Meanders of the Upper Daugava

Date of Submission: 18/04/2011
Criteria: (v)(viii)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Latvian National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Daugavpils region and Krāslava region
Coordinates: N55 51 36 E27 2 21
Ref.: 5610


The Upper Daugava valley with nine unique meanders (98 km from Piedruja to Daugavpils) is a depositary of outstanding values of nature, biodiversity and landscapes reflecting also historical and cultural significance. This object represents a mixed - natural and cultural - world heritage value.

The river valley with its characteristic arches and typical upper flood terraces has formed before 13 - 15 thousand years, after the glacial period. During that time the river stream was so strong that it carried great masses of sand, gravel, large stones and even cliffs, creating picturesque hills, deep ravines with springs, rivers and large river Daugava riffles. In the 45.4 km stretch from the Daugavpils and Krāslava towns the river is composed of nine outstanding meanders that represent unique and nowadays exceptionally rare features. These unchanged geomorphologic formations belong to the context of large rivers of the world's Northern hemisphere.

The Upper Daugava and its surroundings are characterised by rare plant and animal species because of the favorable conditions of the specific valley meanders, adjacent landscapes microclimate and soil composition. The ecosystem of the upper part of Daugava serves as an ecological corridor for the migration of species.

The river as a natural watershed, transport and trade route has been beneficial and meaningful in the cultural history. People in this region began to settle long time ago - around 11 thousands years ago, creating rich cultural impact on the landscape. Numerous archaeological, architectural, historical monuments indicate intense human activity since the archaic period, as shown by the remained ancient burial grounds, hillforts, castle ruins, palaces, churches and settlements.

The nationally protected nature area - Protected Landscape Area "Augšdaugava" (the Upper Daugava), including Nature Park "Daugavas loki" (Meanders of Daugava), was established in 1990. In 2004 this region was included in the European Union NATURA 2000 list, covering 52 325 ha of high biodiversity values and luxurious boreal type landscapes. This nomination is elaborated in 2010 - the year declared by the United Nations the International Year of Biodiversity.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criteria (v) This territory is an excellent example of multicultural living from ancient Balts, Vikings and crusaders. The name Daugava (Dyna) is mentioned in the 10th - 11th century in written Scandinavian Gutasaga and the waterway Daugava was the road from Varangians to Greeks. Later this waterway was taken over by Russians, Poles and Swedes. Daugava was a permanent trade route between the Western and Eastern Europe until the North War (1700-1721).

On the banks of Daugava there are several cultural landscape types - ritual landscape (sacred buildings, ancient burial grounds, cemeteries, and crucifixes), social landscape, economic landscape (urbanization, farmer settlements) - and also ecological landscape (geology, vegetation, fauna and human element).

Criteria (viii) Close to the country border Daugava river flows as a lowland (potamal) river. Near the town Krāslava the valley becomes deeper (40 m) and broader (2-4.5 km), starting to flow via meanders. Morphologically meanders of the Upper Daugava are all different and have special historical names - Adamovas, Zvejnieku, Tartaka, Daugavsargu, Ververu, Rozališku, Butišķu and Elernes. In the territory of meanders there are very dense net of ravines - more than 300 forming unique ecological micronishes for flora and fauna.

The river is a key element in forming the landscape. Its course is full of riffles, banks with flat and steep slopes and nine very diverse meanders forming dynamic changing and highly three-dimensional landscape that has high aesthetic value. The especially high value of landscape is formed by ratio of woods, meadows, agricultural areas and relief. This boreal region with different landscape types is changing during seasons - from white winter, green and sparkling spring, rich summer green woods and blossom full meadows and outstanding color palette during fall.

Criteria (x) The nominated area habitats host very rich and rare fauna and flora species, belonging to boreal and nemoral regions. Daugava river serves as important ecological corridor of species migration and from this point of view also its value is high in the context of transnational species migration. The river valley microclimate, the highest summer positive temperatures (2100-2500) for Eastern areal of Europe, calcareous soil types form unique plant and fauna communities and some of species in these places are on the areal border and therefore must be of special attention for their protection.

This territory is among the richest places of species in Eastern Europe. Altogether there are 50 protected plant species. According to special monitoring 139 bird species have been found, 33 of them belonging to the species protected at European level. Concerning invertebrates - 31 species are protected at European level, 6 of them - according to the Berne convention (Convention of the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats, Bern, 19 September 1979)  and another 6 species are included in the list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The bat's species are in a special protection list established by Berne and Bonn conventions (Council Decision 82/461/EEC of 24 June 1982 on the conclusion of the Convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals (Bonn Convention). Altogether there are 14 habitat types protected at European level, serving as biotopes for a rich and diverse amount of species.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Landscapes of the river are under potential threat from today's socio-economic pressures. There have been intentions to build a cascade of hydroelectric power stations (3 already are operating on the Daugava river downstream, completely changing natural ecosystem). In future there are possible ecological refugees because of climate change. One can also observe human migrations and diminishing number of a local community - ancient settlers of this land. The preservation of the Upper Daugava region is encouraged in order maintain a unique cultural and natural landscape.

Comparison with other similar properties

These Upper Daugava nine diverse meanders with boreal type bank landscapes and nature values are unique and there are no similar sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In comparison, UNESCO World Heritage site - the 65 km stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley with its castles, historic towns and vineyards, illustrates a long history of human involvement with a varied natural landscape. But this site does not represent a unique untouched natural landscape, protected international species as well as outstanding value of geomorphological character that is proper to the meanders of the river Daugava.

Another UNESCO World Heritage site in Europe that represents the natural heritage of rivers - the Danube Delta - falls within East European steppe ecosystem, with Mediterranean influences. As a young region in full process of consolidation, the Danube Delta represents a very favorable place for the development of highly diverse flora and fauna, unique with numerous rare species typical for steppe ecosystem. It hosts 23 natural ecosystems, but due to the extent of wetlands the aquatic environment is prevalent; the terrestrial environment is also present on the higher grounds of the continental levees. Between the aquatic and terrestrial environments, is interposed a swampy, easily flooded strip of original flora and fauna, with means of adaptation for water or land, depending on the season or the hydrological regime. Also this already nominated place does not cover criteria of a mixed property as the nomination of the river Daugava and its meanders, combining three different criteria, and by their combination presenting completely outstanding values.