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Bryansky Les Zapovednik
Not Just a Nature Reserve

Every Russian has heard of the famous Bryansk Forest, a massive intact band of forest stretching more than 150 kilomteres along the left bank of the Desna River, its southern tip reaching into Ukraine. The Bryansk Forest provided protection to over 60,000 Partisans during World War II, and since then its valuable natural resources have helped people to survive and rebuild their lives after the devastation of war. In the years following the war, two times more wood was harvested from the forest than was naturally produced. Unfortunately, the role of the forest in conserving wildlife is poorly understood even to this day, and as a result, native species like brown bear, lynx, badger, Northern eagle owl, osprey, golden eagle and others are disappearing right before our eyes.

In 1987, the Bryansky Les (forest) Zapovednik was created to conserve natural ecosystems of the Bryansk Forest. Originally, the reserve was designed to cover an area of 700 square kilometers, but the Forest Service and collective farms refused to contribute part of their lands to the zapovednik. As a result, the Bryansky Les Zapovednik is one of the smallest in Russia, covering an area of only 120 square kilometers and protecting less than 1% of the forests in Bryanskaya Oblast (region). But there is an abundance of life on this small territory: five bears hibernated in the zapovednik last winter; a lone lynx roams the area; each spring more than 20 pairs of the rare black stork come to nest in the zapovednik; and many more species of birds and mammals make their home here.
However, due to its small size, the Bryansky Les Zapovednik is unable to sufficiently protect all of the unique diversity of the forest and the neighboring floodplain ecosystems. In the first years of the reserve's existence, the scientific staff studied habitats and ecosystems around the zapovednik to identify important areas which required further protection, including the rich floodplain of the Desna River, virgin oak forests along the Nerussa River, and sphagnum swamps. Rare and endangered species like black stork, osprey, many orchid plants, and other species all depend on these habitats. However, expansion of the zapovednik, with its strict protection regime, was almost impossible considering the region is one of the most heavily populated in Russia.

Thus, the idea was born to create a network of multi-use nature reserves of regional significance called "zakazniks" and "natural monuments" to protected unique landscapes and endangered ecosystems around the zapovednik. Landscape zakazniks aim to protect the overall landscape features of the territory, while allowing traditional nature use. Zakazniks have a protection regime similar to that of the buffer zone around the zapovednik: clearcutting, drainage of wetlands, and use of chemical substances--forms of nature use which have devastating impact on natural ecosystems--are strictly prohibited, while collection of berries, mushrooms, firewood, cutting hay, tourism, and fishing are all permitted. Natural monuments are areas with the same protection regime as zakazniks, but typically smaller and created entirely for purposes of ecological education.

Since 1987, 10 landscape zakazniks and 2 natural monuments were created, increasing the protected area of the Bryansk Forest to almost three times more than the zapovednik territory alone. Igor Shpilenok, Director of the Bryansky Les Zapovednik, committed enormous amounts of time and energy to creation of the zakazniks, each of which required a three-level approval process, including among land users, local administrators, and oblast level authorities. Plans are underway for further expansion of the network in the Desna River floodplain, an important flyway for migratory birds. The zapovednik's ranger service carries out protection measures jointly with local land users and game management authorities. According to special legislation, the zapovednik ranger service has wide-ranging rights to conduct raids and searches of suspected poachers on all of the territories.

Thanks to this network of reserves, nearly all of the significant natural areas in the southern part of the Bryansky Forest are now under protection, and many areas targeted for exploitation were preserved. For example, the Skripinsky Zakaznik, on the border with Ukraine, preserves the largest sphagnum swamp and cranberry patch in Bryansk Oblast. This wetland area, which was formed over a period of several thousand years, is crucial for maintaining the natural hydrological processes of the Bryansk Forest. Plans were already underway to drain the area and open it to peat production. Creation of the landscape zakaznik saved the area just in time. Other important virgin oak forests, preserved miraculously for hundreds of years due to their inaccessibility, were threatened when a new road of was constructed in the region. Quick action helped protect these areas by creating the Kolodez and Nerussy-Sevny landscape zakazniks.

The network of zakazniks in the Bryansk Forest are important not only for saving endangered species and their habitats, but they are also significant for local people. Had many of these areas been drained or logged, there would no longer be cranberry patches in the swamps or mushrooms in the forest. Many spiritual and historical monuments are under protection in zakazniks--the Trubchevsk Partisan Forest zakaznik includes a concentration camp and bunkers left over from World War II. Natural springs and religious sites are protected in zakazniks as well.

The system of zakazniks is especially important for building ecological awareness in the region, which will in turn allow conservation and sustainable development of the entire Bryank Forest over the long-term. Since the territory of the zapovednik is too small to allow large scale visitation, neighboring zakazniks and natural monuments with similar habitats provide an excellent opportunity for teaching children about nature hands on. The Terebushka natural monument, an area covering less than two square kilometers, surrounds the headquarters and ecological education center of the zapovednik. The territory was specially created to serve as a "mini-zapovednik" and includes all the different habitats represented in the zapovednik - wetlands, stream ecosystem, mixed coniferous forest, virgin oak, and more. Visitors of all ages are guided along a nature trail through the different habitats.

Although the zapovednik has taken the lead in creation and management of the zakaznik and natural monument network, we welcome efforts by local community groups to take responsibility for protection of the territories. This year, we launched an "adopt a zakaznik" program with one of the local schools. Suzemka High School No. 1 adopted the Nerussa-Sevny Zakaznik, which is conveniently located one train stop away from the regional administrative center of Suzemka. Representatives of the zapovednik guided a group of teachers and students through the zakaznik and provided them with maps and an information packet on the different habitats and species found in the reserve. The students put up signs along a nature trail, cleaned up trash left by fishermen and tourists, and learned about the natural features and wildlife of the area. The school biology club visits the area and conducts research regularly. Students write articles for the local paper about their impressions and ask residents to cooperate in protection of the zakaznik. Hopefully, this initiative will serve as an example to other schools to follow suit.

The system of nature reserves of the Bryansk Forest forms the core part of a strategy to conserve natural and cultural treasures of the region. The network is the basis for creation of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, documentation for which is already underway. Plans include creation of a transboundary national park on the border of Russia and Ukraine, on the base of the existing Skripkinsky zakaznik. But even an excellent system of protected areas is not enough to protect the Bryansk Forest in the long-term, when logging of areas not under protection is the only way to gain income for a depressed economy. Society must learn that conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of the forest resources _s important not only for wildlife but for people, too. For this reason, local activists and members of the zapovednik staff are taking steps to reach out and gain public support and participation in conserving the Bryansk Forest. In December 1997, the non-profit Society for Friends of the Bryansk Forest was created to promote conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of the Bryansk Forest on a broader level than is possible within the system of protected areas. The Society is working to unite active people who share the belief that nature has intrinsic value and does not exist only for the sake of mankind. A membership base is being created to support conservation projects, such as reintrodution of the European bison and saving the brown bear population, and media campaigns, including a series of films on nature of the Bryansk Forest and the annual holiday ""Live! Bryansk Forest", held on Earth Day. Members receive regular updates on projects to conserve the Bryansk Forest and on the Bryansky Les Zapovendik, invitations to participate in various activities and expeditions, a membership card, and more. If you would like to become a member of the Society for Friends of Bryansk Forest or would like to receive more information, please write to:

Society for Friends of the Bryansk Forest
Russia 241000 Bryansk
Glavpochtamp Box 150

Laura Williams
Deputy Chair of the Society for Friends of the Bryansk Forest

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