Polesia project celebrates as nature reserve granted further protection

Posted: 18th March 2021

The ELP-funded Polesia project, a transboundary initiative which stretches across Belarus and Ukraine, is celebrating a huge win, as Almany Mires Nature Reserve in the Belarusian part of Polesia has been approved for an expansion of 10,000 hectares. The reserve now spans over 104,000 hectares (around the size of Hong Kong) – securing Europe’s largest intact transition mire, as well as critical habitat for globally threatened wildlife. Together with protected areas across the border in Ukraine, it forms the largest complex of bogs and mires on the continent. The area stores huge amounts of carbon and forms part of the Pripyat river basin, playing a vital hydro-regulatory role for one of Europe’s last wild rivers. 

Almany Mires, one of Europe’s largest mires, covers an area totalling 100,000 ha and boasts one of the largest complexes of floodplain meadows and alluvial floodplain forests. Photo: M.Kapychka.

Building the case for expansion  

The decision to expand Almany Mires is thanks to the efforts by local NGOs, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, and the Belarusian Academy of Sciences (NAS), supported by Polesia project lead Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS). FZS partner APB-Birdlife Belarus has been working closely with the NAS and the British Trust for Ornithology to carry out biodiversity monitoring and surveys in and around Almany since 2019.

High conservation value forests were mapped and various field camps were completed to identify roosting trees for bats, nests of threatened birds, and other key sites for biodiversity. Acoustic recorders were deployed collecting thousands of hours of recordings and allowing researchers to identify the wildlife detected, in particular bats. Camera traps were also deployed to survey large mammals.

This work helped identify crucial habitat beyond the boundaries of the reserve, and with support from other partners undertaking preparatory work the Belarusian Academy of Sciences submitted an expansion proposal, based on these results, to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection earlier this year. The proposal was accepted by Belarus’ Republic Council of Ministries earlier this month. 

Protecting Polesia’s wildlife

Almany Mires harbour a rich diversity of species. Large predators like Eurasian lynx and wolf roam in search of prey, which also thrive in the area; while rare birds breed in the canopy of its riparian pine-dominated forests. Listed as a BirdLife Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, the summer months see one of Europe’s rarest songbirds, the globally threatened aquatic warbler, and the country’s largest greater spotted eagle population move into the area to breed.

During this time, thousands of other migratory birds also stopover in the area to rest and build up reserves for their winter flights. Other notable species found in the area include black stork, terek sandpipers, golden plover, common crane and great grey owl.

Watch field biologist Stas Werdal from Belarus climb high into the canopy to deploy camera traps for the study of rare greater spotted eagles (Clanga clanga):

Next steps for the project and protection of Almany Mires

Although the Bealrusian project partners are celebrating this fantastic result, they are determined to achieve an even higher level of protection for this special landscape. The project is preparing a bid to designate a transboundary, 250,000-hectare UNESCO world heritage site in Polesia, with Almany Mires at its heart.

Conservationists also fear that the level of protection offered by the legislation of a nature reserve might not provide adequate protection for this unique area. They plan to apply for the highest level of protected area status in the country – Strict Nature Reserve – which would better protect Almany’s forests from exploitation.

For more information about the Polesia project, please visit their project page.

A version of this article first appeared on the Wild Polesia website.

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