High bog of Užpelkiai telmological reserve. Photo: Paulius Mika

The restoration works of the Užpelkiai Telmological Reserve in Zemaitija National Park (ZNP), within the framework of the Natura 2000 project, are gaining momentum and are already showing the first hopeful results. The regulated hydrological regime provides the right conditions for the establishment of wetland vegetation and populations of protected aquatic animals.

The Užpelkiai Telmological Reserve in ZNP was drained in the past and peat extraction was carried out in part of its area until 1936. Drainage not only led to the mineralisation of the peat bed in the unmined areas, but also hindered the recovery of the flora and fauna characteristic of the destroyed raised bogs.

“The damming of the main ditch by beavers has raised the water level in a small part of the area. This has led to the formation of a cover of sphagnum. However, most of the area of the moor was covered with trees and shrubs, and there were large areas of open, dried-up peat. There were therefore also high emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2. Thus, most of the raised bog area not only failed to perform the functions of a raised bog, but also caused damage,” said Dr Dalytė Matulevičiūtė, botanist and nature conservation expert at the Methodological-Analytical Centre of the State Service for Protected Territories.

This prompted the restoration work. First, trees and shrubs were felled, and the hydrological regime was restored. However, according to the nature conservation expert, the beavers decided to change them in their own way – the staff of the Zemaitija National Park Directorate noticed that the water was being lost due to the tunnel dug by these rodents, which connected both sides of the dam. This breach had to be repaired.

The northern part of the Užpelkių Telmological Reserve. Photo: ŽNP

“Meteorological conditions were also unfavourable for the recovery of the hydrological regime. The first winter after the work was carried out was snowless and there was also a drought in early summer. So, the water did not rise to the required level. This, of course, had negative consequences. For example, the peat, which was not waterlogged enough but only slightly damp, became an excellent medium for birch seeds to germinate, with more than two hundred birch trees in a 100 square metre area alone. They had to be uprooted to prevent them from further deteriorating the hydrological conditions of the bog by intensive evaporation”, said Dr Matulevičiūtė.

“However, we can be happy that the hydrological regime has been restored – the water level has risen to the right level after the last snowy winter and rainy spring. This confirmed that the restoration work has been carried out properly”.

Heather and lichens growing on mineralised peat. Photo: Dalytė Matulevičiūtė

Conditions have been created for the recovery of vegetation and protected animal populations

According to the nature conservation expert of the State Service for Protected Areas, the experiment of planting sphagnum, proposed by the ecologists of the ZNP Directorate, proved to be a success in this case of unfavourable meteorological conditions. The usual method of spreading the sphagnum was replaced by transplanting the bunches of it from a healthier part of the wetland to a more damaged part of the Užpelkiai raised bog.

“Changes also took place outside the experimental area. Already last autumn, small patches of sphagnum were visible in the lower parts of the micro-relief. These are encouraging signs that the recovery process is beginning. If the water level in the marsh is favourable, this will create the right conditions for further expansion of the sphagnum cover. This will result in less and less oxygen entering the peat bed, thus slowing down peat mineralisation. This is because the decay bacteria need oxygen. Once a continuous cover of chimneys has developed, the mineralisation process will be reduced to a negligible level and the peat-forming process will start. This will be the result we are aiming for,” she noted.

It is also pleasing that the restoration of hydrological conditions has resulted in the deep quarries filling up with water, creating suitable habitats for a wide range of aquatic animals to settle in. For example, the common newt, the broad-breasted damselfly, the two-banded warbler and the armoured plover, which are all on the Lithuanian list of protected species and protected throughout Europe.

Large white-faced darter. Photo: Giedrius Švitra

Dytiscus latissimus. Photo: Giedrius Švitra

The northern crested newt. Photo: Saulius Dragūnas