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WWF expedition explored the intact taiga of Leshukonia

29 june 2020
WWF-Russia’s expedition has returned fr om the intact forests of Arkhangelsk Region wh ere the scientists explored primeval taiga in Leshukonsky district to assign it a protected status.

At the beginning of the month, a group of scientists and WWF-Russia’s experts went to a remote and inaccessible area of forests near the Mezen river tributaries: the Mezenskaya Pizhma and the Chetlas to conduct a comprehensive survey of the vast Northern taiga territory. Zoologists, ornithologists, botanists, landscape and soil scientists had to describe the local flora and fauna, soils and landscapes, as well as find habitats of rare, threatened, and endangered species of plants and animals.

The scientists have confirmed that the Eastern part of Leshukonsky district is represented by unique intact forest and wetland areas, with habitats of rare, threatened, and endangered species of flora and fauna, including key seasonal animal habitats. Large forest areas and wetlands of Leshukonia are the standards of biological diversity in the Northern taiga and pre-tundra forests. Here you can find larch forests, forests on rock outcrops, spruce-birch and birch-spruce woodlands, karst logs, forest wetlands and more. The expedition even encountered lichen-type spruce forests unique to Arkhangelsk Region. Such a variety of landscapes and soil-geological conditions of the Leshukonia taiga provide a rich species diversity of flora and fauna.

"These woods just seem to be endless. With extensive industrial logging, they can disappear completely within a few decades. Therefore, it is important to identify and subsequently conserve ecologically valuable areas of the taiga, which are home for many species of plants and animals, as well as places of recreation, fishing and hunting for the local communities, whose life is inextricably linked with the forest," says Nikolay Larionov, a member of the expedition, the head of WWF-Russia Barents Branch in Arkhangelsk.

WWF-Russia's expedition into intact taiga of Leshukonia, Arkhangelsk Region, July 2020
(c) WWF-Russia

One of the rarest and most timid inhabitants of the intact taiga is the wild reindeer, this year it was included in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation. The expedition was lucky to find traces of this rare species on its route. In addition, the scientists found that the area being surveyed is home to eight rare, threatened, and protected species of birds, five of which are included in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation: for example, the white-tailed eagle, osprey and yellow-breasted bunting.

The flora of this region is even more diverse than the fauna. In this area of the taiga, the experts have identified about 500 species of vascular plants: almost half of the entire flora of the mainland of Arkhangelsk Region. Moreover, all of them are typical for taiga, and no aggressive alien plant species for this region were found. In addition, the Leshukonia taiga is home to about 200-250 species of mosses: almost 2/3 of all mosses on the mainland of the Region, and about 250 species of lichens: about half of all species on the mainland.

The expedition has found the places where two species of plants from the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation grow: Cypripedium calceolus and Tetrodontium repandum, as well as 32 species of mosses and lichens from the "List of rare, threatened, and endangered animals, plants, and other organisms included in the Red Data Book of Arkhangelsk Region". Four of them: Alpine Clustered Saxifrage, Tufted Saxifrage, Alpine and Smooth Woodsia are very rare, and cannot be found in the other areas of the Region.

WWF-Russia notes that the tundra forests of Leshukonia play an important role in climate regulation, maintaining the water regime, and preserving biological diversity. The materials of the expedition will become the basis for justifying the natural value of this territory and assigning it a protected status.

"The expert assessment of all types of landscapes and natural ecosystems of Leshukonsky district, which we conducted in the expedition, is extremely important for their complete exclusion from industrial logging. This is irrefutable evidence of the ecological value of this territory, which will help coordinate with the forest companies the boundaries of the protected areas of the taiga and assign them an official protected status in the future," explains Nikolay Larionov.

WWF-Russia is already negotiating with ULK Group, which leases the Leshukonia taiga, the ways to conserve its most valuable parts. The environmentalists are looking for further productive cooperation with the company and a dialogue with regional authorities, which will help address not only commercial, but also environmental and social priorities. Thanks to joint efforts, the most valuable areas of intact forests of Leshukonia may soon become protected area or the first site of the National Forest Heritage in Russia.

The funds for assigning a protected status to the intact forests of Leshukonia were raised during the campaign, which was held in the hypermarkets of the Karusel retail chain (X5 Retail Group) in cooperation with WWF-Russia.

Headline and preview photos: (c) WWF-Russia.

For additional information please contact
Forest Program communication projects coordinator
Director of Ecoregional Office