Cranberries become a brand

[b]Owing to the international ecological project, a festival devoted to cranes and cranberries is being prepared in Belarus[/b]A visitor centre has recently opened at the Yelnya Reserve in Vitebsk Region’s Miory. Yelnya is among the largest upland swamps in Belarus and Europe. From now on, any tourist, including those from abroad, will be able to find information on the reserve’s animals and birds. It’s also possible to hire bicycles or skis (depending on the time of years) to see the local sights. Binoculars are also available if someone wishes to observe the grey cranes. In late September, thousands of these majestic birds, migrating to warmer places, stop over in Yelnya to rest before continuing their long route. The site is also notorious for its cranberries which grow in large quantities and are harvested in September as well. Accordingly, these birds and berries have become the key focus of the Cranes and Cranberries of Miory District ecological festival, organised with support from the EU and UNDP for the second time.
Owing to the international ecological project, a festival devoted to cranes and cranberries is being prepared in Belarus

A visitor centre has recently opened at the Yelnya Reserve in Vitebsk Region’s Miory. Yelnya is among the largest upland swamps in Belarus and Europe. From now on, any tourist, including those from abroad, will be able to find information on the reserve’s animals and birds. It’s also possible to hire bicycles or skis (depending on the time of years) to see the local sights. Binoculars are also available if someone wishes to observe the grey cranes. In late September, thousands of these majestic birds, migrating to warmer places, stop over in Yelnya to rest before continuing their long route. The site is also notorious for its cranberries which grow in large quantities and are harvested in September as well. Accordingly, these birds and berries have become the key focus of the Cranes and Cranberries of Miory District ecological festival, organised with support from the EU and UNDP for the second time.

Extreme swamp crossing on foot
In the past, the newly launched visitor centre was managed by the Yelnya state nature-protective establishment. With help from European partners, the building was revamped and now enjoys modern equipment, such as bright, interactive maps on the walls and QR-codes. If an advanced visitor has a smartphone, they’d easily find any additional information on the Internet.
The supporting EU/UNDP project, entitled Contribution to the Development of Universal Structure of International Co-operation in the Field of Environmental Protection in Belarus has a budget of over 5,150,000 Euros. It envisages the development of a caring attitude to nature amongst children and, with this in mind, the centre is equipped with ‘e-teachers’ who are there to help young visitors learn more, using playing and games. Such training is vital for the network development of so-called Green Schools, which already operate in the Miory and Sharkovshchina districts, as well as the Brest Region’s Kobrin District and Grodno Region’s Mosty District. Apart from this, Yelnya’s Director, Ivan Borok, believes that the EU/UNDP project has created a wonderful base for tourism development in the reserve, “We were aided in buying bicycles, binoculars, telescopes, skis, a cross-country vehicle and other equipment. We’ve also invented an exclusive amusement — crossing the swamp with galoshes on accompanied by a reserve specialist. This footwear is usually worn during the winter to walk over snow slush. However, galoshes are fine for boggy grounds in the summer period.”

Bird kingdom
A recently harvested maize field is located close to the Yelnya swamp. Here, grey cranes arrive to eat any uncollected corn and ears. Olga Lukshits, from APB-Birdlife Belarus Public Association, is among the festival’s organisers. She tells us about the cranes’ habits, “At 1m 40 cm, grey cranes are known as Belarus’ tallest birds. They rest at the swamp as they feel safe here, amidst the lakes and mire. While eating on the field, they are unlikely to let people come closer than 500m. Accordingly, to take artistic shots, professional photographers make hides or shelters where they can stay without moving. Local residents might also bait birds close to their houses, but this happens rarely. It’s more convenient for tourists to observe the birds through binoculars or telescopes.”
On setting the resolution of my Carl Zeiss telescope to 50x magnification, a fabulous picture appeared before me. Grey cranes were majestically walking along the field, these ‘parents’ were accompanied by their brown ‘children’. There were several hundred of them, which was impressive. Some were also flying overhead. That was a true bird kingdom!
After the excursion, Ms. Lukshits informed us that a record number of grey cranes, around 7,000, had come to Yelnya this year. However, just two dozen couples have their nested in the reserve.

Calling card
The town of Miory is situated on the half-island of Miorskoe Lake. Its residents and numerous guests were anticipating the Cranes and Cranberries Festival, which brought together berry collectors from all over the district, all wishing to demonstrate their rich harvests. Moreover, original cranberry recipes were presented, such as a refreshing drink. Valentina Buyonok, from Zautie, makes it especially tasty. The woman brought the largest berries to the festival. Valery Blazhevich, from Povyatie, cooked a shashlik with cranberry infusion. The food on offer was truly rich, with its guests enjoying the pies, pancakes, rolls and even traditional Belarusian draniki (potato pancakes), all filled with cranberries.
Frederick Kune, who is responsible for projects and programmes of the EU Office in Belarus, also attended the holiday. He admitted that, until the event, he knew of cranberries from sauces only and Miory was the only place he’d tasted ‘live’ berries. “This festival is a wonderful possibility for Europeans to get more closely acquaintance with Belarus, its people, traditions and nature. Europe lacks large swamps while, in recent times, many Europeans have focused on ecological tourism. I think they’d love to observe the Yelnya birds and take part in your holiday. Speaking openly, I love the event greatly. The European Union has been supporting it for two years, and I believe its co-operation with Belarus’ Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in this area will continue,” he said.
While Mr. Kune joined the Chairman of the Miory District Executive Committee, Igor Kuznetsov, in summing up the EU ecological project’s results, Sanaka Samarasinha, from the UNDP Office in Belarus, shared plans on future contacts. According to the official, Latvia is supposed to join the member states next year. Dagnija Lāce-Ate, the Head of the Consulate of Latvia in Vitebsk, commented on the Latvians’ possible interest in the festival, “The Nature of our two neighbouring states has much in common, being truly fragile and needing care. We should jointly preserve it and show to others that we are proud of its beauty. Moreover, the Miory District and our Latgalia are members of the simplified border movement, and I think the Cranes and Cranberries festival would enhance its activity. We’ve already sent all related information on the event to Latvian tour operators.”
The Yelnya Reserve’s material base is improving and, as a result, the number of visiting tourists has tripled this year, compared with 2012. The nature reserve staff are now constructing a 1.5km ecological swamp path, complete with billboards and observation points. In the near future, homes will welcome their first guests, offering overnight stays. Belarusian tourist companies already bring Russian eco-tourists to the reserve and all the necessary information on Yelnya is available at www.zakazniki.priroda-vitebsk.by. A Facebook page will soon be launched as well. These measures give us assurance that, next time, the Cranes and Cranberries festival will attract many more guests.

By Sergey Golesnik
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