Ural River Valley

Year of compilation: 2010

Site description
The Ural River crosses the steppe and semi-desert of Western Kazakhstan like a green band from north to south, at the same time separating Europe from Asia. The river itself is not very wide (about 40-50 meters near Tynaliyev, about 40% of the distance Uralsk-Atyrau down the river). The course of the river is strongly winding, and contains many oxbox lakes and cut-off river bends. The outsides of the river bends are characterised by steep cliffs of loose material of up to 15 m height. The banks of the river are densely wooded, here band of riverine forest consisting largely of aspen, birch, willow and oak. The width of this band is gradually decreasing from the north (from Uralsk) to the south (to Atyrau and the Caspian Sea). At its edges, the forest forms a sort of forest steppe interspersed with steppe areas often used as meadows by the local people. The end of the forest band is marked on both sides by a road running parallel to the river. Beyond the road the biome-typical steppe or semi-desert vegetation starts.

Key biodiversity
The river valley and its forest form a natural corridor for northern forest species to extend their ranges into an area that typically would not be suitable for them. At the same time it serves as a migration corridor and guideline for many species, like gulls, terns and raptors migrating from the Ural mountains and western Siberia to the Caspian Sea and onwards. Considering that raptor species appear to the main qualifying species for this site, and that their number is high in the steppe area but decreases strongly in the semidesert area, we chose to limit the extent of this site to the area, where the river flows through surrounding steppe habitat, i.e. between Uralsk in the north and Inderborskiy in the south.

Non-bird biodiversity: Its course is lined by a band of riverine forest consisting largely of espen, birch, willow and oak. The width of this band is gradually decreasing from the north near Uralsk to the south near Atyrau and the Caspian Sea.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The set of most disagreeable economical operations of local population, that usually cause serious afflictions to the forest ecosystems, include the unlicensed logging, the removal of deadwood or geriatric specimens of trees and wood-fires that are, more frequently than not, initiated by people. Electrocution of birds at their preferred perches on electric poles along the main roads running parallel to the river is presumably a major risk for the raptor species that qualify the site.

Habitat and land use
Too intensive use of the wood along the river by local people could be a threat in the future. The land of Ural River Valley use for agriculture, pasture and store-cattle. Main roads and transmission facilities are situated along Ural river to both banks.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Ural River Valley. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/03/2023.