Па-беларуску, калі ласка
Polesie Radio-ecological Zapovednik

Location: Homel Region, Hojniki, Brahin and Narovlia districts

Coordinates 52 10 N 29 00 E

Area: 52,350 ha

National Conservation Status:Polesie Radio-Ecological Zapovednik.

International Conservation Status: Potential IBA (criteria А1, В2). Potential Ramsar site (criteria 1а, 3а. 3с).

The site is located within the 30-km exclusion zone, established after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion in 1986, which closed all access and economic activities. About one third of the area is Prypjac floodplain, characterized by prolonged spring floods. The open part of the floodplain is characterized by numerous very special dry steppe-like meadows that mix with waterlogged depressed areas.

Before the Chernobyl disaster, most of the forest-free areas were drained wetlands used for agriculture. After the explosion, all the drainage canals were closed to prevent fires. This resulted in the re-naturalization of large wetland areas. In spring most of these areas turn into large shallow reservoirs with numerous islands and isolated reed and cattail stands because of very poor melt water flow. By summer these reservoirs have dried out and have become overgrown with water vegetation.

Sandy dune ridges stretch along the floodplain edge, as well as along the vast waterlogged parts. Almost all of them are covered with pine stands, but a few remain tree-less, revealing open sands and providing special nesting conditions for birds like Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, a species that is disappearing from Belarus and for which the exclusion zone is the only known breeding site. The cessation of hay-making and arable farming has resulted in gradual shrub encroachment on the open floodplain meadows and former fields. Apart from that, forest planting on barren and flood-free former agricultural areas has also become more frequent over the last 3-5 years. Abandoned villages, industrial and cattle-breeding enterprises retain thickets of so-called escape plants and contribute to the wide proliferation of synanthropic weeds. Indigenous wild plants, however, are also proliferating fast. This, combined with half-destroyed buildings, creates a very specific habitat and encourages the development of a unique wildlife assemblage.

The complete withdrawal of economic activities and no human disturbance, coupled with the wetland re-naturalization, has improved habitats rapidly and there has been a proliferation of several rare animal species. Today the exclusion zone is known to host a breeding group of Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga (3-5 pairs). Numbers of other rare bird species have also grown: Black Stork Ciconia nigra (30-50 pairs), Short-toed EagleCircaetus gallicus (10-15 pairs), Montagu’s HarrierCircus pygargus (40-60 pairs), Lesser Spotted EagleAquila pomarina (20-30 pairs), White–tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (8-10 pairs), Hobby Falco subbuteo (20-30 pairs), and Kestrel Falco tinnunculus (5-10 pairs). The sandy dunes are probably the last and the only breeding ground of the Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, a species that is disappearing from Belarus. The Pripyat floodplain within the zone hosts the largest Belarusian breeding group of Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana (on steppe-like meadows) and Lesser Grey ShrikeLanius minor (in the vicinity of abandoned dwellings). The population density of Great Grey ShrikeLanius excubitoris also quite high.

Today the exclusion zone serves as an important wintering ground for the largest Belarusian populations of White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (40-60 birds) and Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos (5-10 birds). The high wintering concentrations of these birds are explained by the favourable feeding conditions. The absence of people defines high densities of ungulates (Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, and Elk Alces alces) and Wolves (the remains of wolves’ prey are the main food of the birds of prey). Numbers of some smaller terrestrial predators (Fox Vulpes vulpes, Raccoon Dog Nyctereutes procyonoides, and Stone Marten Martes foina) on the territory of the Zapovednik have also grown.

Some National Red Data Book species can also be encountered here, including Badger Meles meles, Lynx Felis linx, and Common Dormouse Muscardinus avellaris. In 1995 European Bison Bison bonasus was introduced here. At present these animals live here freely.

In early spring the flooded areas host large populations of migrating geese and ducks. In some years, concentrations of Great White Egret and Black Stork have been recorded in summer. Displaying Great Snipe have been recorded here increasingly often in the last several years. 

Visit to the site is definitely a very special experience. It must be noted, that the visits to the area are safe and, therefore, every opportunity should be taken to visit the area and feel strength of nature.