Belarus is preparing a fourth edition of the Red Book. Released in 2013, it will describe all the changes which have occurred in nature over the past decade
Some new plants and animals — under threat of extinction — have been added, while others have been removed from the list, as their population in Belarus has reached normal levels. The National Academy of Science is making suggestions as to which flora and fauna species require special attention and human protection.
Losses and acquisitions
The Red Book of Belarus began just thirty years ago, with the first edition appearing in 1981, featuring 80 species of animals and 85 plants. By that time, similar editions were common in the West, with European ecologists being the first to see the threat of technological progress to the environment. In 1978, the first Red Book of the USSR was released.
The Belarusian Red Book ‘inhabitants’ comprise six categories, depending on their proximity to extinction. The zero category — unofficially called ‘the black list’ — unites plants and animals which have completely disappeared from Belarusian territory. Among them are such animals as forest cats, bustards, muskrats and freshwater pearl mussels; plants include wild gladioli, ghost orchids and another 46 species which have not been found in Belarus over the past century. Scientists cannot say for sure whether these are lost forever.
Specialists from the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection say that bustards were last seen in Belarus in the 1930s, in Brest Region’s Pruzhany. Muskrats haven’t been observed since the early 20th century, along the Dnieper River. Forest cats were also last seen in the 1930s. Scientists still believe that some species — viewed as extinct — may reside unobserved in Belarus’ wilderness areas; they hope they will be located again one day in the future, since the most unexpected findings are possible. Some areas in Mogilev Region, in addition to places in Zhabinka, Korma and Oktyabrsky districts, are largely unexplored.
In 1993, the second edition of the Red Book was released, with the list of protected flora and fauna extended to include 182 animals and 214 plants. The trend continued, with the third edition (released in 2003-2005) featuring 189 animals and 274 plants. The expansion of this list is not a reflection of a worsening ecological situation or the increased burden on the environment. Rather, according to Natalia Minchenko — who heads the Biological and Landscape Diversity Management Department at the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection — environmental studies expand each year, generating a more comprehensive picture. Her department aims to provide more information on Belarusian nature in the years to come.
Simultane-ously with the appearance of the Red Book (featuring endangered animals and plants), a list of those to be no longer included in the Book is being prepared. For example, the white swan has no need of special attention any longer, the ‘home goose’ — as zoologists say — even hounds other birds, forcing ducks from their habitats by eating all available food.
The beaver is also off the endangered list. Some time ago, demand for its meat and fur brought it to the edge of extinction in Europe. In the early 20th century, beavers were found only in Russia, Belarus and Poland. To protect them, Belarus established Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve in 1925. As a result, the animals have increased in number 2-3 times more than necessary.
Writ of protection
The significance of the Red Book of flora and fauna can hardly be overestimated. Since its first release, most of the plants and animals listed have been protected. Every year, the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection locates new species to be added on its pages. These then fall under the protection of forestries and agricultural firms. Special writs of protection are prepared, limiting how territories can be used to avoid further destruction of natural habitats. Economic activity is usually restricted, alongside camping and open fires. The results speak for themselves. For example, the black stork is no longer endangered in Belarus. As it is known for being a unique bio-indicator, sensitive to any change in the forest ecosystem, its growing numbers in the south of the country are a good sign. It has been nesting near rivers, springs and oak forests.
Ms. Minchenko says that, by early 2011, over 4,000 habitats housing Red Book species had been detected, receiving protection. Almost every Belarusian region has its own ‘oasis’, able to surprise flora and fauna lovers. Few know that traditional inhabitants of tundra live in Belarus, which is rich in forests and lakes. Northern salmonberry and dwarf arctic birch are found in some areas of Vitebsk and Myadel districts, while orchids — similar to those grown as house plants — are also found in Belarus. About 40 species of orchid grow in our country, with most included in the Red Book. The largest — known as Lady’s Slipper — is found on marshes and in oak forests. Like all orchid species, it is unique and listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In recent years, a large population of Lady’s Slipper has been discovered in the Brest Region, while dark-winged orchids — rare in Belarus and having international significance — were found in Smolevichi District, in Pekalinsky Biological Reserve.
The Red Book also includes some species which are of global significance. For example, Belarus is home for almost 60 percent of all the world’s aquatic warblers. The whole planet is keen to restore the population of this bird, which is well accustomed to the Belarusian climate.
In human hands
Specialists stress that protective measures are not the only tools, necessary to ensure the pre-servation of endangered species. Human intervention is sometimes needed. Belarus could hardly be proud of having the second largest population of aurochs in the world if it had failed to work at breeding and resettlement of the majestic beasts. According to the Head of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry’s Biological Diversity Department, Alexander Giryaev, the last wild aurochs were killed in 1917. “About eighty years were needed to breed this animal — primarily, within zoological gardens and specialised nurseries; later, we raised them in the wild, increasing the global herd from 48 (in 1927) to 4,230 (in 2009).”
In the 1990s, aurochs were found in Belovezhskaya Pushcha alone (on the Belarusian side). However, in the past 15 years, their population has almost tripled, exceeding 900 countrywide. This is largely due to a special programme, operational from 1994-1998, which focused on the resettlement, preservation and use of aurochs in Belarus. The country lacks large swathes of their usual habitat of large forests, so it is vital that their remaining habitat be preserved. We must ensure that these large European bisons feel comfortable. Interestingly, auroch are included in the Red Book of Belarus, while also being protected in Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Russia.
Scientists are taking diverse steps to help endangered species survive in our urbanised world. Several years ago, Minsk’s Botanical Garden chose to plant endangered flora. About a dozen species now populate our city, with wild flowers growing in the capital’s streets: wild pinks, asters and Siberian irises. They are a delight to see and benefit nature.
In two years’ time, the next edition of the Red Book will be ready; it’s too early to speak of which changes might be seen, as research continues. Some facts are already known however. The new edition shall, for example, include European mink. According to scientists, only about a dozen now live in Belarus. Additionally, bear, lynx, aquatic warblers, Lady’s Slipper and truffles are to be protected.
Not long ago, Belarusian zoologists suggested changing the status of some species, while botanists have introduced over a dozen new species into the fourth edition of the Red Book. Will our descendants ever see these rarities? Of course, nature is a living organism, ever developing, sensitive to changes in the environment. Industrialisation and urbanisation of the countryside affects ecology; in the coming decades, up to 70 species of plants could disappear forever worldwide. Their future is in the hands of the chosen few who can prevent such losses.
By Lilia Khlystun
White pages of Red Book
[b]Belarus is preparing a fourth edition of the Red Book. Released in 2013, it will describe all the changes which have occurred in nature over the past decade [/b]Some new plants and animals — under threat of extinction — have been added, while others have been removed from the list, as their population in Belarus has reached normal levels. The National Academy of Science is making suggestions as to which flora and fauna species require special attention and human protection.