Belarus names four new Ramsar sites

23/01/2003

The Ramsar Bureau is very pleased to announce, somewhat belatedly, that Belarus has designated four new Wetlands of International Importance as of 21 October 2002, slated for announcement in November but delayed by Ramsar COP8 and its fallout. Belarus first became active in the Convention in 1999 (with its succession to the former Soviet Union, dated August 1991), and quickly added two more large and interesting sites to its obligatory first one. The four new sites bring Belarus' total to seven Ramsar sites covering 276,307 hectares.

As with its earlier designations, the assistance of NGOs and academic institutions has been much appreciated by the authorities - for example, for the Yelnia site, Bird Conservation Belarus, the BirdLife International partner, with support from RSPB, carried out studies in 1999 in preparation for Ramsar designation, and its recommendations for stabilizing the hydrological regime of the mire are being carried out with support from Wetlands International and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. A number of other studies in 2001, financially supported by Oiseaux Migrateurs du Paléarctique Occidental (OMPO), permitted the compilation of the Ramsar Information Sheet and related work by Vitebsk State University and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

Kotra. 21/10/2002. Grodno Oblast. 10,584 ha. 54°00'N 024°30'E. Part of a large transboundary tree-dominated wetland territory adjoining Lithuania's Cepkeliai Ramsar site to the north, said to be the last area of unutilized tree-dominated wetlands in Belarus. Some 87% of the site is dominated by Black Alder Alnus glutinosa and White Birch Betula pendula, diversified by open fen mires and transition bogs and meadows, mostly concentrated in the floodplain of the River Kotra. The site supports a diverse assemblage of 633 species of vascular plants, and 156 vertebrates have been recorded. The site has a significant influence on the hydrological regime of large marsh complexes in Belarus and Lithuania and plays important regulatory role in the water balance in northwest Belarus. The site is scarcely populated (20-25 inhabitants). Remains of settlements from the Stone and Bronze Ages have been discovered, with numerous medieval burial grounds nearby, and a memorial to a World War II atrocity is present. In addition to forestry, other human uses include cattle grazing, hay making, cropping, berry- and mushroom-picking. Among potential threats to the site are drainage, river embankment, forest reclamation, fires, overgrazing, poaching, and sylvaculture. Zakaznik (reserve) status is being sought for the site, and a joint management plan with Cepkeliai has been recommended. Ramsar site no. 1216.

Osveiski. 21/10/2002. Vitebsk Oblast. 22,600 ha. 56°05'N 028°10'E. Zakaznik (Reserve). A large complex of lakes, forests, transition and bog mires located 150 km northwest of the city of Vitebsk. The core of the site is Lake Osveia, the biggest eutrophic lake in Belarus (5,300 ha, including a big island), rapidly overgrowing with aquatic vegetation but still playing a significant role in the hydrological and climatic patterns of northern Belarus. A large part of the site is represented by bog and transition mires with pine, birch and alder forests - some 30% of the area. During migration, the site hosts more than 20,000 waterbirds, but it is also an important breeding ground for several thousand pairs of grebes, ducks, cranes, waders. More than 1% of the biogeographic population of the Common Crane Grus grus and the Bean Goose Anser fabalis rossicus regularly use the site as a stopover. Ancient dwellings and mound graves from the 5th century BC to the 17th of the present era have been discovered, as well as mass graves of victims of World War II. The site is lightly populated (300 inhabitants) and human uses include logging, cattle grazing, cropping, berry-picking, mushrooms and medicinal plants picking, fishing, and hunting. Potential threats to the site are drainage, river embankment, poaching and expansion of agricultural uses. Ramsar site no. 1217.

Yelnia. 21/10/2002. Vitebsk Oblast. 23,200 ha. 55°35'N 027°52'E. Hydrological Zakaznik (Reserve). One of the largest of Belarus' complexes of bogs and transition mires, with adjacent moraine-lacustrine and glacio-lacustrine landscapes diversified by numerous lakes scattered around (and several larger lakes) and small-size mineral islands covered by small-leaved and spruce forests. Most of the mire is overgrown by pine forest. The site preserves a representative example of close-to-natural bog and regularly supports more than 20,000 waterbirds during migration, as well as more than 1% of the biogeographic population of the Common Crane Grus grus and the Bean Goose Anser fabalis rossicus. It exerts a signifcant influence on the hydrologic regime and microclimate of the region and acts as a biofilter of anthropogenic pollutants. Due to its inaccessibility, human uses are limited - berry-picking, angling, and hunting, with forestry on the periphery of the site. The most serious threat is drainage caused by ditches intended for peat works, now abandoned. Studies by BirdLife Belarus supported by RSPB, Wetlands International, and OMPO have assisted in preparing the designation data. Ramsar site no. 1218.

Zvanets. 21/10/2002. Brest Oblast. 15,873 ha. 52°05'N 024°50'E. Zakaznik (Reserve). Described as the largest European mesotrophic fen mire, diversified by small mineral islands scattered over the area and covered by forests and shrubs. There is one lake and a system of canals and ditches. It conserves a very well preserved example of sedge-Hypnum fen mires and is a hot spot for biodiversity (664 species of vascular plants, 728 species of arthropods and 168 species of vertebrates recorded) with rare, threatened and adapted-to-specific-conditions species. The site hosts three globally threatened species of birds - Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga, Corncrake Crex crex and notably the largest population of the Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola (3,000-6,000 singing males). The site has significant regulatory functions for hydrology in the region. Human uses include small-scale bee keeping, cropping, hay making, cattle grazing, and forestry, and the site is used as a temporary water storage reservoir. Main threats - deteriorated hydrologic regime, fires, logging, and extension of arable land. A management plan, elaborated by the NGO Bird Conservation Belarus/BirdLife Belarus, is about to be approved. Ramsar site no. 1219.

-- site descriptions by Sergey Dereliev, Ramsar.

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