Gigantic mires, floodplains and wet meadows

Polesia is one of the largest and most impressive wilderness areas in Europe. Its expansive mires, floodplains, and wet meadows provide vital habitat for large numbers of globally declining wetland species.  The wetlands and forests of Polesia stretch across Belarus and Ukraine, spreading into Russia in the East and Poland in the West. This massive lowland region covers more than 18 million hectares – about half the size of Germany.

Diverse range of habitats

The core area of Polesia is formed by the river Pripyat. It is one of the last major rivers in Europe not straightened, diverted, or otherwise seriously modified. It still has countless meanders, tributaries, cut-offs, and floodplains and, therefore, shapes the region in a unique way. The landscape is a labyrinth of waters, islands, mires, wetlands, and floodplain forests, the kind of which that have been lost throughout the rest of Europe.

Polesia is one of Europe’s largest natural complexes of mires, fens, marshes, bogs, tree- and shrub-dominated wetlands, and ponds. Europe’s biggest peatland – the Almany Mires – covers an area over 100,000 hectares. One of the largest areas of floodplain meadows and forests can also be found here.

Great European sky migration

The Pripyat floodplains in Polesia are an important resting place for waterfowl and wading birds, whose migratory routes run through Polesia in spring and autumn. Globally endangered bird species, such as the Aquatic Warbler, Greater Spotted Eagle, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Corn Crake, and Terek Sandpiper are using the river wetlands as breeding and resting grounds during the migration. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds pass through these floodplains, including at least 150,000-200,000 European Widgeons, 200,000-400,000 Ruffs and 25,000 Black-Tailed Godwit recorded in spring. Nowhere else in central and eastern Europe are there such large concentrations of Ruff and Black-Tailed Godwit as in the floodplains of the Pripyat.

Polesia's wildlife

Polesia supports numerous species of threatened wildlife, including the aquatic warbler, greater spotted eagle, Eurasian curlew, and European mink. It is also a haven for large mammals with populations of brown bear, wolf, lynx, and the European bison. The vast natural floodplain meadows and mires provide critical spawning grounds for many fish species like the European eel. These floodplain meadows are also home to many amphibians, otters, water voles, and many rare and unique plant species.

Internationally important protected areas

Many parts of Polesia are of international importance for nature conservation and have been recognized as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, Important Bird Areas, Emerald Network, or Ramsar sites.Although significant areas are already under formal protection, the protected area system in Polesia does not ensure adequate protection of endangered species and landscapes.Find out more about threats to Polesia.

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).

This post is also available in BLR and UKR.