Jankovska, I., Straupe, I.*, Brumelis, G., Donis, J. and Kupfere, L. 2014. Urban Forests of Riga, Latvia – Pressures, Naturalness, Attitudes and Management. Baltic Forestry 20(2): 342-351

The urban forest landscape in Europe differs depending on the past history of sociopolitical cultures. Latvia presents a special case, as perceptions of urban green spaces changed from a period of Germanic dominance, to a developed European Republic, later subdued in the Soviet era, and now to a European country in transition. The human footprint has been relatively moderate, and there is little alienation between people and natural values. In Riga there are 15 forest tracts, some connected with rural forests and others are isolated remnants of ancient or planted forests. These forest stands are mostly dominated by Scots pine Pinus sylvestris L. on poor dry soils, with a characteristic feather-moss layer. While recognition of the importance of urban forest ecosystems in resilience of the city is growing, recreational pressure and demands for aesthetical, novel, man-made landscapes are significant. Governance in Latvia almost completely overlooks the complexity of urban forest management and there have been no attempts at integration of ecological, social, aesthetic and recreational functions in all-encompassing landscape planning of Riga forests with all relevant stakeholders participating. As a result, the ‘naturalness’ of the forests has been largely shaped by recreation loads. Knowledge is needed on the ecological and recreational functions of these forests, in order to develop specific management plans. We firstly used species and plant functional groups to derive indicators to determine extent of ecological degradation of the forests. Secondly, we applied the psychophysical method to determine public preferences for forest landscape models on images that were created with the aim to portray different management practices (e.g. retention of deadwood, cutting of understorey, and recreational infrastructure). We examined four types of forest landscapes and found a significant difference both in public preferences between them and in choices of respondent groups for the most preferable landscape for recreation.

Key words: recreation, forest management, landscape preference