Possible violations: The project violated Articles 26 and 27 of Belarus' "Specially Protected Wilderness Territories and Sites Act", Article 63 of the country's Forest Code, the water conditions in the area, and the environmental balance within Belovezhskaya Pushcha the, while damaging the biological diversity of protected forest.
Events, facts, documents and evidence: The former Plyanta settlement is located near the national park's tourist center in the southern part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Overgrown orchards are all that is left of the farmsteads. Three small ponds, between one and two hectares each, were dug here in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
The area of the ponds is part of the national park's recreational zone. Once it had swamps that were drained as the ponds were created under a program to "ameliorate" the land for hunting and agriculture. The ponds are supplied with water via a canal that runs from the very depths of the forest, which was once waterlogged but is now dry. The other side of each pond is a floodgate keeping water within the pond. The water overflows the gate during floods only. Natural vegetation has covered the area around the ponds creating beautiful landscapes.
|(A Plyanta pond as seen in 2004)|
(Visit our Photo Gallery for more images and wallpapers featuring the Plyanta ponds.)
This is a Google Maps satellite image of the Plyanta ponds. The ponds are located in the recreational zone near the Pravaya Lesnaya River suitable for construction of a water park)
The new ponds were dug north of the pond which can be seen on the right.
In the summer of 2006, the national park's management launched a large-scale project to rebuild the closest of the ponds and dig new water reservoirs. The main idea was to attract more tourists by creating beaches.
The stakeholders drew up design documents and received the necessary permissions from concerned ministries. By the way, environmentalists have not seen any of the documents to this day.
The shot below shows the pond drained for earth moving.
|(The drained Plyanta pond; June 12, 2006)|
After that, all shrub and trees along the bank of the pond were cut down to flatten it and clear space for beaches.
|(The bank of the pond, cleared of trees and dug up; June 30, 2006)|
A bulldozer, followed by excavators, cut into the ground northwest of the old pond to make a new one.
The shots below show the excavators at work.
|(The earth-moving operations; June 12, 2005)|
|(The digging of the new pond; June 20, 2005)|
|(The excavation of the new pond; June 20, 2005)|
One new pond had been mostly completed by the midsummer of 2006.
|(The new pond; June 20, 2006)|
|(The extent of the earth-moving operations; 1 - June 20, 2006,; 2, 3 and 4 - June 30, 2006)|
A section of the canal that supplies the new pond with water was cleaned.
|(The cleaned canal; June 30, 2006)|
|(An intact canal; June 30, 2006)|
The photographs below show the old pond several months later and one year later (September 2006 and May 2007).
|(The old Plyanta pond; 1 and 2 - September 8, 2006;
3, 4 and 5 - September 18, 2006; 6, 7 and 8 - May 20, 2007)
|(The new Plyanta pond; 1, 2 and 3 - 1September 18, 2006;
4 and 5 - May 20, 2007)
The shots below show a view of the new pond, excavated in 2006, from the old one.
|(A view of the new pond from the old one; January 20, 2008)|
Yet Another New Pond, 2007.
Another new pond was excavated at Plyanta in 2007. It is located north of the previously excavated pond. The project was not without environmental violations.
The project resulted in a system of three interconnected ponds, which were the old one, the first new one and the second new one.
The shots below show the canal that connects the old pond to the first new one. It was deepened and the other new pond was excavated to the north.
1 - June 30, 2006, 2 - January 20, 2008)
The shots below show a view of the second new pond's south side.
|(The second new pond's south side; January 20, 2008)|
These shots show a view of the second new pond's north side.
|(The second new pond's north side; January 20, 2008)|
A small island with alders growing on it was preserved in the middle of the pond.
|(The island with the alders growing on it; January 20, 2008)|
The excavated earth was dumped around the pond and graded to make a high, gently sloping beach.
|(The beach around the pond; January 20, 2008)|
|(Excavated earth; January 20, 2008)|
The shots below show a view of the first new pond excavated in 2006 from the second new pond.
|(A view on the first new pond; January 20, 2008)|
The first environmental violation was flooding of the forest. It is unclear why this was done or if it was a scientifically founded part of the project, but the canal that enters the pond from the north was blocked with an earthen dam. This resulted in blockage of water drainage, significant rising of the groundwater level and flooding of the surrounding alder forest.
The shots below show the earthen dam blocking the amelioration canal, the flooded alder forest and lowland meadows.
|(The earthen dam; January 20, 2008)|
|(The flooded alder forest; January 20, 2008)|
|(The flooded lowland meadows; January 20, 2008)|
The water level had risen even higher by spring.
|(The flooded forest; February 10, 2009)|
The flood water found its way into the new pond.
|(The thaw water seen flowing down into the pond; February 10, 2009)|
Some of the flooded alders had died within six months. The trees simply suffocated due to the rising groundwater. More flooded trees will no doubt die and degrade in the future.
|(The dead alders; August 21, 2009)|
On a more optimistic note, the recently flooded area was soon populated by wild ducks. We saw several dozen when we visited the site.
|(A wild duck; August 21, 2009)|
Our information. When required to raise groundwater level, environmental planners normally do this stepwise to rule out adverse effects. The watercourse is blocked with a low dam to raise the water level by several dozen centimeters. The area is then left in its current state for several decades to allow the trees to adapt to the new conditions as much as possible. The damming process is then repeated to raise the water level by several more dozen centimeters, followed by a another pause, and so forth.
Certainly, not all trees can survive even such gradual change, with some trees dying from hydrological stress. However, this increases chances of survival for those that do remain.
The consequences of abrupt change in the environmental conditions caused by waterlogging as performed at Playnta are the worst possible for trees which have adapted to the effects of the earlier amelioration.
The second environmental violation is damaging of trees and dumping of earth on the trees. Careless bulldozing when grading the beaches damaged the bark on many trees, making them vulnerable to pathogenous fungi and leading to their premature death.
Our information. Modern forestry rules either prohibit damage to trees or permit damage to single isolated trees as an exception. A damaged tree becomes highly susceptible to infection by tinder and other pathogenous fungi, which significantly shortens the life of the tree.
The shots below illustrate the fact that surplus earth was dumped into the surrounding forest rather than removed from the site.
|(The bank; February 10, 2009)|
|(The bank and the earth dumped right in the forest; February 10, 2009)|
The shots below show the damaged trunks of birches and an alder.
|(Damaged birches; February 10, 2009)|
|(The damaged alder; February 10, 2009)|
Within six months, many of the trees whose roots were covered with dumped earth had died. They died due to abrupt change in the soil air and water conditions which damaged their root systems. And this is only a start…
|(The dead trees around the pond; August 21, 2009)|
When disturbed by humans, wildlife has a tendency to recover, healing its wounds. This happened after the excavation of new ponds at Plyanta. Grass started to cover the sandy banks and cut-down alders shot out young growth all along the old pond.
However, this is not to justify the projects, which were questionable in terms of protection of wildlife and environmental science, let alone to justify the violations of environmental standards and damage to wildlife that were committed in the specially protected area.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the way the new pond projects at Plyanty can be described. Apparently, the scientific and environmental justification of the project is rather questionable, while the manner and quality of the work leave much to be desired..
The shots below show views of the first new pond in the summer of 2009
|(Views of the first new pond; August 21, 2009)|
Below are views of the second new pond in the summer of 2009
|(Views of the second new pond; August 21, 2009)|
The two shots below show the canal, which is slowly becoming overgrown.
August 21, 2009)
These are views of the old pond.
|(Views of the old pond; August 21, 2009)|
These shots show the thick young alder growth in place of the cut-down alders around the old pond.
|(Views of the old pond; August 21, 2009)|