Of wolves and eagles
There are many species in Polesia that have almost no habitat anywhere else in Europe. In recent years, the FZS and its partners have carried out a number of research and monitoring projects aimed at studying the populations of wolves, spotted eagles and bats.
Here in Belarus there are about 120 to 160 breeding pairs of spotted eagles, with about 80 per cent of them located in the Polesia region. But like everywhere in Europe, the numbers of these wonderful eagles are dwindling here, too. Monitoring of the known nests revealed that a quarter of the spotted eagle population disappeared in Belarus between 2000 and 2010 alone. First, the spotted eagles vanish from the smaller habitats or where their habitats are bisected by forest roads, for example. This is because, as a species, it tolerates no disturbance whatsoever. And it is why large wilderness areas such as Polesia are so very important for the spotted eagle. They represent its final retreats. The risk of hybridisation with lesser spotted eagles is also lower there.
Europe's largest percolation mire
Changing the image of wolves
In our opinion, the wolf should also become such a flagship. But we still have to work on changing the image of this species. In Belarus, wolves are still regarded as a "menace" and there is a long tradition of hunting them, which is still permitted here. Our goal is to change the image of the wolf and to move from hunting them to setting up targeted wolf management programmes.
There are very few areas where wolves can feel safe in Belarus. The large alluvial areas of Polesia offer such refuge. Even though wolves do not necessarily require pristine wilderness, the presence of an alpha predator is important for an ecosystem like Polesia. Hunting is forbidden in the border region between Belarus and Ukraine, meaning that they can live here undisturbed. In 2018 we fitted transmitter collars to two wolves there: a solitary male and a young female. These transmitters revealed, surprisingly, that the two crossed the border relatively frequently. They spent half the time in Ukraine, the other half in Belarus.
Bats with transmitters
We are interested in identifying not only the territory of wolves, but also that of bats. The expansive fenland of Almany is relatively inaccessible, meaning that the only option we had was to equip bats with a GPS transmitter in order to track their movements. The greater noctule bat is the only suitable bat for such monitoring because, with a body weight of around 60 grams, it is the only species that is able to carry the GPS transmitter (which weighs around three grams). In 2016 we were surprised to be able to prove the species' presence in Belarus. That was a minor sensation because it was otherwise thought only to inhabit southern regions. For this reason we wanted to find out more about the greater noctule bat and also discover where it lives and hunts in Polesia.
We were somewhat surprised by the results of our monitoring. Bats need old forest, but not necessarily wilderness, for their habitat. It turned out, however, that the greater noctule bat was at home deep in the Stary Zadzine Reserve. The pug and bicoloured bat are also commonly found here. The bats carrying the transmitters led us to the structures they need for their colonies and sizable nurseries: large, old, dead trees. The greater noctule bats showed us that they like to hunt over the burned areas of the Almany fen mire. The bats benefit from the destruction caused by wildfires in dry summers. As soon as the insects return there in large numbers, there is plenty of food for them. Expansive natural landscapes with their diversity of structures are indispensable for the conservation of our European natural heritage. This is shown by the data on the occurrence of the greater noctule bat in Polesia.