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Restoration and Public Access of Urban Coastal Meadow Complex in Parnu Town (URBANCOWS)
Start date: Jan 1, 2012, End date: Dec 31, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Pärnu has a population of around 43 000 people. It is a popular tourist destination in the summer and is sometimes referred to as Estonia’s summer capital. It receives around half a million visitors every year, mainly attracted by the beach. Coastal meadow management in an area with so many visitors is a major challenge and due to lack of funds, has not been properly addressed to date. Boreal coastal meadows are a habitat type listed in Annex 1 of the Habitats Directive. Given their relatively high occurrence in Estonia, the country has a special responsibility for securing the conservation of this habitat type. In Estonia, this habitat type can be found on the western coasts, where the meadows form semi-natural habitats together with other different coastal habitat types. Though these ecosystems are spread all over the western coastline, they occur in only a few coastal areas of no more than a couple hundred hectares. The coast of Pärnu, which consists of boreal coastal meadows, coastal lagoons and dunes habitats, is located inside the Pärnu urban area and covers more than 250 ha. The area suffers from a lack of management and large areas still need restoration. The coastal meadows habitats in good conservation status have only been managed by reed cutting. The experience gained from previous LIFE projects involving the restoration of boreal coastal meadows habitats projects shows that the most cost-effective action is grazing, combined with reed cutting. The coastal meadows of Pärnu town became overgrown with reed when grazing was discontinued in the 1970-1980s. Reed cutting and mowing during the last ten years has not been successful, as reed is still dominant. It is necessary, therefore, to reintroduce grazing, even though this will be challenging in such an urban environment. The coastal meadows are located very close to the public beach as well as the centre of the resort. Using cattle for managing coastal meadows in such an urban environment is not impossible, but needs investments that have so far not been available. Objectives The overall goal of the project is to improve the conservation status of the coastal meadow and costal lagoon habitats in Pärnu, as well as the species profile of these habitats. This will be achieved by managing Pärnu’s coastal habitats and raising awareness among local residents and visitors about the ecological value of the site. Specifically, the project aims to: Improve the favourable conservation status of the Pärnu coastal meadow nature reserve by: Cleaning unwanted vegetation (i.e. reed and brushwood) from the coastal meadow habitat; Introducing grazing by building fences and other infrastructure necessary for grazing; Restoring the natural hydrology of coastal lagoons; Raise awareness of the sites ecological value by: Establishing visitor infrastructure (trails, observation platforms etc.); li>Raising public awareness of the value of and threats to the coastal lagoon habitats; Educating and involving local inhabitants in the management of the habitats. Encourage similar action in other areas by: Raising awareness among decision makes in other similar areas; Developing management recommendations for urban coastal pastures.Expected results: Reeds and bushes cleared from 220 ha of coastal meadow habitat; 50 ha of coastal lagoons restored; Grazing infrastructure established (two shelters, fences); A species action plan developed and implemented; Closure of access to motorised vehicles (in two places) and the risk of trampling removed; A nature trail developed (3 km), with an observation platform and information panels; The successful completion of a publicity campaign on the values of Pärnu coastal meadow (events, printed materials, nature tours etc.); Best practice guidelines printed and distributed (500 copies); An international conference to exchange experience of urban semi-natural habitat management, especially in coastal areas; Study trips for decision-makers from similar areas.
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