New partnership for the benefit of Polesia’s wetlands

Our plans for wetland restoration in Ukraine are now supported by the Michael Succow Foundation. Through this new partnership, our colleagues are working on a feasibility assessment on prospective rewetting of drained peatlands in the Ukrainian part of Polesia.  

Ecosystem-based approach: human-centered, nature-friendly

Founded in 1997, the Succow Foundation is engaged in projects of nature conservation, climate change mitigation, protected area management and sustainable land use on four continents covering a variety of landscapes. The organisation possesses extensive experience working in post-Soviet countries, including Ukraine.

Recently, the Succow Foundation team implemented a three-and-a-half-year-long project “Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change and Sustainable Regional Development by Empowerment of Ukrainian Biosphere Reserves”. The ecosystem-based approach leans upon protection, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems in order to preserve or recover their natural properties. In turn, fully functional and sustainable ecosystems provide people with vital ecosystem services.

The benefits of ecosystem approach were demonstrated in practice in three pilot areas located in Ukrainian protected areas. Each of them boast clear and measurable outcomes. For example, due to rewetting of a drained swamp area in Roztochya Nature Reserve, wildfires don’t occur there anymore, the ground surface temperature has dropped.

The scientific knowledge and field experience of the Succow Foundation staff were summarized in lists of proposed protective measures and activities for different types of ecosystems, including wetlands. They can be used as guides in the prospective restoration projects in Polesia.

A wetland in the Pripyat-Stokhid National Park, Polesia, Ukraine. Photo credit: Daniel Rosengren

Rethinking the value of “healthy” wetlands 

Wetland restoration is moving higher up on the agenda in Ukraine for a number of reasons. Wetlands of the Polesia were intensively drained mainly for agriculture production between 50th and 80th of the 20th century, which have changed the hydrological regime of the entire territory. It has led to degradation and thus in many cases abandonment of the lands, drop in groundwater levels, wildfires and droughts. Drained and degraded peatlands are sources of greenhouse gases. Particles emitted during wildfires are a dangerous air pollutant and got Kyiv to the top of the cities with the highest atmospheric pollution in 2020 and 2021.

At the same time, in their natural state wetlands mitigate the impacts of climate change due to their ability to absorb and retain carbon. When functioning properly, they protect people from extreme weather events by regulating the water flow. Wetlands serve as “kidneys of the landscape” accumulating and purifying water. The importance of Polesia’s water resources for Ukraine is immense.

Olga Denyshchyk, scientific project coordinator at the Succow Foundation

“Polesia is unique and fragile. Beyond its beauty, biodiversity, cultural and historical values, it holds the strategic water resources for the Dnieper, thus for the 2/3 of the Ukrainians who drink that water. I feel privileged to work in conservation and restoration of ecosystems. That is the best job I can imagine.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in the past year made Ukrainians recall another important role of wetlands, proven many times before in the course of history: barely passable, undisturbed mires and bogs serve as natural barriers against military invasion. Thus, restoration of drained wetlands in Polesia, in the vicinity to the northern border of Ukraine, would strengthen the natural defense line. Besides, natural hydrological regime of wetlands minimizes the risk of fires caused by shelling or explosions.

Turning wishes into plans

Now, when restoration of wetlands in Ukraine is likely to be supported by stakeholders, Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Michael Succow Foundation join their knowledge and experience to push this important work forward. The foundation’s experts are currently working on feasibility assessments for potential restoration sites in the Ukrainian part of Polesia, including Ramsar sites.

Anatoliy Smaliychuk, PhD in geography, GIS expert
“In my opinion, mire and old-growth forest ecosystems should be preserved and restored in Polesia foremost. Drainage and wood felling are the hurts that hardly could be cured completely. But we need to try, otherwise the natural landscapes we can observe now will be lost forever. Since the local culture and customs are closely interwoven with nature, they are under the risk of degradation as well.”

The complex assessment is expected to cover many aspects – from spatial, ecological and hydrological characteristics to legal status of territories and stakeholder analysis. This will allow the experts to determine the territories with the best prospects for successful restoration projects, plan practical restoration measures for each area and thus make our joint efforts for the benefit of Polesia’s wetlands as impactful and efficient as possible.

Top image shows a wetland in the Pripyat-Stokhid National Park in Polesia, Ukraine. Photo credit: Daniel Rosengren
The project “Polesia – Wilderness Without Borders” is part of the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme and is funded by Arcadia. The project is coordinated by Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS).