Belarus’ model for restoration of temperate peatlands

Alexander Kozulin
Published: 19 February 2021
Last edited: 19 February 2021
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Summary

Temperate peatlands are home for numerous threatened species and are vital human development for their services in climate regulation, regulation of fires, erosion, and floods. Temperate peatlands are abundant in Europe and particularly in Belarus. Although peatlands emit methane and nitrous oxide, they also sequester carbon dioxide and in the long-run pristine peatlands are climate-coolers. However, once pristine peatlands are disrupted by drainage for fuel or for arable farming, the carbon which they store is released into the atmosphere through peat oxidization and fires. Over 1.5 mln ha of peatlands in Belarus have been disrupted by drainage in the past. UNDP partnered with Government of Belarus and international organizations to create a model of peatland rehabilitation. Over 50,000 ha of peatlands have been restored since the start of these activities in 2009. There is stabilization of water- bird populations at the restored sites and almost complete cessation of peat mineralization and fires.

Classifications

Region
East Europe
Scale of implementation
National
Ecosystem
Freshwater ecosystems
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Theme
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Legal & policy frameworks
Mitigation
Restoration
Science and research
Urban and Disaster Risk Management
Resilience and disaster risk management
Challenges
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Wildfires
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Sustainable development goals
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 11: Protected areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company
Indirect through government

Location

Belarus

Challenges

Temperate peatlands are some of the world’s irreplaceable natural resource. They are home for numerous threatened species and are one of the planet’s major carbon pools. In Belarus, peatlands cover some 2.6 mln ha, of which more than 1.5 mln have degraded. This was due to large-scale disturbance of the hydrological regime of these ecosystems following drainage for industrial-scale extraction of peat for fuel in the past. Loss of peatlands presented threats to several threatened species: e.g. Aquatic Warbler who has in Belarus’ peatlands over 60% of its global population. In 2009 there was increasing pressure to allocate new land – even in protected areas – for peat extraction. Extensive areas of worked-out peat deposits lay abandoned, increasing the risk of peat fires. UNDP-funded research back in 2009 demonstrated urgent need to take prompt action to restore the ecological integrity of the degraded peatlands to conserve biodiversity, reduce carbon emissions, and remove health risks.

Beneficiaries

- Globally threatened species (Aquality Warbler, Greater Spotted Eagle, rare plants).

 

- Government, as a bearer of peat fire fighting costs. 

 

- Local communities who have been unable to benefit from peatlands in degraded state.

How do the building blocks interact?

The three building blocks are consecutive. There is a need for research on the problem and proposing a technical solution (Block 1). Then there needs to be demonstration of that solution on the ground (Block 2). Finally, when there is evidence of effectiveness of the two previous blocks, time is ripe to fix the long term sustainabilty and replication, which in the case of Belarus was done through the adoption of the All Peatlands Action Plan by the Council of Ministers (Block 3).

 

By 2019, over 32,000 ha of peatlands in Belarus have been restored additionally without any donor engagement, on top of the 22,397 ha targeted by the GEF project. The total area of degraded peatlands in Belarus thus is shrinking every year, brining back life to these unique ecosystems.

 

The Belarus know-how, developed by Dr. Kozulin’s team, has been applied in Russia, under projects financed by the Germany’s International Climate Initiative and implemented jointly with Wetlands International and local governments. Over 40,000 ha of peatlands in Russia have been restored by 2019 using this know how. Dr. Kozulin’s methodology was also used by the ClimaEast Project in Ukraine, which restored around 3,000 ha of agricultural peatlands.

Impacts

  • Restoration of 1 ha of a degraded temperate peatlands prevents the release of app. 5.5 CO2-eq/year.
  • No fires occurred on the restored areas.
  • All restored sites demonstrate quick (2 years after completion of restoration) re-appearance of wetland vegetation and return of water-birds.
  • Many restored areas have become popular tourism attractions, amateur fishing sites and cranberry picking places.
  • Stabilization of Sedge communities, and water-bird species such as Aquatic Warbler, Greater Spotted Eagle, Corncrake. 

Story

Alexander Kozulin

“Belarus used to be described as the ‘land of mires’. My childhood was spent surrounded on all sides by peatlands and woods. As a young boy, I would go hunting with my father and older brother, and cranberry-picking with my mother and the women from the village. These formative years spent in the countryside determined my choice of path in life. In the 1990s, when I was a research at the Academy of Sciences we observed a decline in the number of many waterfowl species. Our research showed that this was correlated with the degradation of mire ecosystems, resulting from drainage. The unabated effects of drainage were responsible for loss soil, vegetation, habitat of species, as well as for peat fires. We were risking losing populations of species, such as Aquatic Warbler, for which our country is globally responsible: our peatlands are home to over 60% of its global population. We were also losing populations of Greater Spotted Eagle, Corncrake, numerous rare plants. Millions of hectares of land laid abandoned, and caught fire, affecting peoples health, releasing tons of carbon into the air, and entailing millions of dollars of investment in fire fighting operations. Back in 2008 this situation was definitely far from sustainable, so when, after completion of our studies, we partnered with UNDP, Global Environmental Facilities, and NGOs, things started to change. We have worked step-by-step between then and 2019 to solve the problem. We found a way how to bring life back to peatlands, through rewetting them. We developed the needed policies and technical solutions and demonstrated their viability. The impact of this was that the authorities, and people in general, realised that re-wetting is one of the most efficient ways to deal with degraded peatlands. As a result, the national Council of Ministers adopted the Strategy for Sustainable Use and Categorisation of Peatlands, which was developed with detailed inputs from a team of technical experts, and representatives of various institutions responsible for protection or use of peatlands. When I started this work, it was my dream that Belarus can again become the ’land of mires’, with benefits for our people, our biodiversity and climate. It is extremely satisfying for me to see that dream becoming a reality.”

Contributed by

Maxim Vergeichik United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Other contributors

National Center on Biological Resources, Academy of Sciences of Belarus