Kuršių nerija National Parkadminlithuania
kuršių nerija, the Curonian Spit, is a narrow strip of sand stretching 97 kilometers along the Baltic Sea in western Lithuania. According to the legend, the spit was formed a long time ago by Neringa, a girl giant who poured the sandy peninsula into the Baltic Sea to protect the peaceful bay from the stormy sea and create an embankment for fishermen to live. Thus, today the eastern shores of the Curonian Spit are washed by the Curonian Lagoon, while the Baltic Sea washes the western ones. In 2000, the Curonian Spit cultural landscape was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Human habitation on this elongated dune peninsula dates back to prehistoric times. Throughout this period, it has been threatened by the natural forces of wind and waves. Its survival to the present days has been made possible only as a result of ceaseless human efforts to combat the erosion of the Spit, dramatically illustrated by continuing stabilization and reforestation projects. The area of the park is 26 464 hectares: 9 764 ha are covered by land, and 16700 ha by water. The Curonian Spit is part of “Natura 2000”, a network of protected territories in Europe, connecting its most valuable natural habitats. It also belongs to HELCOM, which seeks to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea through intergovernmental cooperation.
The dunes are an exclusive element of the Curonian Spit landscape. Here you can explore all stages of dune formation. You will find embryonic shifting dunes, humid dune slacks, decalcified fixed dunes, wooded dunes, white and grey dunes, which are famous for their exceptional beauty. Eleven types of protected habitats of European importance occur in the Curonian Spit. The different habitats are home to rare species of insects, birds, and plants specific and typical for the place. Some of them are endangered and included in the Red Book of Lithuania. There are 37 species of mammals living in Curonian Spit. Here, you meet fox and hare, boar and beaver, roe deer, elk, and many other mammal species. Every year, millions of birds fly through the area as the migration route from the Baltic Sea to the White Sea runs through the Curonian Spit. The coastlines along the Curonian Spit Lagoon and Baltic Sea are important for migratory and wintering waterbirds. Besides, there are large concentrations of migrating passerines and birds of prey, and the Curonian Spit is famous for the largest breeding colony of Great Cormorants in Lithuania. This is a true paradise for bird watchers!
Culture and traditions
The rich cultural heritage of the Curonian Spit includes fishing settlements that are considered valuable both from an ethnocultural, historical and aesthetic point of view. There are architectural works of unique scale and archeological sites, most villages buried under the sand. The settlements of the Curonian spit until the 19th century were typical fishing villages – monuments of special significance to the kursiai community way of living and ethnographic traditions that are not maintained anymore. The earliest fishing settlements were buried in the sand when the forest cover was removed. Those that have survived since the beginning of the 19th century are all to be found along the coast of the Curonian Lagoon. There is a specific structure of fishermen homesteads with traditional wooden dwellings, colored dark brown and blue and decorated with wooden carvings on the gables of special significance are the traditional grave markers known as krikstai. These are timber planks decorated with flowers, hearts and even animal motifs such as birds’ silhouettes Trading The fishery has been prevailing among the activities of Curonian Spit inhabitants for a long time. In the 16th century, it became especially relevant when farming areas had been critically decreased by drifting sands. Such specific conditions formed a unique lifestyle. There was a tradition of crow hunting. Amber gathering turned to be an additional income for the locals, later work in Juodkrantė amber mine. In the mid-19th century, the Curonian Spit residents got involved in resort business services which eventually became the main source of income for them. Forestry was assumed as especially relevant for the survival of settlements in the early 19th century.
The Curonian Spit residents were not highly religiously devoted in the 16th–18th centuries. This is related to the fact that the places of worship were situated in few settlements only, and clergy used to visit the existing chapels or churches rather rarely. In 1742, a pastor of Karvaičiai village claimed about poor attendance not only from further villages, but also from the same one, emphasizing that his work was hindered by underdevelopment and the superstition of village people. However, in the middle of the 19th century, travelers used to mention the piety as an integral feature of the Curonians (Kuršininkai) character – not to attend a church was truly unthinkable. The high religiosity of the Curonian Spit inhabitants was also noticed by Lithuanians who started visiting these places at the beginning of the 20th century: “very devout and superstitious.” After the sand burial of Karvaičiai village in the 18th century. Juodkrantė became a parish center where a wooden church was built in 1795. Juodkrantė becomes a center of the spiritual life of the Northern Curonian Spit. The mass in Juodkrantė has been attended by the residents of Nida and Nagliai. A modest, barn-style church building burnt in 1878. A new church of Neo-Gothic style designed by famous architect A. Studer was built in Juodkrantė in 1885. The wife of Kaiser of Germany Augusta Victoria presented to the church a crucifix and two impressive candlesticks, the owner of amber mines M. Becker – brilliant pipe organ. After the Second World War, the church was transformed into a museum of miniatures. In 1989 it was returned to the churchgoers. Nowadays Evangelic Lutheran and Catholic service take place here. A chapel in Nida already existed in 1566, which was sand-buried a century later. The very first place of worship was established in a house owned by Kuwert in 1835. An independent parish of Nida was established in 1854. As the old church building decayed, a Lutheran pastor Gustav Echternach initiated a new church construction that was sanctified on 10 October 1888. Wooden ceiling, stained glass windows and Ernst Mollenhauer’s painting Jesus stretching his hand to apostle Peter who is afraid of sinking brought the church a cosy atmosphere. The church was provided with a perfect pipe organ designed by Gebauer company from Königsberg, three candelabra – from the Kaiser’s wife Victoria. Accurate replicas of the originals, which survived in postwar, are currently available in the church. Worship services in the church were held until 1962. In 1969-1988, the Historical Museum of Neringa was functioning in it. The church was returned to the believers in 1988. At present time it belongs to the Evangelic Lutheran community.
Kursiu Nerija has a seaside climate, which is greatly influenced by the Baltic Sea. The annual amount of radiation in the spit is 90 kcal/cm². The sun shines at an average of 1982 hours per year, which is 39% of the possible sun-shining period. NPKN has the largest number of sunny days in Lithuania. West and south winds are prevailing in the spit. The average speed of the wind is 5, 5 m/s during the whole year. Very strong, storm winds appear every year and they blow about 20 average days a year in total. The warming effect of the sea for Kursiu Nerija is stronger (up to 3° C) than in the eastern part of Lithuania. Because of the influence of the sea, autumn and winter are warmer than spring – the temperature differs from the eastern regions by 3 -3.5°. The air is very humid in the Curonian Spit in winter – up to 82% and 76% in the spring. Fog is very common here – 66 misty days a year. The precipitation in Kursiu Nerija amounts to 643 mm per year. There are about 170-180 rainy or snowy days in the spit per year. 75% of the annual amount of precipitation falls during a warm season. The snow in Kursiu Nerija appears at the end of November; constant snow covering is formed at the end of December or at the beginning of January, which is 10 or 15 days later than in other regions of Lithuania.
An estimated 900 plant species grow in the Kursiu Nerija National Park, with 31 of them are on the Red List of Lithuania. 70% of the land in the National Park is covered by forest (6852 ha). More than half of the stands were planted by humans. Grass vegetation 2922 ha in the park have no forest cover. These are mostly sandy areas, which are 25% of the total park area. The coastal plains, both near the lagoon and the seashore, are characterized as a separate geographical zone with specific climate conditions. sThe distinction of flora in the Curonian Spit is defined by strong winds, drifting sand, soils that heat up quickly but are dry and infertile, salty water and sudden and frequent weather changes. All these factors together make the coastal plains similar to the steppe conditions in the southeastern part of Europe.
Birds never leave the Kursiu Nerija National Park. Late in the autumn, when it gets quiet in the continent and lakes become empty, more than 300 bird species can be seen on the spit. The geography of the Curonian Spit is well suited for scientists studying bird migration routes. The White Sea the Baltic Sea migration “highway” goes along the spit and millions of birds pass it. For this reason, the bird-ringing station was set up in Juodkrante. Every autumn scientists hang out nets for bird catching in the Nagliai Nature Reserve. Each season about 10 to 11 thousand birds are ringed there.
About 50 fish species live in the Curonian Lagoon including the most common such as roach (Rutilus rutilus), perch (Perca fluviatilis), red-eye (Scardinius erythrophalmus), white bream (Blicca bjoerkna) and common bream (Abramis brama). Bream is very fearful during spawning.
If frightened, it might never return to its native area. This is why it was prohibited to sail during spawning or ring a church bell near bream territory. Anglers are happy to catch pike (Esoxlucius) or, if they are lucky, a bigger pike-perch (Lucioperca lucioperca) and eel (Anguilla Anguilla). It is very popular to go for smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) in the winter season. Before going upstream to the River Nemunas for spawning in spring, they gather together in the Curonian Lagoon. During the second half of winter, they start to smell like fresh cucumbers because of special glands on their bodies. Sometimes fishermen catch rather rare fish species such as whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and sea trout (Salmo trutta trutta), which are on the Red List. Sea trout makes gravel “nests” up to 1 m in diameter for spawning.
It can crossbreed with trout species and sometimes with salmon. The crossbreeds are of great vitality. Sea trout comes from the Baltic Sea to the Curonian Lagoon for spawning and later returns to the sea. Another species included on the Red List – twaite shad (Alosa fallax) – also spawns in the Curonian Lagoon. It is very sensitive to water pollution. Therefore, its population significantly decreased recently. It is prohibited to fish for it by any
means around a year.