Europe’s little-known jungles of the Transcarpathia: building capacity for effective conservation, Ukraine
The wet forests of the Transcarpathia in Western Ukraine represent the largest surviving area of the ancient riverine forests of Central Europe. The forests could aptly be called “jungles” with their huge trees and density of oak-ash stands, many of which are 150-250 years old. They are amongst the most biodiverse forests in Europe but have been reduced to a few vulnerable examples.
The vast number of internationally threatened plant and animal species present in these forests, together with the imminent threat of their large-scale destruction, provide an urgent need to work towards establishment of an effective conservation management model.
The location of these forests, close to the western border of the former Soviet Union has effectively restricted any large-scale investigation of their wildlife and sustainable use. However, today the economic growth of the Ukraine is leading to growing pressure to exploit the forests quickly, with little information existing to lobby the government to protect them.
Corruption, excessive logging and the smuggling of timber have caused serious economic and environmental problems for the region. Moreover, the increasing incidence of devastating floods in both Transcarpathia and downstream has been linked to the degradation of the forests.
Dr. Bohdan Prots is Head of Plant Ecology at the State Museum of Natural History and Director of the Centre for Environmental Studies and Nature Conservation. He leads a major attempt to incorporate Western European conservation experience into Ukraine policy and to build capacity for conservation. Armed with biological data for long term management, Bohdan is lobbying the government to create a 250km2 protected area in the Danube-Carpathian region, 100km2 of which is also being proposed as a Ramsar site. A multi-stakeholder consultation is engaging local people for support of a Biodiversity Action Plan incorporating sustainable use. In the long term, Bohdan hopes to engage representatives from bordering Hungary, Slovakia and Romania to develop a transboundary protected area.
- Over 350 threatened species of international importance are found in Ukraine’s forests, as well as 82% of the Ukraine’s bat fauna (23 species). Only 2% of the forest is currently protected.
- The old-growth forests are the largest in Central Europe (ca. 25km2). The ash trees are the biggest in the world (reaching heights of 46m, 153cm in diameter).
- In the last 100 years, over 120km2 of riverine forest and 100km2 of mires have been lost due to drainage in the Transcarpathia.