The site is located within the 30-km exclusion zone, established after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion in 1986, which closed all access and economic activities. About one third of the area is Pripyat floodplain, characterized by prolonged spring floods. Before the Chernobyl disaster, most of the forest-free areas were drained wetlands used for agriculture. After the explosion, all the drainage canals were closed to prevent fires. This resulted in the re-naturalization of large wetland areas. Abandoned villages, industrial and cattle-breeding enterprises retain thickets of so-called escape plants and contribute to the wide proliferation of synanthropic weeds. Indigenous wild plants, however, are also proliferating fast. This, combined with half-destroyed buildings, creates a very specific habitat and encourages the development of a unique wildlife assemblage.
The complete withdrawal of economic activities and no human disturbance, coupled with the wetland re-naturalization, has improved habitats rapidly and there has been a proliferation of several rare animal species. Today the exclusion zone is known to host a breeding group of Greater Spotted Eagle. Numbers of other rare bird species have also grown: Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Hobby, and Kestrel. The sandy dunes are probably the last and the only breeding ground of the Stone-curlew, a species that is disappearing from Belarus. The Pripyat floodplain within the zone hosts the largest Belarusian breeding group of Ortolan Bunting (on steppe-like meadows) and Lesser Grey Shrike(in the vicinity of abandoned dwellings). The population density of Great Grey Shrike is also quite high. Today the exclusion zone serves as an important wintering ground for the largest Belarusian populations of White-tailed Eagle (40-60 birds) and Golden Eagle (5-10 birds).In early spring the flooded areas host large populations of migrating geese and ducks. In some years, concentrations of Great White Egret and Black Stork have been recorded in summer. Displaying Great Snipe have been recorded here increasingly often in the last several years.
Non-bird biodiversity: The absence of people defines high densities of ungulates (Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus, and Elk Alces alces) and Wolves. Numbers of some smaller terrestrial predators (Fox Vulpes vulpes, Raccoon Dog Nyctereutes procyonoides, and Stone Marten Martes foina) on the territory of the Zapovednik have also grown. Some National Red Data Book species can also be encountered here, including Badger Meles meles, Lynx Felis linx, and Common Dormouse Muscardinus avellaris. In 1995 European Bison Bison bonasus was introduced here. At present these animals live here freely.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Overgrowthof the open areas with woods and the progressive development of shrubs may result in the disappearance of many bird species, including rare and threatened ones that breed and forage on the open areas. High numbers of predators and competition from other species bars the population recovery for several species that were previously put under serious pressure (Stone-curlew and Lesser Grey Shrike). The mass hunting of Wolves results in unlimited growth in wild boar populations. This, in turn, adversely affects the breeding of several rare ground-nesting bird species.
National Conservation Status: Polesie Radio-Ecological Zapovednik. International Conservation Status: Potential IBA.Potential Ramsar site.
Habitat and land use
The open part of the floodplain is characterized by many dry steppe-like meadows that mix with waterlogged depressed areas. Trees are represented by thinned oak-woods, old willow plots including some very large trees, and willow shrubs along the river banks. Forests outside the floodplain are fragmented and mosaic. Sandy dune ridges stretch along the floodplain edge, as well as along the vast waterlogged parts. Almost all of them are covered with pine stands, but a few remain tree-less, revealing open sands.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Polesie Reserve. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 20/03/2023.