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IN MEMORIAM Prof. Dr Romas Pakalnis

We mourn the loss of Prof. Dr Romas Pakalnis on the 20th of September, 2020. Lithuanian society, science, nature conservation and cultural heritage communities, as well as a small family of peatland restoration practitioners and international team of the project LIFE Peat Restore lost Prof. Dr Romas Pakalnis, an outstanding person, whose whole life was dedicated to the investigation and protection of natural and cultural heritage, restoration of Lithuanian independence, maintenance of national identity and Lithuanian language, and sincere concern for the future of Europe’s wetlands. The Professor was an initiator of the restoration of Lithuanian wetlands, he was a bright person full of progressive ideas, determined to implement them in practice, a caring and sincere colleague, generous Teacher and Mentor, educated many doctors of natural sciences and nature conservationists. In the first days of 2021, we would be celebrating his glorious 80th anniversary.

After graduating from the Faculty of Forestry of the Lithuanian Academy of Agriculture in 1963 Romas Pakalnis started working as a forestry engineer. In 1971, he finished his postgraduate studies at the Institute of Botany of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. He defended his dissertation “Investigation of the dynamics and ecological optimum of the major components of a hilly landscape with lakes” at Vilnius University Council. He had an active research career as  a researcher at the Institute of Botany and also Head of the Laboratory of Landscape Ecology (1981–2010). In 1989, during the first democratic elections, he was elected as a Director of the Institute of Botany (Vilnius) for 14 years. Together with the Habil. Dr Kazimieras Ėringis created an original school of landscape ecology in Lithuania. He taught the disciplines of Landscape ecology and Sustainable development to students of Lithuanian University of Educology and Šiauliai University.

Prof. Dr Romas Pakalnis was interested in many areas such as innovations in science and education, problems of preserving natural and cultural heritage, maintenance of Lithuanian identity, national language and the Lithuanian State. Romas Pakalnis was the secretary of the Lithuanian National Committee for the International Programme “Man and Biosphere” (1981–1985), an active member of Lithuanian Independence Movement “Sąjūdis” (political organisation, which led the struggle for Lithuanian independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s). He participated in the establishment of the first protected areas in Lithuania. He was a Chairman of the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania (2002–2008) and the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO (2009–2018) as well. The professor is a co-author of National Integrated Nature Protection Scheme (1984), General Concept of Education (1992), Lithuanian environmental strategy (1995), Biodiversity conservation strategy and action plan Republic of Lithuania (1998); Lithuanian National Strategy for Sustainable Development (2003), was active in many citizenship committees. From 2010 until 2020 Romas Pakalnis intensively worked in the system of the State Service for Protected Areas under the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania, where he paid a lot of attention to the management of Natura 2000 sites.

Prof. Romas Pakalnis authored over 220 research and science communication publications on ecology, botany, environment protection and nature conservation issues. Romas Pakalnis participated in ecological expertise of significance in Lithuanian industry objects: International Sea Ferry-line (Klaipėda), oil enterprises, Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, Kruonis Hydro Power Plant, Liquefied Natural Gas terminal in the Klaipėda Seaport, assessed the damage caused to Lithuanian nature by the USSR military bases, fought against the exploitation of oil platforms established in the vicinity of the Curonian Spit, elaborated primary strategic environmental legislation after Lithuania regained independence, etc. “I’m happy to have been involved in disputes on important objects for Lithuania”, – said the researcher. He was one of the developers of the ideas about the Natural Framework, the initiator of Lithuania’s accession to the European Landscape Convention and the co-author of Lithuanian’s Landscape Policy.

For the last fifteen years Prof. Dr Romas Pakalnis worked at the Institute of Botany, later at the State Service for Protected Areas and the Lithuanian Fund for Nature, paid attention to the protection and restoration of Lithuanian wetlands. He was interested in peatlands since the early years of his professional career starting with research and initiating restoration projects. In 1968, together with the Head of the Laboratory of Landscape Ecology, Prof. Habil. Dr K. Eringis, prepared recommendations for the protection of the central part of the forested Polyma bog (Utena district), which was planned to be drained during the intensive reclamation period in the Soviet era and in this way to expand the areas of perennial cultural pastures. Thanks to these recommendations, it became possible to influence the functionaries – a reclamation project was modified, and the central part (about 9 ha) of the wetland complex was preserved.

Forest and mires were among his favourite and most beloved objects of interest. His works in peatland restoration are more known for starting to restore the world-famous Aukstumala raised bog and initiating the installation of protective measures to isolate the raised bog from adjacent peat harvesting fields. Later he continued ecological restoration activities in Aukštumala raised bog as a member and generator of ideas within the project LIFEAukstumala (2013–2017; www.aukstumala.lt). The professor initiated the translation into Lithuanian of the first scientific monograph in the world about the raised bog, written in 1901 by German botanist Dr C.A. Weber. In the introduction to the Lithuanian edition of the monograph, Prof. Dr Romas Pakalnis noted that the LIFE project “… will help to improve the condition of the protected raised bog in the Aukštumala Telmological Reserve. Unfortunately, it will never be what Dr C.A. Weber described 114 years ago”. Romas Pakalnis was extremely happy accompanying the grandson and great-grandson of the famous Professor C.A. Weber to the Aukštumala raised bog and the Nemunas River Delta in 2017. The Professor repeatedly hinted that it was a great happiness and honour for him to work in Aukštumala.

Moreover, he was involved in the activities of Lithuanian Fund for Nature related to the LIFE Peat Restore project, dedicated to the restoration of drained peatlands and mitigation of climate change. Romas Pakalnis paid particular attention to rehabilitation of extracted part of Aukštumala peatland by establishing Sphagnum mosses. Just a month ago, the Professor regretted that due to unexpected health problems and unfavourable circumstances in the world in 2020, he did not visit Aukštumala raised bog and the experimental Sphagnum planting field established in 2019. Still, he sincerely believed that he would visit it later this year. In 2019, during the international conference in Grodno (Belaruss), Prof. Dr Romas Pakalnis said: “Life is very short… we must preserve mires so that we would have a possibility to sit on the Sphagnum hummock and think where we are in a hurry…”. Life is very short… We, his team and followers, colleagues and friends will continue that great work on the restoration of Lithuanian peatlands, started by Romas.