Geographical Features Conservation
Leaping over fallen logs in a remote conifer forest of Kostomukshsky
Zapovednik, hungry wolves (Canis lupus) trail close behind
a small herd of vigorous forest-dwelling reindeer (Rangifer
tarandus fennicus), waiting for a young or weak animal to
fall behind. Exhausted, the predators stop to rest, unable to
keep up with the quick reindeer. Later the pack picks up the fresh
trail of a moose (Alces alces) and her two calves. The
wolves encircles one calf and move in for the kill, while the
mother moose flings her front hooves at the plunderers with enough
force to crack a canine skull. Failing to protect one of her offspring,
she moves on in effort to save the other. When the wolves have
had their fill, they move up to a high ridge with a view over
a clearing in the forest to rest. Wolverines (Gulo gulo),
having followed the packs movements from a distance, come
to collect the scraps.
Regrettably, this idyllic scene of predator-prey interaction
is becoming less frequent in Kostomukshsky Zapovednik. Reindeer
numbers in Karelia have fallen from about 7,000 in the early 1990s
to fewer than 4,000 today, and only a handful of reindeer are
seen each year in the zapovednik itself. The main reason for this
is the barbed wire fence extending along the border between Russia
and Finland, which impedes the animals West-East movements.
Poaching has also taken a toll on the reindeer population in Karelia.
While wolves and reindeer are becoming more rare in the zapovednik,
brown bears (Ursus arctos) are still common among large
predators. As the snow begins to thaw in April, bears emerge from
their deep sleep to roam the frontier forests in search of a meal.
Lynx (Felis lynx) occasionally hunt here for mountain hare
(Lepus timidus) and rodents. A total of 17 predators out
of 40 mammals representative of Siberian, European, and Arctic
faunal communities inhabit the virgin boreal forests extending
along the Russian-Finnish border.
Weighing only two to three grams, the pygmy and minute shrews
(Sorex minutus, S. minutissimus) are the smallest mammals
in the zapovednik. Beavers (Castor canadensis) and mink
(Mustella vison) are found in abundant numbers near bodies
of water, and otters (Lutra lutra) are occasionally seen
Over 130 species of birds have been identified in the zapovednik,
many of which depend on old growth forests. Of these, 104 are
nesting species. Northern boreal species, such as capercaillies
(Tetrao urogallus) and black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix)
gather in leks during mating season for courtship displays. Five
species of woodpeckers chisel away at the trees overhead. The
great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) is the largest nocturnal
predator in the zapovednik, feeding primarily on voles and lemmings.
Waterfowl are abundant in the many lakes and rivers afforded
protection in the zapovednik. Black-throated loon (Gavia arctica)
is a common nesting species in the reserve, as well as whooping
swan (Cygnus cygnus) and bean goose (Anser fabalis).
Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and teals (A. crecca)
nest on islands and shores of lakes in the reserve. Long-tailed
duck (Clangula hyemalis) is the most abundant migrating
sea-duck here and goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) is common
in large and small lakes.
In summer, the zapovedniks forests are filled with
the songs of passerines: chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs),
bramblings (F. montifringilla), rustic buntings (Emberiza
rustica), chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita), redstarts
(Phoenicurus phoenicurus), and others. The song
grows quiet only with the coming of night.
In winter, many birds migrate south, leaving only a few species
to glide through the snowy forests. Two-barred, parrot, and common
crossbills (Loxia leucoptera, L. pityopsittacus, L.
curvirostra) and kinglet (Regulus regulus) are common
among those that stay behind. Eurasian dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
lets out its song over the unfreezing rapids of the Kammenaya
Rare and endangered birds that nest in the reserve include the
golden eagle (Aquila chrysoetus), white-tailed sea eagle
(Haliaeetus albibilla), osprey (Pandion haliaetus),
and peregrin falcon (Falco peregrinus).
One species of reptile common lizard
(Lacerta vivipara), and three amphibians common
toad (Bufo bufo), brown frog (Rana temporaria),
and moor frog (R. arvalis), have been found in the reserve.
Studies to identify insects, primarily beetles and butterflies,
have turned up several rare species. More than 650 species of
butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) have been identified in the
zapovednik. More than 340 species of beetles belonging to 46 families
of Coleoptera have been found, and the number of beetles that
depend on snags and rotting logs is higher here than in many southern
forests. Of course, no reserve with forests and bogs could be
without bloodsucking insects there are eight species of
mosquitoes (Culicidae), nine species of black flies (Simuliidae),
and 16 species of horseflies (Tabanidae) in Kostomukshsky Zapovednik.
The rivers and lakes in the zapovednik are spawning
grounds for 16 species of fish, including pike (Esox lucius),
whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), grayling (Thymallus
thymallus), perch (Perca fluviatilis), cisco (Coregonus
albula), and roach (Rutilus rutilus). The freshwater
salmon (Salmo salar m. sebago) is found in Kammenoye Lake.
Freshwater pearl mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera),
which have been collected by local inhabitants for centuries in
the region, were discovered in the Kammenaya River in the zapovednik
The contiguous belt of dense pine and spruce forests, some hundreds
of years old, are broken in the reserve only by an occasional
meadow, a solemn remnant of an abandoned Karelian settlement.
While boreal forests are the dominant floral communities in the
zapovednik, many arctic-alpine species grow here at the southern
extent of their range.
Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) forests
dominate the reserve, making up 84 percent of the forested area.
Norway spruce (Picea abies) forests cover about 16 percent
of the zapovednik Birch (Betula pubescens, B. pendula)
and aspen (Populus tremula) are found in along river banks
and in areas of natural disturbance. From above, the zapovednik
looks like a patchwork of dark green spruce forests, light green
pine stands, and yellowish-green peat bogs. Many of the forests
in the surrounding area have been logged, making the zapovednik
one of the few examples of intact forests in Karelia.
The coniferous forests are relatively low and
the crowns thin and narrow, due to the difficult growing conditions.
Marsh tea (Ledum palustre) flowers on the forest floor
and bog bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) burst with sweet
blue nectar. Pine forests with bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
and cowberry (V. vitis-idae) undergrowth are the most widespread
in the reserve. Their understory consists of ash (Sorbus aucuparia),
willow (Salix caprea), gray alder (Alnus incana),
and juniper (Juniperus communis). Pine forests with lichens
and heather (Calluna vulgaris) on the forest floor are
much more limited in distribution, and are found mainly in the
lower reaches of the Kammenaya River. Here, lichens from the Cladina
genus blanket the ground along with xerophilous shrubs, such as
heather, cowberry, and crowberry (Empetrum nigrum). Spruce
forests with grassy undergrowth or bilberry grow on the rich soils
along streams and at the foot of hills. The increasing frequency
of forest fires over the past few centuries due to increased human
presence has led to changes in forest composition: forests used
to be composed primarily of spruce trees more than 1000 years
ago, while pine dominates today.
Bogs and swamps cover about 12 percent of the
territory. The northwestern and southern parts of the reserve
have the most swamps, some which are as large as one square kilometer.
Swamps are generally located in narrow depressions of valleys
and only in broad flat areas do they form open bogs with sphagnum
moss (Spagnum fuscum). Four types of swamps are found in
the zapovednik: lowland swamps with spruce forests, raised swamps
with dwarf trees, open bogs, and open swamps with rich vegetation.
Nearly 400 species of vascular plants have
been identified in the zapovednik. Bilberry, cowberry, cranberry
(Oxyccos palustris), and cloudberry (R. arcticus)
provide bountiful harvests. Four plant species are listed in the
Russian Red Book and five other species in the Karelian Red Book.
Additionally, there are 124 species of lichens. Alectoria sarmentosa
trails from pine and birch trunks and spruce branches like long
beards, and is an indicator of clear air and moist microclimatic
conditions. Rare species of lichens include Lobaria pulmonaria
and Bryoria fremonti. Cladonia amaurocraea and
Chrysothrix chlorina grow on rocks along Kammenoye Lake.
Two threatened species of mushrooms have been identified in the
zapovednik: Leccinum percandidum and Hericium coralloides.
The latter grows on rotting trunks of deciduous trees and resembles
Nearly 50 species of aquatic plants have been
recorded in Kammenoye Lake, a large number for a remote lake poor
in nutrients. Here, threatened species include Lobelia dortmanna,
Isoetes lacustris, and I. setacea. Kostomukshsky Zapovednik
is the only reserve in Russia where Isoetes lacustris is
found, while the other two species are found only in Kostomukshsky
and Kivach zapovedniks in Karelia.
The reserve has a large variety of soils,
distributed in a mosaic pattern. Weakly developed soils (Leptosols)
formed where bedrock is near the surface. Boulder fields and rocky
places are numerous. Ferric podzols, humus podzols, and gley podzols
are the most common soil types in the reserve. Peat bog soils
(Histosols) are found in areas of excessive moisture.
Kostomukshshy Zapovednik is located in the northern
part of the Karelia Province in the Kostomukshsky District on
the border with Finland. The reserve is situated in the Kammenoye
Lake watershed. The relief of the northern part of the reserve
is mostly flat with some hills. Parallel ridges made up of granite,
the highest of which reach 250-300 meters above sea level, transect
the central and southern portions of the reserve. Canyons and
cliffs covered with ancient forests can be seen in this part of
The water divide between the Baltic and White
seas runs through the zapovednik. Lakes cover one-fifth of its
territory. Most rivers in the reserve drain into the Kammenaya
River, which joins the Chirka-Kem River, then the Kem River to
the White Sea. Some lakes and streams in the southern part of
the zapovednik flow into Botnia Bay of the Baltic Sea. The Kamennyaya
River, which means "stony", aptly describing its upper
reaches as it descends through picturesque canyons, cuts the zapovednik
almost in two. The river runs over rapids for more than 30 kilometers.
A series of lakes are strung along the Kammenaya River like beads
on a necklace, starting from Kammenoye Lake, the largest lake
in the zapovednik with over 100 sq. km of surface area. Kammenoye
Lake, most of which is protected in zapovednik, has numerous large
and small islands, dividing it into three parts. The sinuous shores
are high and rocky in the northern part of lake, sandy and strewn
with boulders in the central part of the lake, and low and swampy
with occasional hills in the southern part. The average depth
of the lake is 8.6 m, but depths in the northern waters reach
Average annual precipitation from 1946-1993 in
the zapovednik was 540 mm. Precipitation is distributed for 180-190
days throughout the year. The first snow falls generally in October,
forming stable snow cover in November. Strong winds set in for
the long, severe winter. Temperatures drop below 5oC
for 130 days of the year, rising to above 10oC for
only three months. Winter temperatures can plummet to a chilly
-40oC. The snow pack reaches 70-80 cm, and sometimes
a meter, by the end of winter. The coldest month of the year is
January, when the average temperature is -12.6oC. July
is the warmest month, when the average temperature is 15.8oC.
White nights in summer, when the sun never sets and hovers just
above the horizon, extend from the end of May through July, while
in winter the sun often doesnt lighten up the snowy landscape
for days at a time.
Kostomukshy Zapovednik was originally created to protect boreal
forest habitat for the forest reindeer and preserve salmon in
Kammenoye Lake. The zapovednik carries out long-term environmental
monitoring and ecological education activities, and participates
in environmental impact assessments of large economic projects
in the region. Kostomukshsky Zapovednik was granted a European
Diploma, awarded by the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe in 1998. Work is now underway to list the Green Belt
along the Russian-Finnish border as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since 1990, the Kostomukshsky Zapovednik has
been part of the Russian-Finnish Nature Reserve Friendship ("Druzhba").
The transboundary reserve is an important forum for cooperation
in nature conservation and sustainable nature use between Russia
and Finland. On the Finnish side, the Juortanansalon-Lapinsuon
Preserve (48 km2), the Iso-Palosen and Maariansärkkien
Preserve (39 km2), the Lentuan Preserve (50 km2),
the Elimyssalon Preserve (81 km2), and the strictly
protected Ulvinsalon Preserve (34 km2) form a network
of nature reserves protecting patches of boreal forest habitat.
These, together with Kostomukshsky Zapovednik, make up the Russian-Finnish
Nature Reserve Friendship, the first international transboundary
protected area in both Russia and in Finland.
Human activities are forbidden on the territory of Kostomukshsky
Zapovednik, with the exception of scientific research and ecological
education activities. Several routes for visitors are open in
the zapovednik, where hiking, cross-country skiing, and boating
are permitted when accompanied by a guide from the reserve. Visits
to the zapovednik can be combined with trips to the Friendship
Nature Reserve in Finland.
Threats to pristine ecosystems in the nature reserve mainly
stem from logging on adjacent lands and air pollution from the
Kostomukshsky iron ore refinery, completed in 1984. Additionally,
barbed wire barricades along the entire Russian-Finnish border
impede the movements of wild reindeer, moose, and other animals,
disrupting natural patterns and processes.
thanks to Boris Kashevarov (boris.K@onego.ru), Head of
the Scientific Department of the Kostomukshsky Zapovednik, for
providing material for this site.
Juntunen, K., and O. Isokääntä,
eds. Nature of Kainuu and the border region of Belomorskaya
Karelia. Forest Service of Finland, Vammalan Kirjapaino
Oy Publishers, 2000.
Kashevarov B. Comparative Analysis of Biodiversity
in the Finnish-Russian Friendship Nature Reserve in Biodiversity
conservation in transboundary protected areas in Europe. Ecopoint,
Praha, 1996: pp.56-61.
Lindholm, T., R. Heikkilä, and M. Heikkilä,
eds. Ecosystems, fauna and flora of the Finnish-Russian
Nature Reserve Friendship. Finnish Environment Institute,
Oy Edita Ab Publishers, Helsinki, 1997.
Sokolov, V.E. and E.E. Syroechkovsky, eds. Zapovedniks
of the USSR: Western European Part of Russia I. Mysl
publishing agency, Moscow, 1988.
Zabelina, N.M, L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova. Zapovedniks
and National Parks of Russia. Logata. Moscow, 1998.
Text prepared by Laura
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