The Meschera National Park comprises unique peatland massifs covering over 23,000 ha. Some 8,000 ha of these are intact natural peatlands. Large peatland areas were affected by drainage, agriculture, peat extraction, and fires. Commercial peat production in what is now the national park began in early years of the 20th century. By the time the park was established, about 60% of the peatlands (some 15,000 ha) were drained. Currently, 5727 ha of the disturbed peatland complexes have been restored. A 500-ha section of the Orlovskoye-Kurlovskoye peat mining site was chosen for the implementation of a pilot rewetting project.
Peat was harvested there by the sod-peat extraction method since 1940 and by the milling method since 1968.
When the Meschera NP was established, the site was almost completely cutover. Peat quarries of 0.5 to 10 ha in size and 120 ha of fire-hazardous milling fields were left at the site. These fields are characterized by intensive destruction and decomposition of peat, wind and water erosion, carbon dioxide emissions, and almost annual fires that threaten habitats of wetland-related plants and animals.
The following works were fulfilled in August and September 2014:
1. Baseline ecological survey of the whole Orlovskoye-Kurlovskoye peatland (5679 ha to zero peat depth).
The following peatland characteristics were obtained as a result: vegetation cover; the remaining peat bed – depth, type, ash content, decomposition degree, bedrocks, location and status of drainage canals, presence of hydraulic facilities, hydrological and hydro-geological maps, and topography.
Corresponding GIS tiers were made available based on the survey results.
2. Legal aspects of the planned activities on the allocated lands were reviewed by the System Development Agency.
3. A socio-economic assessment of the planned wetland restoration activities was performed in cooperation with experts from the EthnoExpert Consultancy.
The assessment was made with regard to the history of nature management at the site; population structure and employment; current and potential use of the peatland. A stakeholder analysis was made as well, including interviews with representatives of stakeholder groups, which helped to develop recommendations on mitigation of potential risks associated with conflicting interests towards the conservation and development of the peatland area.
4. Pre-design conceptual model for rewetting the Orlovskoye-Kurlovskoye peatland was developed, including delineation of the rewetted site’s boundaries; description of the initial condition and the target ecosystem, potential land uses; main activities required and technical solutions to introduce these, including GIS tiers for spatial planning of the main activities. Two external experts, Alexander Kozulin (Belarus) and Stephan Rein (Germany) were involved in the concept development. They visited the peatland in August 2014 accompanied by the park staff.
5. A rewetting project for the 500 ha site at the Orlovskoye peatland was developed by the Strata Ltd design company based on the above concept and pre-design solutions. At present, the park has proceeded to the implementation of the rewetting project. It is planned to fulfill a set of measures on retaining and regulation of local runoff in existing canals and on the cutover peatland, which should restore the natural water regime of the mire. 35 earth dikes will be constructed on the drainage network to completely block the draining action of its canals and thus to raise water level to the mire’s surface.
These measures should trigger the paludification process, thanks to which processes of peat accumulation, carbon sequestration, and development of peatland vegetation will be restored. Further plans include the development and introduction of a monitoring programme for main ecological characteristics, in particular those that help assess the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at the rewetted site.