Adaptation of the hydrological situation within the territory of the National Park, 2002 - 2003

Infringements: Clauses 25 and 27 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus «About Special Protected Natural Territories and Objects» are violated; Clauses 1 and 55 of «Forest Codes» of the Republic of Belarus are violated; melioration works in the centre of the National Park without the ecological examination; cutting down the living forest in the protected quarters; violation of the hydrological situation; violation of the ecological balance within the protected forest; infliction of damage to biological diversity.

Events, facts, documents and evidences: Land drainage is the main negative factor that violates the hydrological situation within the protected territory of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It threatens the preservation of bogs and streams and ultimately the entire protected natural complex of the Pushcha. Large scale drainage works were carried out around and within Belovezhskaya Pushcha in the fifties and sixties. Through that work many bogs got drained and a number of springs and small rivers that run through the forest became significantly shallower, shortened their length or even dried up completely; basically the hydrological situation changed severely. This drainage within Belovezhskaya Pushcha resulted in a lowering of the subsoil water level of one to two meters on average, depending on the local situation, in terrains affected. Bog areas and damp loving plant communities, with their unique biodiversity, suffered as well as Belovezhskaya Pushcha itself. On many places the lowered subsoil water level lead to a clear catastrophe for the forest as it resulted in the death and destructions of tree stands. Most of all stands of spruces became victims of the adapted hydrological situation, as they make up the most sensitive type amongst forest communities in relation to deficits of moisture in the soil. Additionally two artificial ponds or water-reservoirs were made in the 1970's; Lyadsoye (345 ha) and Khmelevskoye (75 ha). These ponds were created by means of a dam that was build within the floodplain area of the Perevoloka stream which runs through Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Formerly the areas concerned existed of valley mire and meadows.

These unnatural lakes were colonized then by waterfowls and many rare species of animals and plants. That way the biological diversity of Belovezhskaya Pushcha broadened itself somewhat. Approximately 20 years ago large-scale drainage works, which have a serious negative impact on the hydrological situation, were stopped within the forest area. More recently the character of works carried out is of a local and small scale and it concerns the reconstruction of the drainage systems that are located on territories of local collective farms as well as ground within the National Park that serve economic goals. Over the past decades the hydrological regime within Belovezhskaya Pushcha stabilized. However, up to some extent quick disintegration of old-age forests, specially spruce forests, is a consequence of the drainage works that were carried out in the fifties and sixties, when the subsoil level was lowered so dramatically. Therefore any works that would result in (negative) change to the future hydrological situation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha should UNEQUIVOCALLY be FORBIDDEN!!!. Projects aimed at restoring the subsoil water level on separate territories and the individual rehabilitation of small rivers should only be considered if they are based on careful examination; further negative consequences to the hydrology should be avoided at all costs.

The new administration of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, headed by general director Nickolai Bambiza, ignored this principle and roughly violated it. In 2002 the board of the National Park initiated a major reconstruction and an extension of the water-reservoir of Khmelevskoye as well as drainage of some forest sites adjacent to the lake. Construction of a series of other artificial reservoirs adjacent within the Pushcha. These works were carried out while a due scientific basis and ecological examination were not available or made. This is a serious infringement done to the law "About specially protected natural territories and objects".

The picturesque landscapes shown here could be observed in past days in the area of the lake of Khemelevskoye. A rich vegetation on the shores, swamps and the surrounding forest created a wide variety of colours and microlandscapes. One of the basic tourist routes was situated here; visitors could witness the beauty of the nature of Belovezhskaya Pushcha here. There was a specialized route for ornithologists here where scientists and nature lovers studied birds.

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Khmelevskoye Lake, photo by V.Ezhelov, 2000

When the lakes of Lyadskoye and Khmeleveskoye were made within the valley of the stream Perevoloka (blocking the river by a bulk dike), the horizon of humus was not removed. Therefore these reservoirs have a depth of one to two meters on average. The relatives shallowness of the lakes allowed a successful process of natural growth of water-loving vegetation in the lakes and on their shores. At the upper reaches this process was especially intensive. The accumulation of dead and living plants decreases the depth of the lakes and in this way they gradually transform into bogs. Ten years ago the board of the National Park set a goal to hold back this continuing process in order to keep the lakes functional. However, within specially protected territories solving apparent problems may be more complicated as it is necessary to balance the conflicting interests of preserving biodiversity of the lake-marsh landscape on one hand and realization of technical measures that are necessary to clean the reservoir on the other hand. The latter conflicts with preservation of biodiversity as it leads to clearing of the growing bogs. For that reason previous administrations did not start to work out total reconstruction of the lake of Khmelevskoye; the project could not be grounded enough scientifically, while they lacked budget as well.

The current administration of the National Park, headed by director N. Bambiza, decided that territories which primarily serve scientific goals are superfluous and unnecessary. The board raised the idea of intensification of fishery in the existing reservoirs within Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Over short time the President's Department of Property Management started to support this idea and it supplied a big financial sum for this purpose; work aiming at intensified fishery was initiated. First of all expansion of a by-pass channel along the lake of Khemelovskoye - the former bed of the stream of Perevoloka - was started. For that purpose bulldozers and earth-moving machines were brought into Belovezhskaya Pushcha; the made the excavations that shaped the prolonged channel. On the concerned territories the living alder forest was cut down along the southern shore of the lake.

These pictures show the by-pass channel as it was made by use of excavators; gradually the area is transformed into a new reservoir. Stacks of logs, the felled living alders, are demonstrated on the third picture.

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(Compartment 646; pictures 1, 2, 3 - February, 2003; picture 4 - March, 2003)

The reservoir was created at the location where formerly the canalized bed of the forest stream Perevoloka was present (at the beginning of the Khmelevskoye lake).

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(Compartment 546; picture 1 - March, 2003; picture 2 - May 31, 2001)

View at the lake of Khemelevskoye in the early spring of 2003, shortly before the excavations were started.

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(Khmelevskoye Lake, March, 2003)

The same view on the lake of Khemelevskoye in May 2003, after the excavations were started. The upper reaches haven been dug out.

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(Khmelevskoye Lake, May 31, 2003)

Simultaneously work was made to build a sluice at the lower reaches of the lake in order to regulate the water level (pictures 1 and 2). Apparently there was no purpose at all for the wooden plank bridge, which was made to serve visiting tourists in the end of 2001, exactly on the spot where the sluice was build. Within eighteen months the bridge was removed and it was simply abandoned just at the other side of the dam as a superfluous object (picture 3). Currently the lake of Khmelevskoye is nearly empty / out of water, since works on deepening the reservoir is under execution.

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Khmelevskoye Lake; picture 1 - March, 2003; pictures 2 and 3 - May 31, 2003

An elementary question raises. Which water will serve as a source to fill the existing and enlarged lakes? One single stream supplies water to the lakes of Khmelevskoye, Lyadskoye and Pererovskoye. It is the small river Solomenka, which parches at the beginning of the summer and is lifeless at a mere one kilometer from the lakes since water is absent there from its bed. One may assume that water from frequent freshets during spring would fill the lakes and to some extent one can agree with a statement of that type. However, it is necessary not to forget that such water is in no way an additional source of water for the territory of the forest. The water is not superfluous for the ground, while it is taken away from the surrounding areas, from the forest. The water would be kept in the forest ecosystem longer and would partially be absorbed by the vegetation if it would not be removed from the forest floor into an open reservoir. The intensity of evaporation of moisture is much higher in open water than it is from the ground surface.

However, basic excavation works have been started at the Southside of the lake of Khmeleveskoye. At this spot, behind the by-pass channel, a wild, natural and protected wetland, covered by marshland vegetation, brushwoods and forest was present. After the construction of the "fish" reservoir at the front of the lake of Khmelevskoye was finished three excavators were moved to the area depicted in spring 2003. By use of the machines ground was dig, creating a channel in direction of the wet forest. In the end three drainage channels were laid across the wild wetland in order to lower the subsoil water level of the site. The goal of drainage of the wetland has not been announced and explained by the administration of the National Park.

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(Compartment 708; March, 2003)

By summer the wild character of the wetland, covering several hectares, had already been dug out and drained completely; wild nature was terminated.

The pictures show the drainage channels that were made by use of excavators deep into the wetland area along the outskirts of the protected forest. The territory of the formerly wild area has entirely been destroyed by excavators and bulldozers.

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Compartment 708; May 31, 2003

But not just the wetland area, with its wild nature, also the surrounding forest of old-age became a victim of barbarous destruction.

These pictures show bulldozers and excavators while they are destroying the soil and grass cover, the bush and young forest growth. Even old-aged trees within the protected forest are damaged.

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Compartment 708, May 31, 2003

These facts demonstrate evidently the kind of vandalism to which the wild nature of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is being exposed under the supervision of the present administration of the National Park, headed by director Nickolai Bambiza. Construction and enlargement of the main reservoirs within Belovezhskaya and drainage of surrounding wetlands and the forest are rough infringements of the legislation on nature protection of the Republic of Belarus. Both project were executed without a decent ecological assessment or well-grounded scientific research on the matter. These actions happen as a result of permissiveness, impunity and with the connivance and even encouragement of the head office, the Property Management Department of the President of the Republic of Belarus, which leads Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

Further: The director's house (2001 - 2003)