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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article24 November 2022European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency1 min read

Reviving Estonia's alvar grassland

LIFE to alvars restored 2 500 hectares of alvar grassland in Estonia, involving local farmers in the process.

Photo: LIFE13 NAT/EE/000082

One-third of Europe's alvar grassland is in Estonia. But by the mid-1980s, most of the 9 800 hectares in the country were overgrown with trees and shrubs.

The team behind LIFE to alvars restored alvar grassland by removing shrubland and forests that developed spontaneously on these sites.

They worked with around 600 landowners in 25 project areas to prepare restoration actions and ensure subsequent management through grazing.

‘Over five years, the team built the necessary infrastructures for grazing, renovated access roads to the pastures, carried out awareness-raising on the importance of alvars, and placed information boards introducing alvars,' said LIFE to alvars project coordinator Annely Holm.

Also, the potential for upcycling wood, animal meat, and sheep's wool was developed together with local animal breeders.

All restored sites became eligible for CAP agri-environmental payments, ensuring the viability of both farming activities and the habitats over the longer term.

Cooperation between entrepreneurs was also promoted so that the work would continue regardless of future subsidies.

As a spin-off, a farmers’ cooperative called Muhu Island Meat was set up on Muhu island located in the West Estonian archipelago of the Baltic Sea. It processes and markets meat from the restored alvar grasslands. Farmers from other islands have joined the cooperative, ensuring the sustainable management of the restored sites.

The landscape of the restored site has become more attractive to visitors. The project changed the public notion of Natura 2000 from an instrument that restricts land use options to one that can create new income opportunities.

LIFE to alvars supports the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the Nature Restoration Law.