Threats to Polesia's natural landscape

Polesia’s vast natural landscapes are at risk. Climate change, fragmentation, wetland drainage, intensive forestry, infrastructure development, illegal mining, and unsustainable resource extraction threaten the integrity of this invaluable ecosystem.

E40 waterway

A potential major man-made canal route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea is threatening to transform the Pripyat, one of Europe’s last major natural rivers. The plan for the ‘E40 waterway’ was initiated by representatives from Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. A committee was established in 2013 to push ahead with construction plans for the E40 waterway. The realization of this waterway would have catastrophic effects on the nature and wildlife of Polesia. The E40 would bisect protected areas over its entire length, damaging the essential connections between key habitats. By straightening the Pripyat, numerous meanders and huge areas of intact floodplains could dry up and important habitats within the protected areas would be lost.Find out more about E40.

Berry picking

With its diverse mosaic of mires, bogs, forests and marshes, the Polesia is the perfect habitat for many different berry species, like cranberries and bilberries. From early summer to the first frosts, the forest floor is covered with fruiting bilberry bushes while the mires are covered in little pink cranberries. The large amount of berries available provides an important economic resource for the local community and local people collect and sell them throughout the warm summer months. However, this negatively affects local flora and fauna due to the increased intensification of berry picking activities. An area of particular concern is the Almany Mires Nature Reserve. Almany is a 100,000 hectares natural mire of outstanding European and global conservation importance. Located in Belarus, adjacent to the Ukrainian border, this mire is heavily impacted by overharvesting when berry pickers flood to this pristine habitat in the summer months. Berry pickers build illegal roads, leave large quantities of litter, establish temporary camps inside the forest, and trample vegetation. Such activities disturb sensitive breeding animals, such as the globally threatened greater spotted eagle, causing parents to desert their chicks.

Amber mining

Illegal amber mining has increased in the Ukrainian part of Polesia in recent years. Amber is extracted by cutting down large areas of trees, excavating holes, and pumping water underground. The amber then floats to the surface and can be collected, whilst a devastated bare landscape is left behind. This kind of mining is illegal, but attempts by the Ukrainian government and military to stop illegal mining activities have often failed. Mining is highly lucrative and miners are often heavily armed so tackling the industry is extremely dangerous.

The project “Polesia – Wilderness Without Borders” is part of the Endangered Landscapes Programme and is funded by Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. The project is coordinated by Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and implemented in collaboration with APB Birdlife Belarus, the Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds (USPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).