Priceless marshes fall under investigation

Natural treasures being assessed worldwide over recent decades now include Belarus’ beautiful wetlands

By Alexander Kopylev

An experiment of the kind has been for the first time conduced in Belarus, as part of the United Nations Development Programme / Global Environment Facility’s project — entitled Creating Conditions for Sustainable Functioning of the System of Protected Marshlands in Belarusian Polesie, which is supported by the Ministry of Nature Resources and Environmental Protection. Daniel L. McFadden’s method for analysing discrete choice is being applied, for which he has won a Nobel Prize.

Zvanets marsh in the Brest region, the largest European lowland bog (covering 16,500 hectares), is being studied. Zvanets received global recognition in the late 20th century when a small bird believed to be extinct — an aquatic warbler — was discovered. At least 30 percent of the world’s aquatic warblers global live in Zvanets. In the mid-1980s, many feared for their habitat, since regular haymowing had ceased, causing the open spaces loved by the aquatic warbler to become overgrown with bushes and reeds. Measures are to be taken to actively protect the birds’ environment, with brush cut regularly. Both farms in the region, and local villagers, lack any economic motivation for haymowing at the marsh; they are satisfied with the hay collected from the existing fields.

Specialists from the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus have joined staff and volunteers from the APB-BirdLife Belarus Public Association and foreign consultants in defining the financial benefits of preserving these unique open marshlands. Local people were asked to choose from various scenarios regarding welfare, with each being described with a range of characteristics, including ‘value’. The results have been used by the project to suggest four variants for Zvanets’ protection, each with its own ‘cost’.

The current value of Zvanets — as voiced by 570 Belarusians — is about $30,000 per hectare per year. This figure seems quite possible for the largest natural marsh in Europe. Taking into consideration that most respondents had never been to Zvanets, the lion’s share of this perceived value is unrelated to any utilitarian use of the bog; rather, the figure reflects its intrinsic value. The preservation of the open marsh’s ecosystem is important not only regarding nature protection but also from the point of venue of potential tourist revenue.

Assessment of this area of natural beauty is to continue, as stipulated by a new strategy to preserve and sustain biological diversity, running from 2011-2020. State bodies and organisations involved in nature preservation will use the results to guide them in ensuring that such national treasures are utilised to the utmost.

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