The residence of Santa clause: the violation of legislation and ecology-planning

Infringements: Clauses 25, 26 and 27 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus About Special Protected Natural Territories and Objects are violated; Clause 55 of "Forest Codes" of the Republic of Belarus is violated; infliction of damage to biological diversity.

Events, facts, documents and evidences: The year 2003 saw the opening of a new cultural and tourist attraction in the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" - the residence of Belarusian Santa Claus. You can find out more about the residence on the page "Belarusian Grandfather Frost's residence".

(Such sculptures show tourists where the residence of Santa Claus is.)

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(Guide sign: "Santa Claus",
July 10, 2004)

The residence of Santa Claus paved the way for a new tradition of New Year celebrations for children and their parents. It attracted more tourists to Belovezhskaya Pushcha, but also was the cause of a number of ecological problems. Moreover, the construction of the residence was carried out with law infringements.

Among them is the negative impact on bison that traditionally lived in the place of the construction. Before the residence appeared, there used to be a bison nursery where the animals would come in winter for additional feed (hey and sappy edible roots). Special feeding-racks were constructed for them there. The nursery used to be a place of the highest concentration of bison in winter, playing an important role for rearing the animals in Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

In pictures - Bison in the nursery before the residence of Santa Claus was constructed.

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(Bison in the nursery, 2000. Photo by Tatsumi-Masako, Japan)
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(Bison in the nursery, 2001. Photo by Valentin Ezhelov)

When the residence was constructed, a large area of the nursery had to be separated from it, and the feeding-racks turned out to be beside the fence that runs along the way for tourists. Some structures in the nursery like drinking bowls were enclosed while others like hey-lofts were rebuilt for storage facilities of the residence.

The sign "Caution! Wild animals" in the first two pictures warns tourists of danger. Over the fence are feeding-racks for bison. The third picture shows a green cabin, the water pumping facility that used to deliver water to drinking bowls. The forth picture provides view of the former hey-lofts rebuilt for storage facilities of the residence.

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(1 and 2 - feeding-racks, 3 - water pumping facility, 4 - hey-lofts of the former nursery,
July 10, 2004)

All the area of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is divided into four zones: Wilderness Protection Zone, Regulated Nature Zone, Regulated Recreational Use Zone and Economic Activity Zone. According to the national laws, the protection and natural resources' use regime is different for each zone. The former bison nursery has been placed in the second zone, Regulated Nature Zone. This Zone serves as an object for study, for preservation and as an area in which restoration of ecosystems that are characteristic for Belovezhskaya Pushcha as well as utilization for reproduction and rational use of natural resources. All activities within this Zone should provide optimal conditions for sustainable development of natural complexes, implementing scientifically-orientated arrangements on nature conservation as well. Within this Zone it is allowed to execute scientific research, monitoring, activities aimed at restoration of disturbed natural complexes and the reproduction of natural resources, measures for prevention of fire, sanitary woodcutting, forest maintenance, clearing of dead wood for forest sanitation and afforestation in order to restore primary forest stands, elimination of animals in order to regulate the number of their populations and for the purpose of selection, artificial feeding of wild animals, haymaking, harvesting of berries and mushrooms, cattle pasturage, amateur fishing as well as several other uses serving the needs of the National Park and its employees on specially selected sites and in restricted volumes. The ecological tourism guided by park's employees is also allows.

The third zone, Regulated Recreational Use Zone, is specially designed to provide the mass tourism visiting and situated at the edge of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. According to the law, the purpose of this area is to encourage tourism and recreation, to implement measures focusing on the aspects of culture, leisure and health-recovery. The rules of the Regulated Recreational Use Zone, but not the Regulated Nature Zone, allowed to build the Santa Clause's residence, tourist object servicing the mass visiting. Such the places were available within the Pushcha's area. However, the Park's administration violated the zoning rules and constructed the residence within the second zone, instead of the third. And after the residence was built, the administration changed the zoning scheme of Belovezhskaya Pushcha having decreased the protection status of the bison nursery area to the level of the third zone.

The residence stripped the nursery off wild forest. Some parts of the forest were noticeably affected by bison. However, west of the former bison service worker's house (now the residence of Santa Claus) there is water-logged area where dense forest and shrubs was growing. At the time of the residence's construction the nearby area was cleared out by cutting down the plants. The same happened to the trees and shrubs next to access roads as the latter had to be widened so that large buses could pass through. To make the changes, one needed proper permission of conservation bodies. There has still been NO information on whether the permission was given.

Moreover, for building the residence the appropriate documents and permission from the state architect, sanitary inspector, fire-brigade office and some other state bodies were needed to obtain. However, there is still no precise information on the well-timed reception of these permissions, which makes its construction possibly illegal!

In pictures - The area of the residence is cleared out from trees. What is outside it is a dense wild forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

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(Cleared-out area of the residence of Santa Claus, July 10, 2004)

Only old and high trees are left around the residence. The rest was cut down.

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(Large trees in the area of the residence, July 10, 2004)

When advertising the idea of creating the residence of Santa Claus in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, many newspapers explained that in minds of the majority Belovezhskaya Pushcha is primeval and fairy-tale like forest. That was the reason why the choice of place for Santa Claus' home was made in favour of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, rather than in favour of the country's northern Vitebsk region. There were even television broadcasts supporting the choice, which is in fact quite reasonable.

Therefore careful ecological planning should have been made to create this children's fairy-tale in harmony with the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Such planning would not only have been in line with the myth about Santa Claus, it also would have been an additional proof of how man cares about the primeval forest. People, who come to the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha", first of all want to admire the beauty of its forest and the mightiness of its trees, but not the urban-like park landscape.

The picture shows a tourist beside a 150-year-old spruce growing in the area of the former bison nursery now used for the residence of Santa Claus.

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(A tourist and a pine,
July 10, 2004)

Careful approach to constructing the residence was not the case, unfortunately. The administration of the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" could think of nothing better than to resort to primitive park planning in the primeval forest. The area of the residence was spick cleaned not only from trees. Instead of biodiversity, people are offered now to see monotonous lawns, badly-planned flower-beds inappropriate for growing ornamental plants and cleared out forest environment.

In pictures - Bison used to graze here. A variety of forest and meadow flowers and herbs used to blossom in the place. Today, all this is replaced with artificial lawns, which are regularly mowed, and along which tourists can walk.

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(Lawns instead of grasses of the primeval forest, July 10, 2004)

The ground beneath the trees is also cleared. Lawns, which took the place of natural grasses, are mowed.

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(Lawns beneath the century-old trees, July 10, 2004)

Even leaves under the trees were taken away. As a result, the ground with only rare patches of grass is mostly bare, as the shadows make it difficult for plants to grow here. Fern and spruce-trees can be seen in some places.

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(The poor ground instead the diverse forest grasses, July 10, 2004)

The look is a bit positively different in places where grass has not yet been mowed.

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(The poor ground instead the diverse
forest grasses, July 10, 2004)

A pitiable look of flower-beds with ornamental plants placed in the area where the primeval forest used to grow.

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(Flower-beds in the residence, July 10, 2004)

Box-tree and juniper - ornamental shrubs, alien species to the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha - were planted in some places.

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(Ornamental shrubs, July 10, 2004)

Only very small patches of land in the picture on the left somehow look the way the park planning and wilderness should have been harmonized when building the residence of Santa Claus. The rest shows the current "designers" of Belovezhskaya Pushcha lack professionalism as well as aesthetics and knowledge of natural processes.

Numerous reports and publications about the residence name only one person, who was creating the residence. That is Alexander Maslo, who shares the home land with the current head of the National Park, and who was sent from the Pripyatski National Park specifically to work on the residence. However, names of many remarkable craftsmen from Belovezhskaya Pushcha are somehow never mentioned.

The first picture shows wood-carvers from Belovezhskaya Pushcha working on fairy-tale sculptures. In the second picture, you can see Tsarevna-Liagushka (a princess frog) designed and made by Elena Kushneruk, a craftswoman from Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

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(Work of craftswomen from Belovezhskaya
Pushcha, July 10, 2004)

Bison nursery was not only important for rearing the animals in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, it was also a legacy of the National Park. The thing is that was the place where Belarusian population of bison was revived after World War Two - the reason the nursery was built in the first place. There also used to be a bison service worker's house in the nursery, a beautiful blue-colored building where at one time Lyudmila Korochkina lived. A lot of things about revival of bison population in Belarus are connected with her name. There was a plan to transform the house into the bison museum. After all, the aim of the national park is preserving its bio- and cultural diversity. The plan failed. The residence of Santa Claus completely destroyed this cultural legacy of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

In pictures - This is how the bison service worker's house, in which Lyudmila Korochkina lived and worked, used to look. This is how the house, reconstructed for the residence of Santa Claus looks today.

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(1 - the bison service worker's house, photo by Alexei Bunevich, 1990s; 2, 3 and 4 - the Sants Claus's residence, July 10, 2004)

The above facts and pictures consequently show that even working to attract children to Belovezhskaya Pushcha the administration of the National Park once again violated the law, badly affected biodiversity of the primeval forest and unsatisfactory provided ecological education, that is again demonstration of the low professional level.

Further: Empty ecological paths