reserves to protect small-scale biologically valuable areas outside of protected territories. To date, 928 micro-reserves have been established. Within the Natura 2000 sites, some inland water habitats and species have been protected. Marine territories are included in 5 terrestrial protected areas, mostly for the protection of wintering, nesting and resting sites of migratory birds. With the recent addition of three new Ramsar Sites, there are now 6 sites in Latvia covering a total area of 148,363 ha.

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

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The system of nature protection in Latvia is mainly regulated by 2 laws, namely, the Law on Species and Habitats Protection and the Law on Specially Protected Nature Territories. Based on these laws, the Cabinet of Ministers has adopted several supporting regulations. In general, legislation on nature conservation in Latvia corresponds to the requirements of the EU Directives, CBD and other conventions. However, CBD is more often referred to in regard to cases of conservation of genetic diversity. Additional specific nature protection requirements are included in sectoral (e.g. forestry, agriculture, spatial planning, building) legislation. According to legislation, 236 animal species, 426 plant species and 62 fungi species are included in the list of specially protected species, however 22 animal and plant species are included in the list of specially protected species with exploitation limits. Overall, 2.7% of known species are included in the list of specially protected species. There are also 86 protected habitat types in Latvia.

Although Latvia has in recent years attracted a considerable amount of funding, mainly from EU-LIFE, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), UNDP/GEF, etc., for the management of protected territories, the country still lacks financial resources to properly manage and monitor all of them. Agro-environment payments for maintaining biodiversity in biologically valuable grasslands are available through the Rural Development Programme (2007-2013).

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Since 2009, national environmental indicators, including 15 biodiversity indicators, have been set in national legislation. They have been elaborated according to specific national needs and conditions and, in general, coincide with the seven focal areas of the CBD indicators. The National Monitoring Program was initially prepared in 2002, then revised and adopted in 2006 as the “Environment Monitoring Programme”, also covering biodiversity monitoring in accordance with CBD provisions and EU biodiversity legislation.

A very good example of how the general public can contribute to biodiversity conservation is illustrated by the public monitoring programme implemented for the project “Biodiversity Protection in the North Vidzeme Biosphere Reserve” (2005-2009). Inhabitants of the biosphere reserve were invited to submit information in questionnaires on, for example, different species, agricultural activities, distribution of invasive species on their property or in their neighborhood. There was quite a large response from inhabitants resulting in the collection of a considerable amount of valuable information.