The small "Black Swamp" is of great importance to international climate and species protection. - photo: NABU/ Ivan Tymofeiev
Protecting the "Enchanted Valley" bog
Restoration of the Transcarpathian peatlands
The dense, lush forests of the Carpathians appear to be straight out of a fairy tale. And so it doesn't surprise that the National Park in the Ukrainian Carpathians was named "Zacharovanyi Krai" – it translates into "Enchanted Land". But the magic of the National Park does not lie in its forests alone. In fact, it is a mosaic of different habitats, including a wide variety of bog types. Slope and spring bogs in particular can be found here, which are of national and international importance for biodiversity and climate protection. However, drainage and drought as a result of the climate crisis are taking their toll on the bogs.
To address this, NABU is launching a project in 2021 to restore the water balance of the "Black Swamp" (also known as Chorne Bahno) and its neighboring bog areas in the Zacharovanyj Kraj National Park. The areas are located in the Irshava district in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine in the west of the country.
The "Black Swamp" – a small bog with a great responsibility
In spite of its relatively small area of 15 hectares, Chorne Bahno (which translates into "Black Swamp") ranks amongst the most important peatlands worldwide and is under protection of the Ramsar Convention since 2011. And rightly so! This peat bog may be low in nutrients, however, it is home to an extraordinary biodiversity including 15 plant species found on the Red List of the Ukraine. The bog makes a valuable contribution to global climate protection, storing carbon and cooling off the surrounding terrain. At the same time, it serves science to study the evolution of plants and to date back anthropogenic pollution over the last centuries. This makes unique alpine wetlands like Chorne Bahno indispensable for biodiversity, climate protection and science.
Unfortunately, the bog and its natural functions are in danger. As it is mainly fed by rainfall and has a relatively small catchment area, it is particularly affected by the climate crisis. The consequences are already palpable. The absence of rainfall in the summer months in combination with the drainage of the peatlands led to an extreme summer drought in the region between 2018 and 2020. It is of essential importance to save the peatlands from drying out. Only wet and intact peatlands can be effective as carbon sinks, protectors of climate and biodiversity, and prevent the surrounding terrain from flooding in case of heavy rainfall. The goal of the project is therefore to raise the water level in the "Black Swamp" and its adjacent peatlands to preserve the area for the long run.
The raised bog is home to many plant species like the colourful saffron crocus (crocus sativus) – photo: NABU/ Ivan Tymofeiev
The beaver dams keep the water in the bog and prevent it from drying out. – photo: NABU/ Ivan Tymofeiev
Beavers... Yep. Definitely beavers. 🕵️ – photo: NABU/ Ivan Tymofeiev
Zacharovanyj Kraj National Park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage cluster "Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe". – photo: NABU/ Tom Kirschey
There are many precious mire landscapes in the National Park. – photo: NABU/Tom Kirschey
Project staff walking the snow-covered area surrounding the Chorne Bahno bog. – photo: NABU/Ivan Tymofeiev
NABU staff inspect the project area together with partners to assess the existing dams. – photo: NABU/Ivan Tymofeiev
NABU's Tom Kirschey answers questions by Ukrainian reporters on occasion of the project launch. – photo: NABU/ Ivan Tymofeiev
Beavers to the rescue!
The endeavour of rewetting of the "Black Swamp" has vigorous support from the animal realm. Some years ago, beavers settled in the peatlands and have since proven themselves as effective (and low-budget) protectors of the bog. It was thanks to their dams that important areas of the bog could be saved from drying out in the three consecutive years of drought 2018 to 2020. Harnessing the workforce of the beavers in such a way is an innovative approach to environmental protection. It combines human and animal activities in one system – human hydro-engineering and constructions by the beavers – in order to raise the water level in the bog and thus save it from drying out. To achieve this, the natural expansion of beaver populations is encouraged while their existing dams are being preserved.
Can this project serve as a pilot?
The beaver dams in the drainage areas of the bog are reinforced and secured to perpetuate their hydrological effect. Biodiversity monitoring and project data collection are conducted to research the effects of this strategy. Going forward, the plan is to adapt these measurements to other wetland areas of the National Park to be carried out by trained staff of the Park administration. Additionally, project staff will work out a long-term management roadmap and plan further educational activities, such as the construction of an educational peatland trail.
Due to its innovative character– leveraging natural processes to restore the water level of the bog and to foster adaptation of the peatlands to climate change needs – the project indeed has great potential to serve as a model case for the future, and for other regions of the world.
April 2021 - March 2022
The project is a collaboration between NABU, NABU International Foundation for Nature, and the Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds (USPB) in close cooperation with the Zacharovanyj Kraj ("Enchanted Land") National Park administration.
The project is funded by the VGP Foundation. All activities are closely monitored by scientists and experienced environmentalists.