Preservation Nations: Belarus, Ukraine Partner on Wetlands

19 May 2010

by Hugh Biggar from UNDP Regional Center for Europe and CIS in Bratislava

Ukraine/Belarus - A Ukraine nature park and a Belarusian nature preserve have united across international borders to earn recognition as a territory of global importance, one that helps preserve biodiversity. In cooperation with the Ministers of Environment of both Ukraine and Belarus and support from UNDP/GEF, the park and preserve have formed the Transboundary Ramsar site, Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr. View: Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr Ramsar site photos

The territory is home to rare plants and animals as well as important wetlands and water supplies. (Photo: UNDP Europe and CIS)

With assistance from the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr site met the requirements of the Ramsar Convention—an international treaty that commits members  to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands. The certification by Ramsar also offers new possibilities for development of territory and for widening of its environmental protection. Ukrainian and Belarusian scientists and officials will also develop a common plan for conducting further scientific research and an action plan for the park.

“Thanks to the UNDP/GEF Project, for the first time in Ukrainian history we created a wetland with an international status,”  Mykola Stetsenko, First Deputy of the Head of the State Agency for Protected Areas of Ukraine, and the National Director of the UNDP/GEF project, said. “In a modern world it`s impossible to solve ecological problems with closed administrative boundaries.”

Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr unites lowlands of two Ukrainian rivers, Pripyat and Stokhid, and one Belarusian river, the Prostyr.

The territory is home to rare plants and animals as well as important wetlands and water supplies. For instance, the park includes the black stork, lesser spotted eagle, greater spotted eagle, the Eurasian curlew and the great white heron. As for nesting birds, the most numerous are grey heron, mallard (northern shoveler), Eurasian coot, black-tailed godwit and the grasshopper warbler among others. Overall, the wetland hosts 198 species of vertebrates: 17 species of fish, nine species of amphibians, five reptile species, 144 bird species and 23 species of mammals. 30 bird species, three mammals (Canis lupus, Lutra lutra and Castor fiber), a reptile, and two amphibian, and four fish species have IUCN threatened category (listed as vulnerable and rare status).

The Pripyat River is also the head springs of the Dnieper River, which supplies water to more than 10 million people in Ukraine.

“[Human activities] in past century destroyed lowlands of Stokhid and Pripyat,” Sergei Volkov, a UNDP senior programme manager for the project, said. “But dried out territories give rise to fires, droughts, and diseases. That's why many resources are targeted at wetlands recovery across the world. It`s extremely profitable for society to keep the wetlands in their natural state.”

In Stokhid and Pripyat, destroyed lowlands have resulted in floods reaching higher-than-natural levels, while also decreasing the spawning area for fish and eroding the habitiat for other species in the ecosystem. Old drainage canals also contribute to the to the at times dry conditions of the wetlands.

In response to these biodiveristy and ecological concerns, Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr officials received the UNDP/GEF training to help meet the Ramsar requirements. The training included hands-on courses, and help with preparing applications and documents needed for the negotiations with the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.

Mr. Volkov also stressed the importance of preserving wetlands such as those in Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr, given their role in reducing global warming. With climate change linked to greenhouse gas emissions, wetlands provide an important means of absorbing carbon and reducing emissions into the atmosphere.

The creation of the new trans-national territory will also expand the size of protected territory in the region. In the park’s home region of Volyn, nature reserve territories now account for nearly 10 percent of the territory.

The Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr project, "Strengthening governance and financial sustainability of the national protected area system in Ukraine," was launched by UNDP/GEF in 2008. In addition to Pripyat-Stokhid, the UNDP Ukraine initiative operates in two other pilot territories: Shatsk National Nature Park and the Pripyat-Stokhid Regional Landscape Park.

Recently, Albania, the former Yugoslav Territory of Macedonia and Greece also partnered to create a Ramsar site the trans-boundary Prespa Basin in the Balkans. UNDP Ukraine has also published a book this year on botanical gardens and protected territories of Ukraine.