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Established: 1987
Size: 12,186 ha (122 km2)
Buffer Zone: 9,159 ha (92 km2)

Contact information:
Fedotov, Yuri Petrovich, Director

Nerussa Station,
Suzemsky raion
Bryanskaya oblast, Russia 242181

Tel: (7-083-53) 2-57-74,

Bryansky Les

Bryansky Les 
ZapovednikViewed from space, Bryansk Forest appears as a dark green island of forest in a sea of agricultural fields. The 150 km long belt of conifer and broadleaf forest, which reaches into Ukraine, is one of the last remaining intact forests in European Russia. Located at its southern tip, the Bryansky Les Zapovednik is one of the smallest nature reserves in Russia. Yet its small territory preserves an abundance of wildlife in forests and bogs along the banks of the Nerussa River. Rare animals and birds such as lynx, badger, Northern eagle owl and black stork find refuge in this magical forest.

Photo © 1997 Robert Glenn Ketchum

Zapovednik Images
Zapovednik Facts
Articles featuring this reserve in Russian Conservation News journal

Articles featuring this nature reserve in Russian Conservation News journal:

Images of Bryanksy Les
Click on each photo to see a large version.

Hoopoe Bird
© 1997 Igor Shpilenok

The hoopoe bird probes for insects using its long bill.

Nerussa River
© 1997
Igor Shpilenok

A dense forest canopy envelops a pond near the Nerussa River.

Nerussa River
© 1997
Igor Shpilenok

Tracks of otter and deer are visible on the frozen Nerussa River.

Desna River
© 1997
Igor Shpilenok

The sun rises over the broad floodplain of the Desna River.

White Lilies
© 1997 Igor Shpilenok

White lilies are a sign of summer in the Nerussa floodplain.


© 1997 Igor Shpilenok

More than 16 kinds of orchids are found in the Zapovednik.

Black Stork
© 1997 Igor Shpilenok

The rare black stork prefers to nest near isolated and impassable swamps.

White Storks
© 1997 Igor Shpilenok

White storks are sign a good fortune for local people.


Zapovednik Facts:

The Bryansk Forest is a contiguous band of forest surrounded by agricultural fields and areas of human development. It is therefore remarkable that so many large animals have been able to survive in the presence of people. Moose (Alces alces) persist despite constant hunting pressure. Wolves (Canis lupis) hunt moose in packs in the winter, but generally prefer easier prey like wild boar (Sus scofa) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). Wild boar use their hardened snouts to dig for roots in the forest floor, while roe deer graze on grasses in abandoned fields during the twilight hours. The brown bear (Ursus arctos), which almost disappeared in the region due to overhunting, is slowly making a comeback. Hunting for bears was prohibited when scientists discovered that fewer than a dozen of the animals remained in the region. In an effort to save the population and reduce inbreeding, more than 10 bear cubs were brought to the Bryansk Forest from Tsentralno-Lesnoy Zapovednik. In all, there are 297 species of vertebrates in the Bryansky Les Zapovednik, including 46 mammals, 201 birds, six reptiles, 11 amphibians, and at least 34 species of fish.

Bryansky Les is the only place in the world where all 10 species of European woodpeckers can be found, including black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), middle spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos midius), three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), and Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla), among others. Accompanied by the rattling sounds of woodpeckers overhead, male capercaillies (Tetrao urogallus) sing songs and put on elaborate displays to attract their mates in spring. Common crane (Grus grus), gray heron (Ardea cinera), corn crake (Crex crex), and other migrants fly in from warmer wintering areas for the nesting season. Black storks (Ciconia nigra), incredibly rare and shy relatives of white storks (Ciconia ciconia), cautiously select isolated, mature forests near the edges of swamps and streams for their nesting sites. Here they can easily watch for crested newts (Triturus cristatus), ground frogs (Rana terrestris), and small fish to feed their young. Spotted eagle (Aquila clanga ), marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), black kite (Milvus migrans), and tawny owl (Strix aluco) are just a few of the 16 kinds of raptors and eight owls that prey on small rodents and other vertebrates in the Bryansk Forest.


The Bryansk Forest ("Les") is located at a kind of ecological crossroads, where southern broadleaf and forest-steppe communities meet northern boreal and coniferous forest types. The intersection of two different natural systems, called biomes, makes plant life here incredibly rich and diverse. Subarctic and boreal species such as twin flower (Linneaea borealis), lousewort (Ledum palustre), willow (Salix lapponum), and Norway spruce (Picea excelsa) are found alongside European species like sedge (Carex brizoides), laserwort (Laserpitium spp.), and ash (Fraxinus excelsior). More than 750 species of vascular plants, 80 kinds of mosses, 120 lichens, and 120 types of mushrooms are found in the zapovednik and surrounding territories. Rare species of plants, including 16 kinds of orchids, also occur in the reserve.

Forests cover more than 60% percent of the zapovednik. Pine forests, which once concealed Partisan bunkers during World War II, thrive on sandy soils of ancient river terraces. Scotch pine stands (Pinus sylvestris), many having regenerated after heavy logging in the mid-1900s, cover one-third of the zapovednik; mixed oak and pine forests make up one-quarter; and broadleaf forests account for one-tenth. Broadleaf trees, mainly found in loamy soils of flooplains and river valleys, include common oak (Quercus robur ), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), small-leaved linden (Tilia cordata), and others. Ancient oak trees, some 300 years old, stand majestically along river banks as monuments to a much earlier time.

The banks of the Nerussa River overflow in the spring, flooding oak forests, black alder (Alnus glutinosa) swamps, and floodplain meadows for as long as two months. Wetlands are important sites for purifying and storing excess flood and rain water. Vegetation in these marshy communities include reeds, grasses, and sedges such as Phragmites australis, Glyceria maxima, Carex acuta, C. cespitosa and C. omskiana. Impassable sphagnum bogs are home to hairy birch (Betula pubescens), slender sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), woodreed (Calamagrostis canescens), peatmoss (Sphagnum fallax and S. Flexuosum), and other species. Woodland bogs and sphagnum swamps make up 15% of the reserve.

Geographical Features

Bryansky Les Zapovednik is located on the boundary of the Suzemsky and Trubchevsky administrative districts of the Bryansk Oblast. The reserve is less than 10 miles from the border with Ukraine. Perhaps this corner of the forest was preserved because it was located near the border of district, state, and country - far from centers of human disturbance.

The Bryansk Forest is a 150 km long band of forest that extends along the left bank of the Desna River, into Ukraine. The word "Bryansk" comes from "debryansk," which means debris - a description of the impenetrable Bryansk Forest from centuries ago. The zapovednik is situated at the southern end of the Bryansk Forest, and is bisected by the Nerussa River, a tributary of the Desna. The Desna River is one of the last free-flowing rivers on the European continent. Its annual flooding plays an influential role in the life of the zapovednik, replenishing fields, forests, and wetlands with nutrients each year. In springtime, boats are the only mode of transportation until the roads and trails dry out after the floods, usually by June or July.

Conservation Status

The greatest threat to the Bryansky Les Zapovednik is its small size in comparison to the surrounding communities, where unemployment following the collapse of collective farms has hit hard, causing an increase in poaching violations. Fortunately, 16 protected nature refuges have been established near the zapovednik, where limited hunting and fishing are allowed. But to maintain viable wildlife populations, additional buffer zones and corridors connecting these protected areas will be crucial. Towards that end, in 2001, Bryansky Les Zapovednik was made the core of the Nerusso-Desnianskoe-Polesie biosphere reserve.

In order to ensure long-term conservation of the Bryansk Forest, the zapovednik works with local communities to gain support for the nature reserve system. The reserve carries out an active education program based at its modern visitor's center and museum. The progressive education department works with children from all over the region, helping to raise the environmental consciousness of the next generation of decision-makers. A non-profit NGO "Friends of the Bryansk Forest" was established in 1997 to build support for conservation of the Bryansk Forest on a broader scale, and to create a series of nature films for television.


Written by Laura Williams, based on materials by Igor Shpilenok, Yuri Fedotov, and Serguei Kossenko of Bryansky Les Zapovednik.

For more information on environmental education in the Bryansky Les Zapovednik, CLICK HERE

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