Where the rare things are: Mapping habitat and improving protection of rare species in Polesia

Posted: 23rd December 2022

Photo: Daniel Rosengren

Over the past year, 142 habitats of rare species in the Lelchycy and Stolin Districts of Belarus were put under legal protection over a total area of 6,372 hectares. Thanks to the ELP-funded Polesia project, 42 rare species including mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants, and fungi now benefit from better protection.

Certain rare and endangered species which are subject to protection are listed in the “Red Book of Belarus”. To implement the protection of these species, their individual habitats must be identified and registered. This is a complex procedure and requires the participation of a number of specialists and institutions. The identification of habitats is typically achieved within the frame of scientific field surveys, forest management or environmental protection actions. Sometimes, members of the public detect and report habitats, but only qualified specialists can document them for the official registration process.

Camera trap before its installation on the nest of GSE in Stary Zhadzen

Mapping habitats and species is an essential part of the process of obtaining legal protection. Photo: M. Kapychka.

The next step is the preparation of a “habitat passport”. The passport needs to contain the name of the species, photos, description and coordinates of the location, the number of individuals, and an assessment of the overall state of the population.

Along with the passport, conservation obligations are issued. They list the necessary conservation measures and determine who is responsible for their implementation. Usually, this task falls to the land user. The responsible party may be a legal entity (such as forestry), a sole proprietor or even a private person.

Nest of greater spotted eagle on the island in republican nature resort 'Stary Zhadzen'

Legal protections are important for species recovery. Photo: M. Kapychka.

Passports and conservation obligations are sent to the local Inspection of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, and then to the National Academy of Sciences for verification and approval. The agreed documents become the basis for the decision of local authorities on placing the habitats of rare species under protection. If approved, conservation measures are legally justified. Their implementation is monitored by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and its local offices.

What exactly needs to be done to save a rare species?

Protective measures are different for plants and fish, insects and fungi, reptiles and birds.

The survival of the European pond turtle (Emys оrbicularis) directly depends on the preservation of swamps and river floodplains. Where pond turtle habitats are registered, drainage for land reclamation is prohibited. Groundwork is not allowed in order to protect eggs and young turtles. Strict regulations also apply to the management of water bodies: they must not be artificially deepened and straightened, and aquatic plants may not be extracted or destroyed.

A European Pond Turtle along the Stokhid River in the Pripyat-Stokhid National Park in the Polesia area, Ukraine. Photo: Daniel Rosengren.

Larvae of a stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) need several years to develop during which they live on dead trees and feed on rotten wood. This is why the felling of old broad-leaved forests – especially oak-woods – the removal of dead trees and windbreak pose significant threats to this rare insect species. Cutting down old and withered trees, deploying chemicals or burning dry vegetation and logging waste are therefore forbidden in areas adjacent to stag beetle habitats.

Two male stagbeetles fighting.

Two male stagbeetles in Poleskyi Strict Nature Reserve, Ukraine. Photo: Sergey Kantsyrenko.

Another “Red Book” species is the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leutocos). These rare birds build their homes in rotten trees and feed on insects they find under the withered bark. Therefore, not a single tree may be felled in territories where the white-backed woodpecker is found. To avoid disturbance during the nesting season, hunting and logging are prohibited near white-backed woodpecker habitats from March 1st to July 1st.

A white-backed woodpecker in the Polesia area. Turov area, Polesia, Belarus. Photo: Daniel Rosengren.

The swamp violet (Viola uliginosa) can still be found in large parts of Europe, however, numbers are declining throughout its range. Swampy terrain and seasonally flooded floodplains are optimal for this plant, so it is not surprising that in Belarus it is most often registered in the region of Polesia. In or close to swamp violet habitats drainage for land reclamation, the usage of caterpillar vehicles or any other activities that can damage or destroy the live ground cover are prohibited. Wood cutting can be carried out to a limited extent, but only if there is a stable snow cover.

Swamp violet.

Swamp violet – one of the endangered species of Polesia. Stolin District, Belarus. Photo: Andrei Abramchuk.

The Polesia team continue searching, registering and reporting habitats of rare species of flora and fauna to ensure their effective protection.

To find out more about the Polesia project, please visit their project page. This article was originally published on the Polesia: Wilderness Without Borders website

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