MAB and Ramsar cooperation in the Polesie region

05/07/2004

Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine working with MAB and Ramsar

On 17-18 June 2004, the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MaB) of UNESCO invited national experts for a working meeting concerning the establishment of a Polesie transboundary Biosphere Reserve (BR) and regional ecological network in the Polesie region shared between Belarus, Poland and Ukraine. In addition to Mireille Jardin & Jane Robertson of the MaB programme, participants included representatives of the countries' national UNESCO commissions or representations in Paris, Helene Bouguessa from the Council of Europe (presenting the Pan-European Ecological Network in preparation) and the Senior Advisor for Europe from the Ramsar Secretariat.

The Transboundary Biosphere Reserve

In 2002, the Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (BR) for Polesie was set up with the adoption of the West Polesie BR in eastern Poland, ajacent to the Shatskiy BR in Ukraine's northwestern corner. Now, the newly nominated Pribuzhskoye-Polesie BR along the Bug river floodplain in adjacent Belarus needs to be incorporated into a true Transboundary Biosphere Reserve. National experts Natalia Rybianets from the Belarus Academy of Sciences, Alicia Breymeyer of the Polish Academy od Sciences, and Yakhiv Didukh of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences outlined the areas that still need to be incorporated into the trilateral BR and discussed the need for zonation into the categories: core conservation zone, buffer zone, and transition zone for sustainable development. The three country experts also made detailed proposals on future work, including the creation of a trilateral Steering Committee and of an advisory Scientific Council, likely to have their first meeting in autumn 2004.

The Polesie Region

The wider Polesie region contains some of Europe's richest natural treasures, in the North the large Bialowieza / Belaveszhskaia Pushcha forest and swamps, shared by Poland and Belarus, with the last wild roaming European bisons, or the unique Pripyat floodplain, Europe's "Amazonia", shared between Belarus and Ukraine, with its spectacular spring floods. Thus, the three countries have already designated a number of Wetlands of International Importance (or Ramsar Sites) in this region, which forms an important node in linking the drainage basins of the Baltic and Black Seas. Thus, quite some time was devoted to discussing the extent of existing ecological corridors and identifying those in need of rehabilitation.

Ramsar Sites, Biosphere Reserves and Ecological Corridors

Four (of the seven) existing Ramsar Sites in Belarus are situated close to the proposed Biosphere Reserve: Mid-Pripyat State Landscape Zakaznik, Zvanets Fen Mire, Olmany Mires Zakaznik and Sporovsky Biological Reserve. To the east, Pripyatski National Park and Prostyr Zakaznik in the Pripyat floodplain, the Bieloie Fishfarm and the Polesie Zapovednik (as part of the programme for rehabilitation of Chernobyl-affected areas in Belarus) could easily be included into a regional ecological network and would fulfil the criteria for Ramsar designation.

Poland is about to designate Poleski National Park as a Ramsar Site with its calcareous mires, marshes and peatlands, situated in the core zone of the West Polesie BR. Further north, Biebrza National Park was designated as a Ramsar Site in 1995, covering parts of the Biebrza floodplain, and Narwianski National Park, covering parts of the Narew floodplain, is in the process of designation. The Bug river forms the border between the three countries -- parts of its floodplains shared between Poland and Ukraine and further downstream between Poland and Belarus, need to be included into the Trilateral Biosphere Reserve and should be designated as Ramsar Sites.

In Ukraine, Shatsk Lakes Ramsar Site is part of the existing Shatskiy BR. Two other existing Ramsar Sites, Pripyat and Stokhid River Floodplains further east, are ideally situated to be included in an ecological network for the Polesie area. They should form transboundary Ramsar Sites with areas downstream on the Belarus side. The Perebrody Peatlands, further east, for which Ramsar designation is under way, form a hydrological unit with the Olmany Mires Ramsar Site in Belarus. Thus, a transboundary Ramsar Site will soon be established. Polissia Mires is another Ukrainian Ramsar Site currently in the process of designation, situated further east along the border with Belarus.

This trilateral area, with three Biosphere Reserves, eight existing and four Ramsar Sites in the process of designation, plus another four major wetland sites in the wider surroundings, is definitely an important European region for wetland conservation and sustainable development. Therefore, the Ramsar Secretariat encourages national Ramsar focal points to work together with their national MaB colleagues to establish the transboundary Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Sites. Initial contacts across the border should be followed up by regular consultations, cooperation and joint actions. Elaboration of a common management planning document may become a priority task. Ultimatively, coordinated and common activities across the border would reflect the joint administration of a shared site and ecosystem. Poland as a new EU member state is likely to be in a position to mobilise some funds for joint activities with its Polesian neighbours.

-- reported by Tobias Salathé

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