Bezhanitsky district in North-Western Russia is just a three-hour drive from the EU border. It hosts the largest peat bog in Europe and many unique forest and wetland landscapes.
Following the introduction of new regional forest legislation in 2006, legal timber harvesting became unprofitable here and the incomes of local people dropped. IUCN was then approached by the local authorities to help identify alternative income sources that would safeguard the rights of local people to access forest resources.
Under the ENPI FLEG (European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument – Improving Forest Law Enforcement and Governance), a local working group was created to help address growing concerns over natural resource use and management. This was made up of representatives from the local administration, businesses, forestry organisations and experts from Polistovsky Strict Nature Reserve.
The group came up with a plan to create ecotourism infrastructure through local investment. An eco-trail has become one of the main attractions and last year around 50 ‘ecotourists’ from four countries visited the Polistovsky forest giving very positive feedback. People in Zevlo and Bezhanitsy villages are now employed in the hospitality business and souvenir production.
The Russian Travel Guide TV-channel (RTG-TV) made a film about the initiative which is broadcast in 20 countries and European tourism companies are interested in capitalizing on the opportunities offered by this project. Polistovsky Reserve recently hosted the Estonial Nature Tours company representatives who agreed to include the reserve’s ecotrail in its tour packages. Working relations with three national parks in Estonia and Latvia have been established to ensure a flow of cross-border visitors.
Many other reserves across 13 Russian regions are interested in using the same model and the success of this initiative is helping to boost the partnership between European Union countries and Russia.
For more information contact: Andrey Zaytsev firstname.lastname@example.org