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Bulldozers over Almany threaten the Greater Spotted Eagle

Road construction through Belarus’ Almany Mires is devastating ancient bogs in one of the country’s Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas. With globally threatened species like the Greater Spotted Eagle in jeopardy, our partner APB – BirdLife Belarus is leading the charge to stop the bulldozers.

By Alesia Basharymava, Alena Ramanoŭskaja & Gui-Xi Young

Two years ago, plans for ‘Forestry road #3’ quietly received an official stamp of approval in a ministry office in Minsk. Construction work began without fanfare in August 2017. And then, earlier this summer – and quite by chance – conservationists were alarmed to discover what was happening. Bulldozers are ravaging Belarus’ Almany Mires (Al’manskija baloty), the largest complex of intact natural bogs in Europe. 20 km of road are planned with at least 6 km over ancient bog.

Almany Mires, Belarus © APB-BirdLife Belarus

The devastation wrought upon nature is astounding, which begs the question – how did plans to build in a protected area make it past the country’s Environmental Impact Procedure? If officials hoped to escape public debate over the road, then they severely miscalculated. Our BirdLife partner, APB is leading the charge to stop the road construction by informing the public of what exactly is at stake.

The road will undoubtedly alter Almany’s unique landscape. It will act as a dam: on one side, the bog will collect water, gradually turning into a reservoir; on the other side, drainage will dry out the bog. Either way, local flora and fauna will be very adversely affected. This is all the more worrying as a national wildlife sanctuary covers some 942 kmof the mires and the whole area is a BirdLife IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area), home to stunning species such as Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Common Crane and Great Grey Owl.

Almany Mires, Belarus © APB-BirdLife Belarus

Conservationists are particularly concerned about the road’s impact on the mires’ Greater Spotted Eagle population. Belarus is one of the few countries where this globally Endangered species can still be found and the country’s biggest population (18-20 pairs) is found right here. This eagle is extremely sensitive to human disturbance and ornithologist Dr. Valery Dambroŭski notes that “The Greater Spotted Eagle nesting area is just one kilometer off the place where the road is being built. It is crystal clear that the habitat transformation as well as other disturbing factors will impact the birds.”

Great Grey Owl © Valer Dambrouski

APB – BirdLife Belarus has already put its case to both the Public Prosecution Office and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in the hopes of securing an immediate injunction to construction. In the long term, it is clear that the Almany Mires needs to get official ‘Wilderness Reserve’ status as the presence of the wildlife sanctuary does not prohibit economic activity. APB is also hopeful that international intervention may yet secure the fate of the whole Prypiać Paleśsie territory, including Almany, with preparations for a UNESCO World Heritage proposal already under way for next year. With the recent announcement that the government plans to build more roads, the ancient peatlands of Almany may not have that long to wait.

Common Crane © Viktar Kazlouski

Alesia Basharymava – Communication Officer, APB BirdLife Belarus

English translation provided by Alena Ramanoŭskaja

Gui-Xi Young – Editor, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

Image credits: Greater Spotted Eagle © Shutterstock

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