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Rail Baltica to Restore Capercaillie Habitats for Environmental Compensation

Rail Baltica to Restore Capercaillie Habitats for Environmental Compensation
photo: Rail Baltica/Rail Baltica to Restore Capercaillie Habitats for Environmental Compensation
16 / 06 / 2023

To compensate for the environmental impact of Rail Baltica, habitats for the capercaillie will be restored. As one of the compensatory measures for the environmental impacts, the restoration of capercaillie habitats will be carried out. The design contract for the restoration of habitats in the initial areas, organized in collaboration with the State Forest Management Centre, was won by AS Projekteerimisbüroo Maa ja Vesi.

From 2018 to 2021, an extensive study was conducted by the Estonian Ornithological Society on behalf of Rail Baltic Estonia to assess the population of capercaillie in South Pärnumaa. The aim was to gather data that would help mitigate pressure on the habitats of this protected bird species and contribute to their restoration even before the construction of Rail Baltica. Over the course of three years, the research was conducted across nearly 10,000 hectares, providing a better understanding of the locations of capercaillie habitats and breeding grounds in South Pärnumaa, their movement patterns, existing influences on them, and the potential impact of the new railway’s arrival.

“We have finally reached the first design contract, which will pave the way for the restoration of capercaillie habitats. It is important that in the area where an estimated two per cent of Estonia’s capercaillie population is located, considerations for this species, which is classified as a Category II protected species, are considered even before the design and construction of the railway,” said Kärt Mae, Environmental Manager at Rail Baltic Estonia. “These are the initial stepping stone areas to ensure connectivity for capercaillie between different population groups. It is likely that restoration work will also need to be carried out in other steppingstone areas in the region, but the specific requirements and scope will be determined through impact assessments,” Mae added.

The work aimed at improving the capercaillie habitat will be carried out after the completion of the design process. The areas are located on state land, and the Nature Conservation Division of the State Forest Management Centre will be responsible for the nature conservation work.

“The design process will provide us with a precise overview of the condition of the ditches in the area and ensure that the planned closing of the ditches improves the water regime as intended. The goal of wetland restoration is to enhance the condition of capercaillie habitats, enabling them to better adapt to the disturbances associated with the construction of the railway and providing them with sufficient suitable space to live and display their courtship behaviour,” said Kaupo Kohv, Director of the Nature Conservation Division at State Forest Management Centre in Estonia.

The design contract for the restoration of two permanent capercaillie habitats in Pärnu County has been concluded between State Forest Management Centre in Estonia and Maa ja Vesi AS. The contract value is 41,224 euros.

The aim of the projects for restoring the natural water regime in the Lodja capercaillie habitat in Saarde Parish and the Nepste capercaillie habitat in Häädemeeste Parish is to mitigate and compensate for the negative impacts on capercaillie resulting from the construction of the Rail Baltica high-speed railway in Southwest Pärnumaa. The goal is to maintain the favourable conservation status of the capercaillie subpopulation in the Luitemaa – Laiksaare area. To achieve this, the restoration of the natural water regime is necessary in both areas.

The object in Saarde Parish is located on state land and covers an area of 213 hectares, with a network of ditches spanning 17.5 kilometres. The object in Häädemeeste Parish is also situated on state land and covers an area of 137 hectares, with a network of ditches spanning 9.5 kilometres. After the completion of the design work in 2024, it is expected that habitat restoration work will commence in 2025.

The population of capercaillie habitats has declined everywhere. While in 2004 the population of male capercaillies in South Pärnumaa was estimated to be 45-60 individuals, recent surveys indicate that there are now only 30 males in the surveyed area. The estimated total population of capercaillies in Estonia is around 1300 individuals. The number of male individuals is a simple indication of the viability of the population. The main reason for the loss of capercaillie habitats is increased human activity, such as logging and drainage of forests. Predation also contributes to the decline in capercaillie population.

The restoration work of capercaillie habitats is funded to 85% by the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility.

Source: Rail Baltica