Accommodating the ecosystem service concept for enhancing grassland viability in the Baltic States: the LIFE Viva Grass approach

Authors and Affiliations: 

Anda Ruskule1, Zymantas Morkvenas2, Justas Gulbinas2, Merle Kuris3, Laura Remmelgas3, Daina Indriksone1, Kristina Veidemane1, Ivo Vinogradovs4, Miguel Villoslada Pecina5

1 Baltic Environmental Forum – Latvia,
2 Baltic Environmental Forum – Lithuania,
3 Baltic Environmental Forum - Estonia,
4 Estonian University of Life Sciences,
5 University of Latvia

Corresponding author: 
Anda Ruskule

Grasslands in the Baltic States form the key structure of high nature value farmlands, essential for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services. Though, like elsewhere in Europe, semi-natural grasslands in the Baltics are under threat of degradation or disappearance. The main threats are related to the present trajectories of the land use change, revealing a trend of polarisation of rural areas - land abandonment due to depopulation of rural areas and urbanisation process in parallel to intensification of agriculture on more productive and accessible lands (Antrop, 2005; Pinto-Correia and Breman, 2008; Ruskule et al. 2013). Another recent trend, which can be observed in the Baltic States, is the shift from traditional farming practices to production of energy crops. Extensive grassland management is applied with support of agro-environmental schemes mostly in regions less suitable for intensive agriculture.

The project “Integrated planning tool to ensure viability of grasslands - LIFE Viva Grass” (project No. LIFE13 ENV/LT/000189), funded by the LIFE+ Environment programme, aims to support maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by grasslands, through encouraging ecosystem based planning and economically viable grassland management. As part of its preparatory actions the project has performed an analysis of the policies and regulatory framework influencing maintenance of grassland ecosystems in the Baltic States. The analysis confirms that EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has the strongest influence on rural development, driving the present landscape change in the Baltic States as well as determining the grassland management practices and thus impacting status of grassland ecosystems and services they provide (Ruskule et al. 2015).

The major task of the project is development of an integrated planning tool, which could operationalize the concept of ecosystem services into decision making on grassland management. The level of the decision-making addressed by the tool ranges from a farmer’s choice of the most suitable and beneficial management practices, prioritisation of areas for restoration in protected areas, grassland related development planning by municipalities, up to the national policy making – tailoring the rural support programmes to regionally or locally specific ecological and socio-economic conditions and adjusting the measures in order to increase the ecosystem service value. The tool includes a function for biophysical mapping and assessment of the grassland ecosystem services, which is based on the expert knowledge and spatial data sets on land use types in combination with the soil maps and topography. The information on ecosystem service values is integrated in the user specific decision support frameworks, offered by the tool, which allow assessing the different grassland management scenarios in relation to ecosystem service trade-offs and related benefits for farmers and society.


Antrop M., 2005. Why landscape of the past are important for the future. Landscape and Urban Planning, 70(1-2): 21-34.

Pinto-Correia T., Breman B., 2008. Understanding marginalisation in the periphery of Europe: a multidimensional process. In: Brouwer, F., Rheenen, T. van, Dhillion, S. S., Elgersma, A. M. (Eds). Sustainable land management: strategies to cope with the marginalisation of agriculture, ISBN: 978-1-84542-902-7, 11-40.

Ruskule A., Nikodemus O., Kasparinskis R., Bell S., Urtāne I. 2013. The perception of abandoned farmland by local people and experts: Landscape value and perspectives on future land use. Landscape and Urban Planning 115: 49-61.

Ruskule A. , Indriksone D., Gulbinas J. , Morkvėnas Ž. , Kuris M., Remmelgas L., 2015. Analysis of the policies and regulatory framework influencing maintenance of grassland ecosystems in the Baltic States: Synthesis Report. LIFE Viva Grass. Baltic Environmental Forum, p. 56, Awailable at:

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