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Established: 1935
5,284 ha (53 km2)
Buffer zone: 7,683 ha (77 km2)

Contact information:
Vlasov, Andrey Aleksandrovich, Director

Russia 307028, Kursk Oblast, Kursk raion, pos. Zapovedny

Tel/Fax: (7-071-2) 57-72-94

Email: zapoved@kursknet.ru

Animal and plant life abounds where Russia's wide-open steppe (or grassland) meets the southern edge of the temperate forest belt. Although much of the steppe in Western Russia has been plowed and forests cleared for agriculture, island-like remnants of forest-steppe habitat have been preserved in the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik, located in the Kursk Region. The nature reserve protects the last in the world intact black earth soils, also known as chernozem - the broad strip of fertile land that stretches across southern Russia. Each spring the steppe bursts into bloom, the hues gradually changing from the golden-yellow of cowslip and pheasant's-eye, to the pale blue of forget-me-nots and speedwells, to the shimmering azure of feathergrass and meadow clary. Created in 1935 to preserve the last unplowed areas of original steppe habitat, today the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik protects a mixture of steppe, forest, and swamp communities on six different territories.

Photo © 2000 Igor Shpilenok (Click on photo for enlargement)

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

Articles featuring this nature reserve in Russian Conservation News journal:

Images of Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik
Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

Blister beetles feed on honeysuckle and fruit trees. A powder of the dried bugs was traditionally used as an antiseptic.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

Long stems of oxeye daisy cloak grassy hills in white in summertime.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

Patches of rare fernleaf peony the Streletsky Steppe.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

The blind mole-rat spends most of its life underground, coming up only to burrow a new den.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

Shimmering wisps of this rare feathergrass are punctured by bright purple blossoms of drooping wild sage.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

Two stag beetles fight for dominance.The endangered stag beetle feeds and reproduces predominately in oak forests.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

Rare swallowtail butterflies prefer open areas. The larvae develop mostly on flowers in the Umbelliferae family.

© 2000 Andrey Vlasov

Delicate pink flowers of rose daphne mingle with yellow pheasant's-eye in spring.



Facts: Tsentralno-Chernozemny Bioshpere Zapovednik


The convergence of steppe and forest habitats attracts animals from both northern and southern biotopes to the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik. In all, 46 mammals are found in the nature reserve, making up three-quarters of the mammals in the Kursk Region. The largest of these are moose (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and wild boar (Sus scrofa). Wild boars came to the region in the 1950s and 1960s, and have plowed up the steppe with their powerful snouts ever since, causing a great deal of damage. Moose browse on young trees in broadleaf forests, while roe deer feed on grasses, berries, and mushrooms and - in wintertime - on the twigs, buds, and dry leaves of trees and bushes.

The nature reserve is also refuge to a number of smaller mammals, including red fox (Vulpes vulpes), badger (Meles meles), and European hare (Lepus europaeus). Pine and stone martens (Martes martes, M. foina) became common in the reserve beginning in the mid-1950s. The smallest predator in the zapovednik is the weasel (Mustela nivalis), whose coat turns from brown and white in the summer to brilliant white in the winter. Siberian polecat (Mustela eversmanni) is also common in the forest-steppe zone. The polecats feed on common voles (Microtus arvalis), mice (Apodemus sylvaticus, A. flavicollis), and spotted ground squirrels (Citellus suslicus). Polecats even dig for blind mole-rats (Spalax microphthalmus), which live their entire lives underground. Blind mole-rats are well adapted for life underground. They have no tails or ear cavities, and their eyes are closed under a layer of skin. The animal comes to the surface only once in its life to burrow a new den. The mole-rat digs tunnels by breaking up the soil with its incisors and pushing it above ground with its shovel-like head. Earthen mounds dot the ground where the blind mole-rats are prevalent.

More than 200 species of birds have been sighted on the six different territories of the zapovednik. Migratory birds include chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Northern starling (Sturnus vulgaris), crested lark (Galerida cristata), and common quail (Cotunrnix coturnix). The migratory European golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus) - one of the most beautiful birds in the reserve - is difficult to see, since it usually stays in the tops of trees and rarely comes down to the ground. Its lovely flute-like song can be heard nearly every day in summertime. A number of birds live in the forest and steppe habitat of the reserve year round including gray partridge (Perdix perdix), great tit (Parus major), and others. The loud screeches of corn crakes (Crex crex) can be heard during the breeding season, when the males are ready to fight with any opponent that crosses their paths. The colorful Eurasian roller (Coracias garrulus), with its brown back and blue shoulders, nests in hollow cavities of trees. The Eurasian roller is the only bird that is known to carry its young from one nest to another. Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) thrives in broadleaf forests. The hoopoe (Upupa epops), with its beautiful feathered crest and pinkish coloring, nests in tree cavities, dens, and rock piles. The black kite (Milvus migrans), which can be seen soaring high above the plain in search of prey, is one of the larger predatory birds nesting in the zapovednik. Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and common buzzard (Buteo buteo) also nest in the reserve.

There are very few amphibians in the zapovednik. Sometimes green toads (Bufo viridis) and spadefoot toads (Pelobates fuscus) can be seen in the steppe while moor frogs (Rana terrestris) stay in the more moist forested areas. Reptiles are more numerous and play an important role in the diet of predatory mammals and birds. Renard's viper (Vipera ursini) and sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) are common in open steppe habitats.

Insects are the most numerous group in the animal kingdom. Over 1,000 species of beetles are found in the reserve, including the blister beetle (Lytta vesicatoria) and stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) pictured above. The swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon) is one of the more than 800 species of butterflies identified in the reserve. Many species of bees (Apis spp.) and bumblebees (Bombus spp.) benefit from the variety of insects and flowers and help to pollinate the steppe.


In the early 1900s, Professor Vasily Alekhin from Moscow State University visited his hometown of Kursk. He went to the market and saw peasants selling hay with an astounding number of plant species. He asked the peasants where they had cut the hay, and they directed him to the Streletsky Steppe, not far from Kursk. He found the area and later returned there time and time again to research steppe vegetation. Amazed by the state of preservation of steppe habitat and the large number of plant species, Professor Alekhin called for the protection of these unique ecosystems. He wrote articles in scientific journals, presented papers at conferences, and in the end his efforts led to protection of the Streletsky, Kazakhsky, and Yamsky steppe habitats when the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik was created in 1935. The Yamsky steppe was later transferred to the management of the Belogorye Zapovednik in the Belgorod Region.

Chernozem soil, also known as "black earth", is known for its high nutrient content, grainy structure, and excellent drainage properties. The humus layer is as deep as 80 to 100 cm below the surface, while plant roots reach more than half a meter into the soil. Because the soil is so fertile, much of the steppe was plowed for agriculture, and only a few remnants have been spared, mainly in the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik.

Today, the zapovednik protects six different territories with a combined area of 53 km2. Nearly half of the reserve area is occupied by steppe and meadow vegetation, while more than one-third is forest, and less than ten percent of the land is swamp habitat. The original Streletsky and Kazakhsky sections of the reserve protect intact steppe habitats, which were miraculously preserved into the 20th century. At the end of the 16th century, these lands were awarded to the Strelets and Kazakh peoples for their honorary service in guarding the southern border of Russia at the Kursk Fortress. For generations afterwards, the Strelets and Kazakh peoples used the lands for grazing horses and haymaking. For this reason, the lands were never plowed, unlike the most of the steppe in the surrounding region.

The steppe habitat found in the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik is made up of northern meadow steppe vegetation, which is richer in plant species and color than steppe vegetation in the South. More than 70 percent of the plants found in the Kursk Region are represented in the small territory of the zapovednik. Gramineous plants such as smooth and meadow bromes (Bromus inermis, B. riparius) and others dominate. During the spring and summer, large numbers of plants come into bloom, successively cloaking the steppe in five to eight different hues during the warm season. In mid-April, purple pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) brightens the brown backdrop of dead grasses, emerging from beneath the melting snow. Cowslip (Primua veris) and pheasant's-eye (Adonis vernalis) soon follow suit, covering the steppe in a golden-yellow hue. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis popovii) and speedwells (Veronica chamaedrys, V. prostrata) paint the steppe in pale blue in late spring. Feathergrass (Stipa pennata) and meadow clary (Salvia pratensis) lend a silvery blue shimmer to the steppe in the beginning of summer. The soft rosy blossoms of perforate St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), combined with the small yellow flowers of bedstraw (Galium spp.), color the steppe in early June. As the summer progresses, new flowers come into bloom each day. The white flowers of anemone (Anemone sylvestris) dot the steppe, along with the especially beautiful large violet flowers of bearded iris (Iris aphylla) and the purple blossoms of drooping wild sage (Salvia nutans).

Oak forests (Quercus spp.) grow in the hollows and depressions of the hilly terrain. Wild fruit trees like blackthorn prune (Prunus spinosa), wild apple (Malus sylvestris), wild pear (Pyrus communis), and bird cherry (Padus racemosa) blossom in forest clearings and in small clumps in the steppe. Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Solomon's seal (Polygonatum officinale), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), and shaker (Briza media) are found in floodplain meadows and forest clearings. A few plants are representative of steppe vegetation generally found further south, such as spurge (Euphorbia seguierana), steppe kale (Crambe tatarica), bulbous meadow-grass (Poa bulbosa), and others. These plants are located at the northern edge of their range in the zapovednik.

The Bukreeva Barma and Barkhalovka sections of the reserve protect chalk hills, which harbor vegetation spared from the last Iceage. In these two parts of the reserve, the hilly relief hosts a diverse array of vegetation. Karst depressions, fresh water springs, and swamps are common. With the addition of the Barkhalovka and Bukreeva Barma territories in 1969, new plant species representative of forest and wetland areas were included in the reserve.

The remaining two sections of the reserve protect swamplands and floodplain forests. The Zorinsky Lowlands are made up mostly of swamp habitat, and include sphagnum swamps and forest hollows. This section of the reserve is important for protecting rare plants found nowhere else in the Kursk Region, including bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa), rannoch-rush (Scheuchzeria palustris), and string sedge (Carex chardorrhiza). The Psel River Floodplain protects broadleaf floodplain forests, oxbow lakes, and swamp areas.

A total of 1120 vascular plants, 140 mosses, 810 mushrooms, and 120 lichens are found in the reserve. Many flowers have succulent nectar sought after by bees for making honey, while other plants are valued for their medicinal or decorative properties. Bees are attracted to holy clover (Onobrychis arenaria), meadow clary, and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Medicinal plants found in the reserve include Russian valerian (Valeriana rossica), pheasant's-eye, perforate St. John's wort, and others. Plants sought after for decoration are speedwell (Veronica incana) and fernleaf peony (Paeonia tenuifolia). Eighteen species of plants are listed in the Russian Red Book of rare and endangered species including: Androsace kozo-poljansk, Daphne cneorum, Stipa dasyphylla, S. pennata, S. pulcherrima, Cypripedium calceolus, Paeonia tenuifolia, Fritillaria ruthenica, Cotoneaster alaunicus, Bulbocodium versicolor, and Hedysarum grandiflorum

Geographical Features

The Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik is located in the Central Russian Uplands. The Streletsky and Kazakhsky territories are part of the Dnepr River Basin, and are located in the Kursk and Medvensky administrative districts, respectively. The Bukreeva Barma and Barkhalovka sections are part of the Don River Basin, and are located in the Manturovsky and Gorshechensky administrative regions. The Zorinsky Lowlands and Psel Floodplain are located in the Oboyansky and Pristensky administrative districts. The Streletsky Steppe territory is only 10 km from Kursk, the capital city of the region. Smokestacks are visible over the grassy hills of the reserve. The furthest section of the reserve is nearly 140 km away from the Streletsky territory and the reserve headquarters.

The reserve has very few lakes or rivers. Only two ponds are located in the Streletsky section. In the Barkhalovka section, springs coming from the foot of a hill form a swampy area in a hollow. Animals generally drink from depressions in the forest floor where rain and meltwater collect. There are approximately 190 days of precipitation per year, most of which occur in the autumn, winter, and spring. The average annual temperature in the reserve is 5.3oC. The coldest months of the year are January and February, when the temperatures average - 9oC. In the summertime, temperatures average 17 to 19oC.

Conservation Status

Intact steppe ecosystems in the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik have been preserved to this day due to a combination of natural and managed factors. Originally, steppe habitat was maintained by large herds of tur (Bos taurus) and saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), which roamed the southern grasslands of Western Eurasia. Tur were hunted to near extinction in Europe by the end of the 16th century. Later, steppe lands not plowed for agriculture were used as pasturelands for horses and cattle. Natural fires played a role in rejuvenating vegetation and maintaining steppe habitat. Without grazing or fires, the northern steppe regions would have been taken over by forests. The Streletsky and Kazakhsky steppes of the Kursk Region have been under strict protection in the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik since 1935. Since grazing is prohibited and wildfires are generally extinguished to minimize risks to neighboring villages, steppe ecosystems must be maintained artificially or forest vegetation will begin to dominate and the last remnants of natural steppe will be lost.

In order to ensure optimal management regimes of unique steppe habitat, the staff of Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik carries out experimental techniques on different plots of the reserve. Scientists monitor changes and determine the effects on species diversity. Part of the steppe in the reserve is strictly protected and no human intervention is permitted, while a segment of the steppe is mowed annually to allow vegetation to regenerate, imitating the effects of grazing. Another territory of steppe is mowed nine years in a row, then allowed to lay fallow for a year. Small numbers of cattle are allowed to graze in yet another section of steppe in order to monitor changes under a grazing regime. Controlled burns are carried out on a three-hectare portion of steppe. All of the forest habitats in the reserve are strictly protected.

Although these techniques of intervention are controversial in some scientific circles, years of research have proven their benefits. For one, plant species diversity is higher in areas that are mowed. In areas where cattle are allowed to graze, plant composition varies, since livestock avoid poisonous plants and spread the seeds of other species with their hooves. In areas under absolute protection, grasses die naturally each year, forming a thick mat, causing the vegetative cycle to begin later than in mowed areas. Sparse trees and bushes in the strictly protected parts give the landscape a savanna-like appearance.

Due to the large number of villages surrounding the reserve, poaching, illegal grazing, and unauthorized collection of wild berries, mushrooms, and medicinal and decorative plants hinder conservation measures. A one-kilometer wide buffer zone circles each of the territories of the reserve, where natural resource use is monitored to ensure that practices are compatible with the goals of the zapovednik. Currently, measures are being taken to enforce three-kilometer wide buffer zones around the newer Zorinsky and Psel Floodplain sections of the reserve. Other threats to the integrity of steppe ecosystems include burning of agricultural lands near the reserve, as well as use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, although the buffer zones somewhat protect the land in the zapovednik.

Perhaps the greatest threat to long-term conservation of steppe and forest habitats in the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik is the small size of the territories, and the fact that they are isolated from one another. Currently, a system of corridors and stepping-stones is being developed, which would consist of a variety of protected area types such as natural monuments, sanctuaries, and additional strictly protected areas of the zapovednik. Some parts of this proposed ecological network have already been created. Certain important areas need to be granted more strict protection, such as the Sura Woods, currently a sanctuary, and the Makavey Lake.

UNESCO granted Biosphere status to the zapovednik in 1979. In 1995, the reserve joined the European Federation of National Parks and Protected Areas. In 1998, a European Diploma was awarded to the Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik.


The zapovednik has published more than 830 scientific works and 14 books on scientific research carried out in the nature reserve. For information on how to obtain these materials, please contact the reserve.

Text by Laura Williams.

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