21.08.2017 Steppe Refuge established in the middle of Kuzbass
Within half a century, local resource-extractive production left the Kemerovo Oblast without its steppe ecosystems that had previously formed on low rocky ridges of Kuznetsk basin. The present-day steppe ecosystems are small areas amidst the fields or on hill slopes that are unsuitable for plowing. Starting from the beginning of 21st century, ever-expanding open pit areas resulted in the risk of a complete destruction of the region’s steppe biodiversity.
In 2014, the Project UNDP/GEF – Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia "Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Russia's Energy Sector Policies and Operations" initiated the setup of a special protected nature area (SPNR) in the Belovsky district. The protection site is Bachatskiye Sopki, a key botanic territory which is a linear chain of low carbonate-rock hills oriented to the north-east. Open pit works and road infrastructure development resulted in splitting Bachatskiye Sopki into three fragmented areas.
Each of the fragmented areas is unique by its land forms and vegetation community structure. There are feather-grass and mixed-herbs associations with predominance of feather grass (Stipa pinnata), Volga fescue (Festuca valesiaca), and June grass (Koeleria); meadow steppes with pasqueflower (Pulsatilla), scabious, and narrow-leaved bluegrass (Poa angustifolia); rocky steppes with a distinctive set of such species as stonecrop (Orostachys), bloodroot (Potentilla), goldendrop (Onosma), evergreen stonecrop (Sedum hybridum), pasture sagebrush (Artemisia frigida), and grass family (Gramineae). The total floristic list comprises 137 species. Out of them, about twenty species are in the Red List of Kemerovo Oblast (2012) and ten more in the Red List of Belovsky district (2011.) The rarest ones are Siberian phlox, Turchaninov sweet wetch (Hedysarum turczaninovii), Altay yellow cress (Erysimum flavum), Allium vodopjanovae, Gypsophila patrinii, and Potentilla elegans. Rare animal species include butterflies, bumblebees and beetles, in particular, Apollo butterflies (Parnassius appollo) and Bombus armeniacus listed in the Red List of Russia (1988.)
To set up a wildlife refuge, only one section of land was approved by the local authorities and land owners, that is between Starobachaty, Zarechnoje and Novy Gorodok village communities. The total area of the steppe refuge is 709 ha. This is the largest steppe area located in a densely populated area and, therefore, largely exposed to man-made impact.
The refuge became a unique pilot area for the Project UNDP/GEF – Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia. Under the auspices of the Project, the specialists of Kuzbass botanic garden, in cooperation with PAO ‘Kuzbass Toplivnaja Company,’ elaborated an innovative technology to restore meadow and steppe vegetation communities on the ground deposits and disturbed lands of the Company. The technological solution was to prepare the seed material and to further grass it on the deposits. From the point of the conditions for seed preparation on large areas, and considering the floristic variety, the territory of the refuge fitted this technology in the best way possible.
Now, there is every good reason to believe that steppe reserves is, in point of fact, a strategy for genetic bank forming. In the future, such banks can provide the seed material to restore steppe floristic diversity on disturbed territories. In this relation, the following scheme is found, ‘original steppe – disturbed lands – restored steppe – restored steppe landscape.’
As noted by Anatoly Poklonov, technical director of PAO KTK, ‘Today, quality requirements to the environmental restoration of the steppes has more benefits than the creation of pastures and hayfields has. In the latter, only two or three species of forage plants occur. That is why our companies’ projects for recultivation will be targeted to use specifically this technology. ‘
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