Belarusian upland marshes boast economic potential worth hundreds of millions of US Dollars

Ecological balance

Belarusian upland marshes boast economic potential worth hundreds of millions of US Dollars, as proven by data from the Experimental Botany Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, through its Contemporary State and Forecast of the Ecological and Socio-economic Efficiency of the Restoration of the Hydrological Regime of Yelnya Upland Marshes.

The Experimental Botany Institute has studied the process of restoring the hydrological regime of the marshes and the appearance of flora and fauna on its territory, while assessing the economic potential of this project. The natural riches of the restored Yelnya are estimated at $300 million. Meanwhile, if the hydrological regime and ecological balance are restored, Yelnya marshes may bring in over $30 million of profit annually.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have data regarding damage from the fires which occurred on Yelnya marshes every 2-4 years, from 1975 to 2002,” notes the deputy director for Scientific and Innovation Work at the Experimental Botany Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, Dmitry Grummo. “The cost of lost cranberry harvests, as a result of the catastrophic fire of 2002, could total between $50,000 and $125,000. The fire was a tragedy for the upland marshes and for residents of surrounding settlements.”

Over the past decade, measures have been taken to restore the hydrological regime. According to monitoring conducted in early July, despite record hot weather and absence of rain, peat humidity stood at 85-90 percent (it must reach 70 percent to become fire hazardous).

Fresh water is the most precious treasure of upland marshes, with Yelnya thought to contain 450 million cubic metres of such water. At market prices, this is worth about $247 million. Moreover, peat bogs hold a great deal of water: each hectare may contain up to 680 tonnes of moisture at any one time, removing toxic impurities during filtration. Running an industrial unit with a capacity equal to that of Yelnya would cost at least $9 million per year.

The Experimental Botany Institute tells us that restoring the hydrological regime of Yelnya marshes should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8,200 tonnes per year; bogs and marshes with damaged hydrological regimes release carbon dioxide rather than consume it.  A similar reduction of CO2 emissions would be possible by installing solar batteries covering 47 square hectares at a cost of $18 million (plus annual maintenance of around $2 million — $3 million).

Nikolai Cherkas, technical coordinator of the UNDP project
for restoration of the hydrological regime on Yelnya marshes, Cand. Sc. (Biology)

“In launching the Let’s Save Yelnya Together! project in 2007, we were showing the importance of this unique natural complex for both Belarus and the whole Europe. As the years pass, volunteer initiatives have grown, creating a serious multi-level programme of bog restoration, attracting Belarusian scientists and researchers,” comments the first deputy director general of Coca Cola Beverages (Belarus), Andrey Poshchupkin. “The results of recent research conducted at Yelnya Reserve reflects new approaches towards the notion of ‘ecological service’ and demonstrates how we can receive a serious financial return from comprehensive integration of the eco-system into the economy.”

“Over the past few years, The Coca Cola Foundation has invested over $250,000 into the Yelnya bog restoration project, and more than $180,000 in other works to restore the Belarusian eco-system. The restoration of Yelnya bog is an important ecological and economic project and I’m proud that we’re part of these positive changes,” adds the head of The Coca Cola Company in Belarus, Natalya Tarasevich.

Yelnya is one of the largest upland bogs in continental Europe, covering over 23,000 hectares; its peat deposits are found at a depth of around 3.8m on average (up to 8.3m) while deposits of water are assessed at 450 million cubic metres (accounting for two thirds of Lake Naroch water deposits — the largest in Belarus).

Yelnya marshes are vital to migratory birds, with 98 bird species residing permanently, of which 23 are registered in the Red Book. In the 1930s, drainage channels were dug, disturbing the ecological balance and reducing ground water levels. This caused numerous major fires between 1992 and 2002. In 2007 and 2008, Coca Cola Beverages Belarus provided funds to an initiative organised by APB BirdLife (public association) and sent its own workers to build 34 bulkheads and dams, keeping water within drainage channels.

Last year, as part of the UNDP’s Peatlands-2 project, implemented with financial assistance from The Coca Cola Foundation, 46 cascade dams were constructed. As a result, water levels within Yelnya bog and lake complex are returning to their former state, helping restore plant life indigenous to the marshes. This is important evidence of restoration of the ecological balance, and these measures show the efficient integration of ecological projects into the country’s economy.

By Vladimir Mikhailov
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