We seem to publish a lot of stories about trees, and very often they are about deforestation or the decline of species, so for once it is nice to be able to publish a slightly more positive one.
During the last year, the Latvian Nature Conservation Agency has registered almost a thousand new Dižkoki (great trees), which were found by environmental inspectors of reported to them by the public. Dižkoki are Latvia’s largest trees are are protected by law from being cut down or damaged. The total number of officially registered great trees in the country is now a little more than 11,500, including the 954 that were granted the status in 2020.
These great trees are recognised as important independent ecosystems, and provide a habitat for many rare and endangered groups of mammals, birds, insects, fungi and other organisms.
"Great trees are an integral value of Latvia's nature. As the greatest representatives of their species, they are a valuable object of scientific research and an important part of the landscape. Great trees serve as a home for various rare and protected species. Many of them are witnesses to historical events. , but also of cultural and historical value, " says Andrejs Svilāns, Dendrologist and Director General of the Nature Conservation Agency.
Great trees were first classified and counted by arborist Staņislavs Saliņš in the 1960s. He came up with the term dižkoks and in 1974 released a book documenting 626 great trees across Latvia. Several well-known Latvians like poet Imants Ziedonis followed in his footsteps, creating the group "Liberators of the Great Trees" in 1976. Over the course of the next twenty years they made 198 expeditions, managing to reach every corner of Latvia’s national territory.
Even now, almost half a century later, it’s likely that only around a third of the great trees in the country have been registered. There could be more than 30,000 great trees spread across the nation and the Nature Conservation Agency encourages everyone to help by measuring, mapping and reporting Latvia's great trees.
A tree can gain the the status of being ‘great’ by reaching a measurement requirement of either girth or height. For example, a White Willow tree would need to reach a circumference of 4.5 metres, while a Common Juniper tree would qualify by reaching a minimum height of 4.5 metres with a circumference of 0.8 metres or more. The largest of the trees registered last year, in the Rezekne District was a Poplar with a circumference of 10.1 metres.
Once a tree is recognised, the agency will attach an information sign to the tree explaining it’s status and that it is under protection. It’s worth noting, however, that trees which meet the specified criteria but have not yet been affixed with an information sign are also protected.
In order to prevent the creation of unsuitable conditions for the growth and preservation of the great trees, the area under the canopy and a 10-metre-wide area around it is designated as a specially protected area.
The felling of the protected tree is allowed only in cases when it has become dangerous and there are no other ways to prevent the danger. If it can be saved by taking measures like pruning branches or creating supports then this has to be done instead of felling the tree and cutting requires the explicit written permission of the NCA.