Kaliningrad – Feasibility Study for a Nature Reserve in the Memel Delta

The Michael Succow Foundation’s extensive work in recent years on developing a concept for a nature reserve in the Russian portion of the Rominter Heath (Romincka Forest) has meanwhile resulted in the formal establishment of this reserve.  Following this success the Russian government has expressed the desire to receive the foundation’s continued support in developing additional cross-boundary reserves in other parts of the country.

The initial step in this direction is a feasibility study, sponsored by the German Federal Foundation for the Environment (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, DBU), that will examine the potential for developing and implementing a cross-boundary nature reserve in the Memel delta.

Like the Rominter Heath, the Memel delta, located at the Curonian Lagoon in the border region between Lithuania and the Kaliningrad area, bears witness to the turbulent history of the recent decades. Known during the German reign as an extensive refuge for European elk (elk valley, elk forest), it served for many years primarily as an object of hunters’ desires. Even in those days, efforts began to cultivate the flood plains of the Memel and the Curonian Lagoon through dike construction and the establishment of an extensive drainage system.  These systems were further developed during the Soviet era.  In addition, heavy peat extraction from the region’s extensive ombrotrophic peatlands began shortly after World War II.

 

After 1990, the region's development on the Russian versus the Lithuanian side continued on vastly different tracks. While the Lithuanian part saw the further development of agricultural use and a certain degree of tourism and village renewal, the Russian part was mainly characterized by the abolishment of land use and rural exodus. The flip side of this development is the fact that peat extraction, a non-sustainable form of land use, continues unabated on the Lithuanian side, while it has come to an almost complete stop in the Kaliningrad region.

Similar to the Rominter Heath, the Lithuanian portion of the area already has a conservation regime in place. Since 1997 it boasts the “Nemunas Delta” Regional Park. As yet, there is no reserve on the Russian side. However, two important peatland areas have recently entered into the process of receiving protected status.

The Michael Succow Foundation’s efforts in the Memel delta are geared toward supporting the Russian authorities in the development of a supra-regional reserve that will form a southern extension of the Lithuanian regional park. Both reserves together will later serve as the basis for nominating the combined area as a cross-boundary biosphere reserve.  Therefore, a positive outcome of the feasibility study will lead to a second project phase, the development of a detailed reserve concept.

Partners in this project are the Association for Natural Heritage (“Verein Naturerbe”, Kaliningrad, Russia), the Russian MAB committee (Moscow, Russia), the Slawsk district administration (Russia) and the regional park “Nemunos deltos” (Šilute, Lithuania).

The project is funded by the German Federal Foundation for the Environment (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, DBU).

 

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Project coordination:

Stefan Schwill, email: stefan.schwill(at)succow-stiftung.de