Polesia

Ukraine

Viktar Malyshchyc

Wilderness Without Borders: Protecting one of Europe’s largest natural landscapes

A vast region in the heart of Europe, Polesia is home to nationally and internationally threatened wildlife including charismatic species like bison, bears, wolves and lynx. The area also provides critical ecosystem services, such as flood prevention in downstream cities, water for homes and industry and carbon storage. Polesia faces ongoing and increasing human threats including unsustainable hunting, mining and logging, unregulated harvest of berries and ill-advised infrastructure development. This project has secured official protection for key forest habitats, and restored degraded wetlands, thereby ensuring ecological connectivity between fragmented areas to create one of Europe’s largest natural landscapes.

Polesia

Bordering Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia and shaped significantly by the Pripyat River, Polesia is a massive lowland region covering more than 18 million ha. It is one of Europe’s largest natural complexes, with habitats including transitional mires, fens, and marshes, raised bogs, wetlands, peatlands and ponds. Almany Mires, one of Europe’s largest mires, can be found here, covering an area of 100,000 ha. The area also boasts one of the largest complexes of floodplain meadows and alluvial floodplain forests.

Polesia supports numerous species of nationally and internationally threatened flora and fauna. The yearly gathering of Eurasian wigeon and godwits on the floodplains of the Pripyat is the largest in Central and Eastern Europe, and the vast natural floodplain meadows and mires provide critical spawning grounds for many fish species.

Moreover, Polesia’s wetlands provide vital ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and mitigation of climate change, accumulating fresh water supplies on which millions of people depend, prevention of extreme natural events like floods, droughts and landscape fires.

Project context and opportunity

Anthropogenic pressures including logging, fires, drainage, unsustainable hunting and berry foraging, illegal amber mining, radioactive contamination (caused by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986) and construction of roads and pipelines are damaging the ecological integrity of Polesia. As a result, the connectivity between the area’s nationally and internationally threatened populations of mammals, including wolf, lynx and European bison, as well as several bird species, is at risk.

The project team is consistently working on making the protection of Polesia’s unique landscape efficient. The activities carried out include expanding protected areas and creating new ones, improving protected area management, restoring disturbed and degraded wetlands as well as research and monitoring of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Taking into account the transborder character of the region and commitment to ecological integrity of Polesia’s core area, the project was intended and originally implemented as an international one involving partner organisations and staff from Belarus and Ukraine. However, after Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine that directly affected Polesia the project had to be revised. Efforts are now focused on the Ukrainian part of Polesia.

Project achievements

This project is creating a contiguous network of protected areas covering almost one million ha of ecologically functioning natural landscape in the heart of Europe. This is one of Europe’s largest protected natural wilderness areas, providing essential habitat to many threatened species.

To achieve its aims, the project has:

  • Strengthened the protected area network within the core area of Central Polesia (“Pripyat Polesia”) through ecosystem restoration and more sustainable use of key natural resources
  • Protected 70,000 ha of currently unprotected wilderness through the establishment of new, or enlargement of existing, protected areas.
  • Improved connectivity across Central Polesia for large mammals such as wolf, lynx, bison, and brown bear.
  • Prepared the restoration of at least 6,000 ha of wetlands affected by drainage.
  • Finalised the first bespoke landcover map of Polesia based on field research and satellite data. This can be used for a number of environmental analyses, dynamic monitoring of restoration or degradation of natural areas, assessing landscape connectivity, mapping species distribution as well as planning and justifying protected area enlargements.
  • Conducted a feasibility study on restoration of degraded peatlands in the Ukrainian part of Polesia. Areas with the best prospects of successful restoration were determined and practical restoration actions are being planned.
  • Conducted extensive surveys of Polesia’s biodiversity using camera traps and sound-recorders. The data obtained provide the basis for scientific research.

Watch an introduction to the Polesia project below:

Project Partners

Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS)
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

Quick Facts

Project Lead

Project location:

Polesia

Countries:

Ukraine and Belarus (up to February, 2022)

Landscape size:

1,200,000 ha

Key habitats:

Wetlands, peatlands, floodplain meadows, marshes, mires and raised bogs

Focal landscapes:

Greater spotted eagle, ruffs, snipe, brown bear, European bison and lynx

Project Gallery

Latest updates from Polesia

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

Over the past year, 142 habitats of rare species in the Lelchycy and Stolin Districts of Belarus were put under…

Achieving protected status for Polesia, Europe’s largest wetland wilderness

Following important steps taken in Belarus and Ukraine to protect peatlands at the heart of Polesia, conservationists want to see…

Wins for Polesia in 2021

This week we are reporting some of the sucesses that the Polesia project team have had over the past year.…