Scorching dry grass vegetation, April 2003

Infringements: Clauses 25 and 27 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus «About Special Protected Natural Territories and Objects» are violated; the Clause 55 of «Forest Codes» of the Republic of Belarus and the Clause 62 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus «About Environment Protection» are violated; rules of the fire-prevention safety for forests are violated; infliction of damage to biological diversity.

Events, facts, documents and evidences: During spring 2003 dry grass vegetation got scorched along a southern bank of the lake of Khmelevskoye (surface of 75 hectares). The lake is located within the Regulated Nature Zone (category II of protection). On all sides the lake is surrounded by an artificially created dam. A sand-gravel covered road is situated on the dam. This road served as an obstacle for further spreading of fire in direction of the adjoining territories of wetland forest. High and dry coastal vegetation and bushes were burned by the fires on its track on a width of five meters at the shores of the lake.

The scorched, dry vegetation around the lake of Khmelevskoye is depicted here.

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(Khmelevskoye lake, March 2003)

The fire did not only bring a certain damage to the local biological diversity at the territory of the lake of Khmelevskoye. Within the area a basic tourist route was situated allowing naturalists and ornithologists, including foreigners, to study and watch birds - for which they travel especially to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The lake of Khmelevskoye makes up the habitat of many common and rare birds. Swans were nesting in the high vegetation at the shores of the lake and the area was home to a colony of terns. Various kinds of ducks and grebes were common. Many small songbirds inhabited the surroundings, while predatory birds were quite often hunting here. Many of these birds find a refuge and a place to build their nest in the depths of the vegetation on the shores; burning this vegetation resulted in the loss of many actual habitats for nesting and habitation of birds. Beavers suffered as well, as the refuges that they occupied on the banks were burned out. The fire inflicted casualties as well to the populations of numerous insects. These insects serve as food for birds. Many rare and unique species of flora and fauna got victim of the fire.

Our information:
Scorching dry vegetation during the spring season inflicts considerable loss to the biological diversity and the environment.
In particular these are most notable effects of scorching;

1. Death of vast numbers of useful insects, spiders and other invertebrates;
2. Birds avoid nesting on burned sites;
3. Frogs and lizards become less numerous;
4. Seeds of flowering plants are burned down, which reduces their density;
5. Reduction of the supply of dying plants to new humus at the soil, since dry grass is burned down before it can decompose;
6. Considerable loss of the fertility of the soil as a result of burning out of the upper humus layer;
7. Increased sensitivity to washing out mineral salts which are formed at the combustion of vegetation, which reduces the fertility of the soil as well;
8. Release of big amounts of poisonous substances, components of smoke, are being released, which leads to air pollution.

Although the fire lasted over a whole day neither firemen, nor the forestry fire services visited the fire place in order to extinguish it. Such a long "negligence" of the appropriate services may have been commanded by the administration of the National Park itself. This cannot be excluded. The fact that scorching of the dry vegetation was tolerated for a day was a first case in the long-term practice of forestry within Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

Further: A journalist of the newspaper "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" became an eyewitness of illegal felling of the living forest (January, 2003)