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Polesia - Europe's largest wilderness area

Wetland protection in the south of Belarus and in the north of Ukraine

"Wilderness without borders." This could be the motto of Polesia, a lowland region in Eastern Europe characterised by forests and wetlands. The size of this region alone is impressive, with more than 186.000 square kilometres it is about half the size of Germany. Polesia literally overcomes borders because it extends across Belarusian, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian territory.
At the heart of Polesia is the 650 kilometres long river Prypiat. With its countless meanders, tributaries and oxbows, it shapes the region in a very special way: the landscape is a real labyrinth of waterbodies, islands, swamps, marsh areas and riparian forests.
Despite strong environmental impacts during Soviet times, large pristine areas of nature remained. The extensive forests offer a refuge for large mammals such as brown bear, wolf, lynx and bison, and the Prypiat floodplains are an important resting site for waterfowls, whose spring and autumn migratory pathways lead through the Polesia. The wetlands are home to numerous bird species, including endangered species such as the aquatic warbler and the greater spotted eagle. Many parts of Polesia are of international importance for nature conservation and have been recognised as UNESCO biosphere reserves or Ramsar sites.
However, this natural paradise is threatened. The biggest threats include the drainage of wetlands, the fragmentation of habitats through infrastructure and forestry expansion. In addition, the planned construction of a waterway from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea with a length of 2.000 km is likely to have devastating effects. Extensive construction works would need to be carried out in order to keep the Prypiat navigable all year round. A deepening of the riverbed, stream straightening and the construction of dykes and dams are planned. As a result, the flood regime would change dramatically and several oxbows would be destroyed.
Due to these alarming developments, FZS started its work in 2015 in the Middle Prypiat - Prypiat National Park - Almany - Stary Zadzien region, the core area of Belarusian Polesia. Our local partners conduct scientific studies on species populations and the impacts of human interventions in the Polesia. These provide the basis for developing a conservation concept for this valuable habitat and for enforcing it on a political and social level.

What exactly are we doing?

  • Strengthening the administration of protected areas in the core area of the Polesia
  • Protecting further 140.000 hectares of wilderness
  • Improving the connectivity between habitats for animals with high spatial requirements (wolf, lynx, bison, brown bear)
  • Re-wetting of drained fens and riparian forests
  • Lobbying against the construction of the planned waterway
  • Enforcing existing nature conservation laws
  • Developing new income opportunities for the local population in harmony with nature conservation
  • Nominating a section of Polesia as a UNESCO World Heritage Site