Lake Ladoga is a unique natural object, the state of which is the decisive factor influencing the climatic, environmental and economic characteristics in most of the Baltic Sea drainage area.
Ladoga, which is the largest lake of Europe, is one of the 15
largest freshwater reservoirs in the world. The state of the environment in the
Ladoga area affects the life standard of several million people living in
258,000 km2 of the lake watershed area, which includes a great part
of the Russian north-west and eastern Finland (Fig 1.1 and 1.2.). Lake Ladoga also plays the key role in industrial and drinking water supply to St. Petersburg with its five million inhabitants. Moreover, the state of the lake directly affects the water quality in the Neva river, Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea in general.
Geological history of the Ladoga is reflected in the unique landscapes and rock structure. A whole number of geological monuments have no analogues in Europe. One of the important features of the geomorphology of the Northern Ladoga Lake area are a complex of lacustrine-glacial terraces arranged as benches. There are six such levels of the shore evidencing the evolution of the palaeowaterbody, which had occupied the land now under Lake Ladoga and experienced several severe fluctuations of the water level from 30-20 m below and 18-20 m above the modern level of the lake.
The plant and animal world of the Ladoga Lake area is rich and varied. The lake is particularly renowned for its fish stocks, including such valuable forms as Ladoga salmon, whitefish, lake char, vendace, grayling.
A number of territories around the lake are important bird stopping places along the White Sea - Baltic Flyway. Nizhne-Svirsky strict nature reserve covering 41,000 ha of the Ladoga Lake shore has representatives of nearly all of the mid-taiga bird fauna.
Numerous monuments of the Russian North history and culture have
preserved in the Ladoga La- ke watershed area.
Before the 1960's Lake Ladoga was an oligotrophic water body, but human activities of the last 20-30 years induced catastrophic changes in the lake. In the 1970's already the lake became mesotrophic, with raised content of biogenic elements and lowering water transparency. Recently, the state of the most heavily contaminated areas of the lake has somewhat improved, as some large pollution sources were eliminated. Still, eutrophication of the bulk of the water mass is continuing as the huge body of water noted for high inertia is slow to respond to changes in the environment.
The value and uniqueness of Lake Ladoga are understood by quite
many organizations. A programme of monitoring of the Ladoga Lake ecosystem
components already existed back in the USSR. Growing concern for the problems
of the lake has recently been demonstrated by the international public. Thus,
three international symposia "Ecological problems of Lake Ladoga" (St.
Petersburg, Russia, 1993), "Largest Lake of Europe and its environment"
(Joensuu, Finland, 1996), and "Lake Ladoga and other large lakes" (Petrozavodsk,
Russia, 1999) have already taken pla- ce. The aim of such conferences is both to identify the problems of the Ladoga proper and find solutions for them, and to decide on the possible co-operation for maintaining the stability of all large lakes in the Northern Hemisphere.
Problems of the Ladoga Lake area are studied by numerous organizations and experts. However, the federal programme on Ladoga being not implemented in practice, activities on the study and conservation of the area often lack co-ordination, are chaotic and inefficient. The newly established non-governmental organizations and unions working in the area also concentrate mainly on short-term local projects. In this context, St. Petersburg Naturalist Society analysed the state of the Ladoga Lake area with the focus on the modern status of biodiversity and the factors affecting the stability of the Ladoga ecosystems. This project was carried out in connection with both the expansion of scientific research and nature conservation activities of SPNS in the area, and the growing concern for the Ladoga Lake problems among SPSN partner-organizations, first of all, World Wide Fund for Nature - WWF.