There are some protected areas in Lithuania, the value of which exceeds the national value, as they are important for European or global society. These are the territories listed in the world list of cultural and natural sites, sites protected by the Ramsar Convention and areas of Natura 2000.
World Heritage Sites
There are four sites in Lithuania of particular global value that are listed in the World List of Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites: Vilnius Historic Centre, the Curonian Spit, the Kernavė Archaeological Site and the Struve Geodetic Arc.
- Vilnius Historic Centre (date of inscription: 1994). Vilnius is one of the eastmost cities of central Europe, where the interaction of oriental and occidental cultures is strongly evident. It was a political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the thirteenth century until the end of the eighteenth century. The city had significant influence on the development of Eastern European culture and architecture. Vilnius Historic Centre has preserved a distinctive appearance of the buildings in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles. The network of streets characteristic of the Middle Ages and the natural environment have been preserved.
- Curonian Spit (countries: Lithuania and the Russian Federation, date of inscription: 2000). Human habitation of this elongated sand dune peninsula, 98 km long and 0.4–4 km wide, dates back to prehistoric times. The never-ending human fight with the natural forces of wind and waves has created the landscape of the Curonian Spit, where the continuing stabilisation and reforestation projects of several ages is manifested. The Curonian Spit was covered by forests in the fifteenth century. Later, when people had cut the trees down, the sand was moving across the peninsula. The huge waves buried more than one seaside village of fishermen. The reforestation of the dunes in the Curonian Spit was started a couple of centuries ago and this process continues. The people formed the protective dune ridge along the seashore and planted trees to prevent inland sand migration. The works of stabilisation and reforestation of coastal dunes of such scope are unique in the world. The Curonian Spit is an example of a harmonious coexistence of humans and nature, how the humans managed to adjust to nature without causing harm to it.
- Kernavė Archaeological Site (Cultural Reserve of Kernavė; date of inscription: 2004). The Cultural Reserve of Kernavė represents a development of human settlements in this region, of several millennia. The cultural landscape manifests all the settlement stages of the locality and the development of fortification installations (a defensive system of mounds). The archaeological monuments of Kernavė represent all the archaeological cultures that existed in this region from the Epipalaeolithic period until the Middle Ages. The medieval heritage (thirteenth to fourteenth centuries) is especially important: a settlement, a cemetery and five mounds. Medieval Kernavė was one of the most important political and economic centres of the State of Lithuania at that time. It reflects the culture of ancient Lithuania, yet the strong impact of the traditions of Christian Europe is also evidenced.
- The Struve Geodetic Arc (countries: Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Moldova, Russian Federation, Finland, Sweden, Ukraine; date of inscription: 2005). The Struve Geodetic Arc is a string of triangulation points that runs along the meridian of 26° 43' East longitude (Tartu Observatory) for more than 2,820 km from the Arctic Ocean (Hammerfest, Norway) up to the Black Sea (Ismail, Ukraine). The difference between the geographical latitudes at the ends of the chain amounts to 25° 20'. Astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (1816–1855) was the first to measure the meridian of such length accurately. This helped to determine the size and form of the Earth. It was an important step towards further topographic measurements and map making. The Struve Arc consisted of 258 main triangles with 265 main station points. The listed site includes 34 of the original station points, with original markings: drilled holes in rock, iron crosses or obelisks. At present the arc passes through the territory of ten countries. Three3 geodetic points are attributed to this world heritage site in Lithuania: Gireišiai (Rokiškis regional municipality), Meškonys and Paliepiukai (both in Vilnius regional municipality).
The sites protected by the Ramsar Convention
Lithuania ratified the Ramsar Convention in 1993, being convinced that wetlands and waters constitute a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value, the loss of which would be irreparable. Desiring to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, Lithuania committed to ensure the long-term conservation of wetlands and their flora and fauna by combining far-sighted national policy with coordinated international action.
Lithuania currently has seven sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites) – these are nature reserves of Čepkeliai, Kamanos and Viešvilė, part of the Žuvintas biosphere reserve, the Nemunas Delta, the Girutiškis bog and the Adutiškis-Svyla-Birvėta wetland complex.
- Čepkeliai bog (area – 11,227 ha) is one of the largest natural upland bogs in central Europe and a unique bog in the Baltic region. The bog is a habitat for rare and vanishing species, and important populations of plants and animals. Čepkeliai bog is an important resting place for migratory birds.
- Kamanos (area – 6,401 ha) is a unique natural wetland complex in Lithuania, where rare and vanishing species and plants can be found. It is a habitat for important populations of plants and animals. There are also important resting places for migratory birds.
- Viešvilė bog (area – 3,218 ha) is a habitat for rare and vanishing species, and important populations of plants and animals. It is an important resting place for migratory birds.
- Žuvintas natural complex (area – 7,500 ha) is a habitat for rare and vanishing species, and important populations of plants and animals. More than 20,000 waterbirds and more than 1% of individuals of the biogeographical population of all the waterbirds of the same species gather here.
- Nemunas Delta (area – 28,952 ha) is a unique natural complex of special value in the Baltic region. It is a habitat for rare and vanishing species, and an internationally important wintering and resting place for migratory birds. More than 20,000 waterbirds and more than 1% of individuals of the biogeographical population of all the waterbirds of the same species can be found in the delta. The Nemunas Delta is also on the most important migration route of protected migratory fish.
- Girutiškis bog (area – 1,402 ha) is a complex of raised bogs and transitional marshes with lakes and surrounding forests protected in the Labanoras regional park. It has a status of nature reserve. Numerous habitat types, and plant and animal species protected in Lithuania under the EU Habitats Directive can be found here.
- Adutiškis-Svyla-Birvėta wetland complex (area – 6,881 ha) is in the reserve that has Natura 2000 status. It is dominated by aspen, birch, black alder and spruce stands. The site also includes fishponds, open areas of raised bogs, rivers, channels and lakes. Five of the site’s natural habitat types and several rare plant and animal species are listed under the EU Habitats Directive.
Areas of Natura 2000
The European ecological network Natura 2000 is the network of protected areas important for Europe that consists of the areas important for protection of habitats, and birds and other species. The aim of the network is to preserve, support and restore when needed the natural habitats and animal and plant species within the territory of the European Community. The areas of Natura 2000 are listed under two directives of the European Union (the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive).
At the end of 2019, the total area of area under Natura 2000 in Lithuania (considering overlapping areas important for the protection of birds and the habitats) was 967,223 ha, which amounts to approximately 14.8% of the Lithuanian territory.
There are 84 areas important for the protection of birds in Lithuania. At the end of 2019, there were 284 sites satisfying the criteria of areas important for the protection of natural habitats. They were included on the list addressed to the European Commission, and 208 territories have the status of areas important for protection of habitats already.
The network of Natura 2000 areas is integrated into the system of nationally protected territories as much as possible. At present, the status of Natura 2000 areas has been mainly granted to the protected areas (such as reserves, national and regional parks, biosphere reserve and biosphere polygons) or their parts.