Coastal meadows

Coastal meadows are flat and low, regularly grazed stretches of coast covered with herbs and grasses and directly influenced by saline sea water. The vegetation of coastal meadows, unlike the meadows in the inland, is characterised by the abundance of halophyte species. The largest still preserved populations of many plant and animal species formerly common in cultural landscapes are presently associated with coastal meadows. As it is economically unfeasible to graze cattle on coastal meadows, grazing gradually ceased and coastal meadows have grown over with reed or brushwood. A big part of the Estonian coastal meadows has met this fate during the last few decades. On the West-Estonian coast and on the islands there are still relatively large areas of coastal meadows preserved but their grazing load is constantly decreasing too. The farmers of the Matsalu Nature Reserve are therefore paid state grants for managing the meadows.

Coastal meadows are valuable breeding and resting sites for numerous bird species; many of the coastal bird species have become rare in the entire Baltic Sea region due to the substantial decline in the area of coastal meadows. Conservation of such species is complicated because of their narrow ecological specialisation. The preservation of the dunlin has fallen under serious danger during the last decades, as the species requires large areas of meadow with a low-grazed turf and is thus associated primarily with coastal meadows with a high grazing load. The increasingly rare black-tailed godwit is associated with small pools of water on large open coastal meadows. This species does not tolerate intensive grazing of its habitats, as it prefers to build its nest in a higher vegetation. The ruff, on the other hand, needs low vegetation but also access to lands with higher vegetation, where it can build its nest.

The redshank is still a numerous nester on most of the Estonian coast. It is not selective as regards the height of vegetation, yet requires at least patches of areas with low-grazed vegetation. The redshank is the only wader species nesting on coastal meadows smaller than 4.5 hectares. In order for various duck species to be able to nest, coastal meadows have to have areas with high hummocks. Ducks do not nest willingly on coastal meadows that are evenly grazed. Summertime grazing of cattle or sheep, again, constitutes a precondition for grass being sufficiently low and protein-rich for geese, who feed on grasses. The greylag goose, however, can also feed on high plants and even on young sprouts of reeds.

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