A state of conservation report was submitted by the State Party of the Russian Federation on 29 January and by the State Party of Lithuania on 8 February 2010.
Both reports highlighted threats from varying types and degrees of development pressures and also comment on the adverse impacts of storms on the reconstructed dunes that relate to work undertaken in the 19th century to form a long sand protection bank on the seaward side of the Spit in response to the devastating deforestation of the 16th century and the subsequent emergence of unstable desert dunes.
In July 2009 the Lithuanian State Party invited an ICOMOS/IUCN technical advisory mission to visit the Lithuanian part of the transboundary property to consider whether the current general plans of the Neringa and Klaipeda municipalities and the revised management plan of the Curonian Spit National Park, together still met the management requirements of the World Heritage property that were considered to be met at the time of inscription. The mission report is available on-line at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/34COM/
a) Development Pressures
The Russian State Party reported that a special economic zone for tourist and recreational purposes was being developed in Kaliningrad and that four allotments had been given permission. This was said to be part of what was called a ‘commonplace project for real estate development on the Spit’. The State Party acknowledged that this type of development is in conflict with the very purpose of the National Park. Although an environmental impact assessment has been carried out, it is stated that this will allow only a relative reduction in the damage that may be inflicted on natural complexes of Curonian Spit by the development. What is not stated is the impact on the cultural landscape for which the property was inscribed on the List. The Lithuanian State Party report states that this issue was discussed at the 6th meeting of the joint Lithuanian-Russian Environmental Projection Commission that met in September 2009 in Moscow and that at this meeting it was confirmed that further development had not been approved by the Russian authorities. Furthermore the Russian State Party reports that borders of the Curonian Spit National Park have not yet been specified and activities to create a buffer zone are pending.
The joint advisory mission to the Lithuanian part of the Spit highlighted the vulnerability of the fishermen’s houses, traditionally developed in parallel rows on the lagoon side of the Spit, some of which had been significantly extended or even reconstructed. The mission considered that the overall stock of authentic pre-World War II fisherman’s houses has declined to a degree that the task of restoration is now crucial and urgent. In some of the settlements the degree of new development is such that overall they appear as new recreational developments rather than traditional villages .The Mission also noted the pressure to extend the envelope of settlements for the development of hotels, houses and apartments, caravan and camp sites, as many of the Soviet era structures for these uses had been privatized, and to upgrade roads for large coaches and campervans.
The mission suggested nine specific recommendations relating to the restoration of fishermen’s settlements, design guide for all construction, sustainable traffic strategy, constraints on the development of Soviet era remains, limitations on development near the lagoon, on the Sea coastal dune and on the development of marinas, presumption in favour of using existing settlement envelopes for appropriate scale development, the need to identify carrying capacities for visitors, and recognition that major developments of hotels, spas, health centres or other large developments in the southern part of the Spit, and the re-development of former isolated Soviet sites could impact adversely on Outstanding Universal Value.
The State Party of Lithuania reports that the recommendations for developing carrying capacities and design guides were being prepared and passed for appropriate funding.
The advisory mission to the Lithuanian part of the Spit did not consider that the current revised plans for the National Park and the two municipalities delivered the detailed, sensitive and coherent management that is needed to sustain the Outstanding Universal Value. It recommended that these needed to be revised on the basis of an agreed Statement of Outstanding Universal value for the whole property, a vision for the property in the medium term and the development of a joint management plan for the whole property. For the Lithuanian part there was also a need for an agreed hierarchical structure between the plans of the Park and Municipalities. The Lithuanian State Party in its report stated that proposal for a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value were being developed between professionals and NGO representatives and this would be used for taking forward the recommendations.
c) Inter-governmental cooperation
The Lithuanian State Party reports that the signing of the two bilateral agreements between Lithuania and the Russian Federation on co-operation in case of pollution accidents, pollution prevention, mitigation and compensation measures and on the Lithuanian and Russian Action Plan for Co-operation in Case of Pollution Accidents in the Baltic Sea, has been delayed.
The State Party of the Russian Federation considers the threat of possible pollution of the Spit by the exploitation at the D-6 oil platform hypothetical and assures that there are no serious problems with environmental pollution.
Two meetings of the Lithuanian-Russian Working Group on liquidation of after effects of emergencies in the Baltic Sea were held in December 2008 and June 2009.
The Russian State Party further reports that since 2008, an Agreement on cooperation between the Curonian Spit National Park in the Russian part and Kursiu Nerija National Park in Lithuania was in place.
d) Vulnerability of sand-dunes
The report from the Russian Federation states that observations by researchers suggest that the processes of destruction of sand dunes by waves and storms now tend to dominate over those of restoration. It notes that over the last 25 years, 18 extreme storms hit the Kaliningrad coast of the Baltic region and it is suggested that there are places along the Spit where breakthrough by the Ocean and subsequent destruction of Curonian Spit are most probable.
The State Party of Lithuania reports that at the end of 2009 0.5ha of the dunes were partially eroded by a storm. Mitigation measures such as re-formation of the dunes using geo-textiles were put in place. In 2009 16 ha of trees were planted and a further 126 ha were fenced to allow regeneration.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the Advisory Mission to the Lithuanian part of the property was timely in being asked to consider whether the changes to management arrangements still met the requirements of the property. The mission highlighted the fragility and vulnerability of the property in terms of the decline of authentic fishermen’s’ houses, the impact of new development on the landscape of reconstructed dunes and forests and further threats from potential large-scale new developments and infrastructure projects. It also set out the need to revise the management arrangements to address these threats.
The threats from new tourist development are mirrored on the Russian part of the property, in terms of the ‘tourist zones’ mentioned in the report from the Russian State Party. Added to these threats are those reported from both States Parties related to the impact of recent storms on the reconstructed dunes facing the sea.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the distinctive character of the fragile and comparatively remote Spit is under potential threat from development that could completely over-shadow the small scale settlements and the maritime landscape. They consider that there is a need to define a retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the property and clearly define its attributes as a basis for management and for defining a clear vision for the sustainable development of the property.