Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Field Project Assessment
Municipal Environmental Management and Public Participation,
North Kurzeme Coastal Region, Latvia

Date of
Site visit: 5th to 8th November 2002
Assessment completed: 14th April 2003
conducted by

Mr. Michael Shilin, Associate Professor, Department of Oceanography, Russian State Hydrometeorological University, St. Petersburg (RSHU) (Team Leader); Mr. Uli Graebener, Associate Expert for Science and Ecology, UNESCO-Moscow Office (both not closely associated with the Project); Mr. Evalds Urtans, Representative of Federation of Latvian Fishermen, Latvian Fisheries Research Institute, Riga (associated with the project); Mr. Raimonds Ernsteins, Professor, Director of Institute for Environmental Science and Management (IESAM), University of Latvia, Riga (Project Leader); Ms. Alanda Poulina, Coordinator of the EC LIFE Project ‘Livonian Green Coastal Region – 21’, Dundaga (closely associated with the project);  


The project area of the North Kurzeme includes the territory of the North Kurzeme Municipality Association (Kolka, Dundaga, Ance, Lube, Ive, Pope, Valdgale, Laidze, Ruze, Targale) and the Roja Municipality, northwestern Latvia. The coastal region is situated along the coasts of both the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga.

Natural conditions:

The landscape is marked by lowland plains and rolling hills. The main value of the region besides its proximity to the sea, lies in the sandy beaches, dunes, original historical buildings in fishing villages, landscape of Kangari and Vigas (former coastal lagoons), and the natural Boreal forest. In North Kurzeme, the largest forest tracts in Latvia are to be found. The ecosystems are largely untouched by man. Large forests, marshes, lakes and rivers have developed over the centuries at their own pace, with minimal human interference.

Kangari’ and ‘Vigas’, former coastal lagoons,
transformed and changed over the centuries
Historical issues:

The North Kurzeme Region has a long tradition of nature conservation. Before 1918, when Latvia was part of the Russian Empire, the first natural protected area in Latvia was established on Moricsala Island in Lake Usma, in the Kurzeme Region. When Latvia was part of the USSR (between 1940 and 1991), public access to the coast (which was also the Soviet border) was highly restricted for reasons of national security. Commercial and recreational activity within this area was prohibited, leaving the area more or less unchanged since the 18th century. This historical context created a rather unique situation where – contrary to other places in the coastal Europe – nature in the North Kurzeme Region remained intact for decades. Today only about 10,000 inhabitants live in the area; the population density is 5-6 persons/km2; and in Ance municipality, 2 persons/ km2.

The coast:

The coastal zone is an important part of the landscape. Sand dunes of up to 32 m high, sandy beaches, rivers and their estuaries, coastal forests, marshes and lakes form a continuous ecosystem.

Sand dunes in the evening
  1. Latvia in UNESCO and UNESCO in Latvia – 10 years. (English and Latvian) Riga, Latvian National Commission for UNESCO, 2002: p. 95.
  2. Andris Junkurs. Ecotourism in Latvia (English) Environmental Protection Foundation of Latvia, and Latvia Tourism Development Agency, 2002: p.32.
  3. Kolka Liv Centre, 2001. To Liv Land in Kolka. Brochure (English) prepared and published within the framework of the Project ‘Green District – 21’, co- financed by EC LIFE Program.

  4. Poulina, A. M. 2001. Wise Practices for Coastak Conflict Resolution: North Kurzeme – Baltic Sea Coastal Region, Latvia (Livonian Green Coastal Region 21).  Paper presented at the UNESCO-CSI Workshop in Maputo, 19-23 November 2001.

  5. Field Project Summary http://www.unesco.org/csi/act/latvia/summary_18.htm
  6. Mairita Balode. Ziemelkurzemi peta UNESCO eksperti. Talsu  Vestis, Ceturdien, 2002, Gada 7, Novembri (information in local newspaper about the Project Assessment).
Additional references:
  1. Мауно Йокипии (составитель), Юхани Аалтио (спонсор), Пекка Мутанен (редактор), при участии Киркинен Хейкки (Университет Йоенсуу), Анатолия Петухова (Вологда), Ортье Степанова (Петрозаводск). Прибалтийско – финские народы. История и судьбы родственных народов (Russian).- Издательство «Атена», Ювяскюля, 1995: 504 с. ISBN 951 – 796 – 003 - 4.
  2. Сейле А.В. Заповедник Слитере.- в кн.: Заповедники СССР. Заповедники Прибалтики и Белоруссии. М., «Мысль», 1989: с. 130 – 143 (Russian).
  3. Д. Анучин. Россия в этнографическом отношении. –в кн.: Россия. Энциклопедический словарь. СПб, изд-во Ф.А. Брокгауза и И.А. Ефрона, 1898: с.139 – 152 (Russian).

Discussions and meetings with:  

  • UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Coastal Development, Institute for Environmental Science and Management, University of Latvia (Riga; November 5, and November 8) - Mr Raimonds Ernsteins, Director; Ms Daiga Stelmahere, Vice- Director; Mr Roberts Jurmalietis, Associate Professor; Mr Juris Benders; Ms Diana Shulga, University of Latvia IESAM Project coordinator; Ms Andzela Petersone, Project coordinator. 

  • Latvian Academy of Science (Riga; November 5) - Ms Daina Sveica, Head of International Department. 

  • Latvian National Commission for UNESCO (Riga; November 5) – Mr Rolands Ozols, Youth Programme Director. 

  • Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia (Riga; November 8) – Mr Valdis Bisters, Head of External Relations Division; Mr Eriks Leitis, Vice- President of the Latvian Ecotourism Union. 

  • Municipality Leadership in Roja, Dundaga, Kolka Municipalities (November 5 - November 7) – Mr Janis Zoluds, Chairman of Municipal Council (Roja); Mr Juris Kokins, Executive Director of the Roja Municipality; Mr Gunars Laicans, Chairman of the Council of Dundaga Rural Municipality; Ms Benita Ose, chairperson of Kolka municipality; Mr Agris Jansons, Expert in the Building Development at the Roja Municipality; Mr Lauris Laicans, Co-ordinator of the EC LIFE Project ‘Livonian Green Coastal Region – 21’; Mr Alnis Auzins, Editor of Newspaper of Dundaga Municipality, ‘Dundadznieks’; Ms Anda Kleinberga, Regional Environmental Protection Board of Talsi District, Inspector of Cultural Monuments.

  • Slitere National Park Administration (Slitere Baka and Talsi; November 6 - November 7) – Mr Juris Janovs, Vice-Director. 

  • Marine Protection Board (Silini; November 7) – Mr Edgars Millers, local fisheries coastal inspector. 

  • Local Group of Livonian Union of Latvia (Kolka; November 7) – Mr Gundars Bertholds, Chairman; Ms Marite Zandberga, secretary. 

  • Livonian Coast Program (Riga; November 8) – Mr Edgars Silies, Program Director. 

  • Latvian- Russian joint ‘Hidrolat’ enterprise – Mr Jaroslav Zeleznov, official dealer (informal meeting in the train Riga- St.Petersburg, November 8-9).

Project assessment team, from left to the right: 
Evalds Urtans, Michael Shilin, Edgars Millers, 
Raimonds Ernsteins, Uli Graebener

Field visits:  

  • Roja local harbour, and Rojupe viesnica – Roja, and Rude; November 5. 

  • Art School at the Dundaga Pils – Dundaga; November 6. 

  • Livonian minority cultural heritage site – Koshrags village, proposed as UNESCO Heritage Site; November 7; contact person - Ms Sarmite Upnere, guide.

The traditional summer kitchen in the Lives 
village, made out of an old boat
  • Antlers museum - Vaide; November 7; contact person – Mr Edgars Hausmanis, owner of the museum. 

  • Slitere National Park, and Slitere Lighthouse: an example of Russian Hydrographical Constructions of the 19th Century (1849) (November 7).

    The Slitere Lighthouse
  • Mazirbe baznica – the Lutheran Church, and the memorial Plague stones (November 7). 

  • Kolka’s Rags, and Soviet Military Boarder- zone, the Kolka area  (November 7). 

  • Jaunmoku Pils, the Hunting Castle of Riga’s Buergermeister (November 8).


At the beginning of the Assessment, the Project leader and IESAM UNESCO chair holder wished to clarify the goals of the assessment. During this first discussion, it was noted that there are two different but interconnected programme items: (1) the IESAM UNESCO Chair itself, established in the Fall of 2001; and (2) the North Kurzeme field project.  It was decided that the goal of this assessment was to concentrate on the field project activities, and to recommend that a special assessment of the Chair shall take place later in 2003.

Field Project Assessment

The field project in the North Kurzeme area started in 1999. Initially the title of the Project was ‘Local government partnerships for sustainable coastal development in North Kurzeme’; it was then changed to ‘Municipal environmental management and public participation, North Kurzeme Coastal Region, Latvia’. Since the Fall of 2001, when the UNESCO Chair was established at the IESAM, the project activities have been channelled through the UNESCO Chair.

The seventeen characteristics, used to define ‘wise practices’, are used here to assess this field project. A qualitative scale is used as follows:

None: The field project activities to date do not comply with this characteristic and/or the characteristic is not relevant.
Slightly: The field project activities to date have begun in some preliminary way to satisfy  this characteristic.
Partially: The field project activities to date have gone some significant way towards fulfilling this characteristic.
Fully: The field project activities to date have gone the full way to complying with this characteristic.  

This assessment was based only on the activities undertaken to date, and does not include those planned for the future.

Have the project activities ensured long-term benefit?  


The long-term benefit of the project activities can be seen in the process of the development of the area since the end of the Soviet military presence. The other long-term benefit is the ongoing interaction of scientists and experts from the IESAM (and the UNESCO Chair), local businessmen, government administrators, municipality leaders, teachers and environmentalists. A number of activities in the local municipalities receive methodological support from the IESAM UNESCO Chair, for example the Roja Water Treatment project ‘Rojas udensapgade un kanalizacija’. Environmental research on water and waste management, and biological diversity control has been carried out in the Roja municipality. An Environmental Management Action Programme for the North Kurzeme Coastal Region has been prepared, covering the nine coastal municipalities. University students at all levels (bachelors, masters and PhD) have benefited by conducting their research and field practice in the North Kurzeme area. A number of local administrators, environmentalists, school teachers, journalists have become students at the IESAM. This has improved their environmental and professional knowledge. The UNESCO Chair has developed and implemented modular co-operation training programs on Sustainable Coastal Development for municipalities and other related institutions of the North Kurzeme region. Students and scientists from the Chair have taken part in an inventory of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the 300 m wide coastal zone.

Do the project activities provide for capacity building?


The IESAM UNESCO Chair trains specialists and experts, local teachers and administrators, who then go out to work in various agencies and institutions in the project area. The project builds bridges between interested participants, different groups, potential partners and decision-makers, working towards the sustainable development of the region. Improved capacity for environmental management has also been apparent within certain stakeholder groups, e.g. as a result of the project activities, the Guidelines for an Environmental Policy Plan for the municipalities of Roja and Kolka have been elaborated with the assistance of MSc students from the IESAM. However, the project has mainly worked with local activists, without always involving a number of other stakeholders such as coastal fishermen. In the future, capacity building needs to be enhanced among certain key groups, e.g. coastal fishers, and new Latvian military units. Multi-level contacts between the IESAM and Latvian National Commission for UNESCO are furthering the project.

Do the project activities provide for institutional strengthening?


The field project has provided for institutional strengthening in that it contributed to the recent establishment of the IESAM UNESCO Chair. There are already a number of institutions in the project area, some created by the LIFE Project, and some by the IESAM UNESCO Chair, that provide opportunities for people from all levels to have access to environmental education. A co-operative agreement has been signed between the IESAM and North Kurzeme Municipality Association.  However, as noted above, the structures and institutions created still do not involve all interested persons and stakeholder groups. Future objectives include the involvement of local fishermen, establishing contacts with Pensioners’ Clubs, and informational support for non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The establishment of a Biosphere Reserve in the future could assist in fully integrating the different groups.

Are the project activities sustainable?


The goal of the project is to promote and support the sustainable socio-economic development of the project area in an environmentally sound, socially equitable, and culturally appropriate manner. As one of the tools, the educational program of the Chair provides training in environmental management and sustainable development to municipal decision makers, education specialists, local NGOs and community leaders. Many of the educational activities are sustainable, especially in view of the establishment of the UNESCO Chair at the IESAM. A process of transferring environmental knowledge to local administrators and key stakeholders is developing. For  example, the new in-service training programme package on ‘Environmental Management and Sustainable Development in Coastal Regions’ has been established, and delivered to municipal administrators, politicians, decision-makers, school teachers, headmasters, NGOs and activists from different sectors. The project has contributed to sustainable private sector activities especially in the field of ecotourism and cultural tourism, creating ecologically-friendly income sources in a relatively weak economic environment.

Have the project activities been transferred?


The project area is an interesting example of a region searching for sustainable ways of development, but the socio-economic situation is rather atypical for West European countries; so some of problems and decisions are unique, or applicable only to the East European countries, including Russia. However, it is not yet possible to make use of all the experiences and results, since all the project reports and publications are in Latvian and have not been translated into English, Russian, or other major European languages, making them inaccessible to many interested parties. Publication of the project results and related conference documents in one of the abovementioned languages should be arranged in the future.

Are the project activities interdisciplinary and intersectoral?


The project activities have included many different disciplines, including biology, ecology, social sciences, physics, chemistry, economics and environmental communication. At the IESAM UNESCO Chair, the following interdisciplinary courses have been provided: Sustainable Coastal Management and Development; Interdisciplinary Environmental Research; Environmental Communication; Environmental Policy and Planning; Environmental Management, Education and Training; Public Participation, and Environmental Awareness. According to the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO, all the courses are of great interest to the country. To ensure an interdisciplinary approach, the contacts with the International Hydrological Programme, and the Man and the Biosphere Programme of UNESCO have been established and intensified. All major societal sectors in the area have been involved in the project implementation, including local governments, NGOs, private sector, media, youth and civil society. It would be desirable in the future to include the military sector, an important stakeholder. The team was informed that local military people have agreed to work with children, and are open to environmental communication.

Do the project activities incorporate participatory processes?


The stimulation and expansion of public participation in the process of the decision-making is one of the goals of the project. The project activities have included meetings and discussions with individual stakeholder groups. Masters degree students work with local experts on case studies aimed at resolving local problems in a participatory manner. The Ventspils Regional Environmental Board and its various departments, which supervises and manages the project area, are actively involved in the project activities. Additional efforts need to be made in the future to involve local fishermen’s organisations, and to keep them fully informed about project activities. At the present time, local fishermen are rather passive in social and economic activities.

Do the project activities provide for consensus building?


The project activities have helped to develop consensus within certain groups of stakeholders e.g. those involved in the spatial planning process in the Kolka municipality. Conflict issues were defined, discussions initiated and compromise agreements negotiated and implemented between local municipalities, the Slitere National Park administration, and the Local Group of Livonian Union of Latvia. The most common conflict in the project area is between property users and nature protection structures. In many of these cases, the IESAM UNESCO Chair team has acted as a moderator, and has helped to facilitate the consensus building process. One present goal of the Chair is to build a logical process for consensus building, using the principles of conflict resolution. A future Biosphere Reserve could assist in integration and consensus building.

Do the project activities include an effective and efficient communication process?


Effective communication has been a key component of the project activities, and has included professional contact, personal discussions, dialogues, seminars, and meetings. Project activities are presented and discussed at monthly meetings and round table discussions with local representatives (including elected politicians) and managers. An important aspect of the project activities is to overcome the traditional North-Latvian trait ‘I see my neighbour, but I don’t speak to him’. Local newspapers are active participants in the communication process, for example the newspapers of Dundaga and Talsi. Good contacts have been established with the special LIFE Newspaper ‘Uz Zala Zara’. The Talsi Vestis published a report about this assessment in the issue dated November 7, 2002.

Are the project activities culturally respectful?


Baltic culture is not only ‘urban culture’, but also ‘rural culture’. Livs are an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe that lived along the Baltic coast. The project activities have included cultural traditions of the Livs native to the area and other issues of concern to the Livs. One of the Livonian villages, Koshrags, was even proposed to be included on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. The project generally shows respect for languages and local dialects. Questionnaire surveys were carried out among local inhabitants to find out about their view of the development of this region. The results showed that people are concerned about the possible future impacts of tourism and ‘dacha’ (cottage) development. These results are now being used to plan further activities and strategies.

Do the project activities take into account gender and/or sensitivity issues?


While the project was not designed to focus on gender or sensitive issues, these have been taken into account, e.g. the sensitive relationship between ‘coastlanders’ and ‘highlanders’. A number of sensitive issues relate to Latvia’s recent history and its economy which is in transformation:

-         Hunting in the National Park and its surrounding, which was closed to visitors in the Soviet time, is now permitted and commercialised, but most local people cannot afford to hunt.  On the other hand, the recreational collection of mushrooms and berries is still prohibited.

-         For the first time in the Kurzeme’s history, commercial forest felling is permitted, and could lead to problems in such an ecologically sensitive area.

-         A further sensitive issue is the sale of land to outsiders who can pay higher, market-driven prices.

-         The 120-year history of the ‘Russian Kurzeme’ from 1795 to 1918 still remains a sensitive issue, and is not often discussed. There is a lack of information about the ‘Tsarism period’ when Kurzeme was part of the Russian Empire.

-         The problems of pensioners and old people are sensitive issues and need special attention.

Do the project activities strengthen local identities?


The project activities, in helping stakeholder groups to solve their own problems, also help to promote self-sufficiency and thereby strengthen local identity. Many of the stakeholders, including those from the private sector and the local administration, expressed appreciation for the project and its various activities and took personal pride in being associated with the IESAM and UNESCO activities. At the same time, one specific problem is typical of the project area: talented people leave the region for Riga, St. Petersburg, Moscow, the USA, and Australia (including the famous ‘Crocodile Dundee’, who is of Dundaga origin). Within the region, a particular problem is that many young people cannot find adequate jobs with a good salary. The future goal of the project is to support people such as Edgars Millers, who dream ‘to work and to die in the Land of Kurzeme’.

Do the project activities shape national legal policy?


The IESAM UNESCO Chair informs the National Government about all the activities in the project area and the practical results. The Chair’s pioneer work is of great interest to  the government. The project area is seen as a testing ground for future national programmes on sustainable development. The project activities have helped to shape policy more at a local level, e.g. they are contributing to administrative reform in northwest Latvia. Thus far the UNESCO Chair does not have much feedback from national politicians, so the influence of the project on the national legal policy is difficult to assess.

Do the project activities encompass the regional dimension?


The project is at too early a stage to have developed the regional dimension.  The recently created UNESCO-CSI university twinning network, which includes universities from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Latvia and Russia, will strengthen the regional component. Co-operation between different projects can also be very important. The UNESCO Chair’s efforts in the development and distribution of the Baltic Agenda-21 ideas is another regional aspect. As part of the co-ordinating and supporting process for the Nordic-Baltic Network on sustainable coastal development, the UNESCO Chair co-organised with Hanover University (Germany) the Co-Net (Coastal Agenda 21 Network) workshop in June 2002 in Rude (Roja coastal municipality). This was financially supported by the German Environmental Protection fund, and EC LIFE project.

Do the project activities provide for human rights?


Activities are contributing to a ‘feeling of democracy’ and include support for a free, well developed market. The project activities take into account the local Livs minority. Free access to the coast and restoration of basic human rights for the inhabitants of the small villages, after 50 years under the USSR, is a special interest of the project.

Have the project activities been documented?


The documentation is represented mostly by students’ reports and theses, exclusively in the Latvian language. Some of the Chair’s activities are presented in the booklet of the UNESCO Latvijas Nacionala Komissija (Riga, 2002) and in a booklet on ecotourism. There are no videotapes or booklets devoted specifically to the project. There is a need to widen the international visibility of this project by publishing selected materials in English and Russian as well as in other languages.

Have the project activities been evaluated?


This is the first project evaluation.

Final discussion, from left to the right: Uli 
Graebener, Raimonds Ernsteins, Evalds Urtans, 
Gunars Laicans (Chairman of the Council of 
Dundaga Rural Municipality), Alanda Poulina

Synthesis and list of main issues from the assessment 

  1. At the outset, the Chair’s field project activities were focusing mainly on a local or sub-regional dimension, in the North Kurzeme region. In the future the Chair’s work could be valuable in the development of regional Nordic-Baltic co-operation.

  2. The project activities have focused mainly on conflict recognition, analysis and resolution in the coastal sub-region.  In the future more emphasis needs to be placed on development of joint strategies and practical measures for conflict mitigation, through local communication, cooperation and networking among the stakeholders.

  3. As a comprehensive and efficient way to ensure cooperation of the different stakeholders and participation of the local inhabitants in the sustainable development of the region, the concept of a Biosphere Reserve should be pursued.  This could also strengthen ecotourism and local  ‘green’ businesses.

  4. Future activities should focus on expanding the project so that it starts providing real socio-economic benefits for people living in the coastal villages, e.g. creating social frameworks, encouraging entrepreneurship, improving local legislation, supporting the cultural environment, establishing local handicrafts, and strengthening coastal fisheries.

  5. Facilitate the management of local fisheries resources by creating institutional networks to organize and manage a system for controlling and monitoring coastal fish resources. This could be achieved by local municipalities with the involvement of the Fishermen’s Federation.

  6. Ensure the project results are widely disseminated in other languages.

Future project activities 

Future activities have been divided into two groups, those that should be implemented in the immediate future, and those requiring a longer time period and encompassing a regional dimension.

Activities for immediate implementation (information dissemination)

  1. Update the summary of the Chair and the field project for the UNESCO/CSI website. 

  2. Prepare an article for the Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development forum (user name csi, password wise), 500-750 words long, to define and discuss one or more of the wise practices that are emerging from the project activities. 

  3. Prepare a text in English (50-75 pages in length), with photographs, and figures for a future UNESCO-CSI publication in the papers/info series, describing the project activities and especially focusing on management aspects.  

  4. Define and develop wise coastal practices in the project area and prepare public awareness materials in cooperation with local media to disseminate these wise practices.

Other activities  

  1. The main emphasis for future work lies in investigations, preparations, practical planning and establishment of a Biosphere Reserve, to reverse the negative impacts of a growing free-market economy, to preserve the cultural environment, and to stimulate appropriate local development

  2. According to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves approach, the following steps should be taken:   


Strengthen the environmental communication system, which is the foundation for cooperation among all stakeholders, and the basis for bottom-up decision-making according to the Coastal Agenda-21 process.  


Assist with the cultural-historical mapping of old Livonian fishermen’s villages (which has already started) and with practical activities (e.g. signposting, guide maps etc.)  


Help with social improvements in the coastal villages (e.g. social and health care, education and recreation, development of a Livonian culture and historical centre at the Livonian Peoples House in Mazirbe).  

  1. Establish a local sustainable coastal fishery, by building associations within specific stakeholder groups, e.g. fishers, people involved in aquaculture, fish processors, and fish marketers. 

  2. Further involve doctoral students and continue the IESAM UNESCO Chair field practice and research for students in the project area, so that the information base is expanded and shared with local stakeholders and the students continue to benefit from applied research activities. 

  3. Work with the National Park, Livonian Coast and other partnerships to initiate further coastal sensitivity mapping. Assist the  Consultative Council of the National Park in developing a strategic planning for cooperative development. 

  4. Promote the creation of North-Kurzeme Agenda 21 Centre which will facilitate public participation and stakeholder involvement, as well as cooperate with similar developments.

Memorial to sailors lost at sea

Introduction Activities Publications Search
Wise Practices Regions Themes