Wetlands in Russia

Home » Wetlands » Wetlands in Russia

Russia is the world’s largest country, covering 17 million km2. For the most part, this huge territory is presented by flat lowlands and has a humid climate. As a result, the country possesses vast areas of wetlands, including peatlands of various types (raised bogs, fens, and transitional mires) covering 1.8 million km2, 120,000 rivers with a total length of 2,300,000 km, 2 million lakes with a total volume of 370,000 km3, and diverse marine wetlands occurring over a 60,000-km stretch of the national coastline.

Among these are such important and extensive wetlands as the Volga Delta, the largest deltaic complex in Europe and one of the richest bird habitat in the world, covering 19,000 km2; Kandalaksha Bay on the eastern side of the White Sea and Lake Khanka in the Russian Far East, renowned for their importance for breeding and migrating waterbirds; the world’s largest peatland system of Bolshoye Vasyuganskoye covering 50,000 km2 in Western Siberia; Lake Baikal containing 20% of the world’s liquid fresh water with its unique fauna characterized by the highest number of endemic species of all inland water bodies; large wetland areas along the coasts of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov on the south; extensive tundra wetlands underlying by permafrost on the north, and many others. On the plains of Western Siberia, a continuous bog landscape is found, with a great number of lakes and wide river valleys. This area comprises a great ‘duck factory’, comparable with the prairie pothole country of North America.

The loss and alteration of these wetlands and their catchments can result in global changes in hydrological regime and climate.

These wetlands support a rich and globally significant diversity of plants and animals. The total population of swans, geese, ducks and coots (59 species and subspecies) in Russia at the end of the breeding season is estimated at 80–90 million individuals. The populations of shore birds and colonial seabirds total 191 million individuals (Krivenko & Vinogradov 2008). The area provides critical breeding habitats for many globally threatened species.

The level of human transformation of wetland ecosystems varies greatly. Marine ecosystems of the seas that bound Russia on the west (the Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Sea of Azov) and some riverine wetland complexes in the Volga catchment are the most destroyed. In European Russia, the great loss and alteration of wetlands has been caused by major drainage schemes (so called amelioration) and by dam construction on all the major rivers. Several million hectares of peatlands have been drained and used for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction. In the Arctic, human impact on the natural environment is of local character, connected mainly with oil and gas exploration and development activity, which has been increasing across coastal parts of the region in recent years. In Siberia and Northeastern Russia, there are still great areas of wilderness, and most peatlands, tundra wetlands, oligotrophic and dystrophic lakes, unique overlogged larch peatmoss forests (mari) and other wetlands have remained untouched.

Wetlands of international importance

Over the last decades the great importance of wetlands for the conservation of the natural environment has become more and more recognized, both nationally and internationally. In 1975, Russia joined the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the first international initiative attracting attention to the outstanding values of wetlands. By now, the Government of the Russian Federation has designated 35 wetland sites for the Ramsar List of internationally important wetlands; the total area of these sites is over 11 million hectares.

The Russian network of Ramsar sites supports a great variety of wetland types found in the arctic and temperate climate zones. Eight out of 35 sites are primarily represented by marine wetlands, and the rest are inland natural wetland complexes with a high proportion of floodplain and deltaic riverine complexes and peatlands. These sites support large populations of water birds, up to an estimated total of 10 million birds at the end of the breeding season. Protected nature areas of various types cover approximately 60% of the total area of Ramsar sites. The Russian Ramsar sites, therefore, are large areas for which a multiple-use zoning approach has been applied to protect water birds and their habitats during all stages of their life cycles, as well as to maintain natural functions of wetland ecosystems and their socio-economic benefits.

Wetland conservation in Russia is not confined to the protection of Ramsar sites. Large wetland areas are conserved as parts of protected nature areas established by the federal and local governments. Nine million hectares of wetlands are protected within the strict nature reserves (zapovedniki). All national parks and many federal and local-level sanctuaries (zakazniki) include wetland areas. Outside protected nature areas, wetland management is regulated by a number of laws (Federal Laws ‘On the Conservation of the Natural Environment’, ‘On Environmental Impact Assessment’, ‘On Wildlife’, and the Water and Forest Codes, etc.).

Wetlands of International Importance in Russia / Водно-болотные угодья России, имеющие международное значение