12,456 ha of disturbed inefficiently drained Belarusian peatland forests will be restored with the help of the GEF funded and UNDP implemented “Wetlands” project.
This experience will be used by the project for further development of the long-term plan on sustainable use of all the 260,000 ha of Belarusian peatland forests. The decisions on restoration/wise management of each peatland will be made within the project. It will allow to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions by 3,199,577 t CO2-eq/20y.
The rehabilitation of inefficiently drained forest peatlands will help to stabilize the groundwater table, prevent the soil mineralization and drying out of peat soil and will have a positive effect on rivers and meadows close to the project areas.
The rehabilitation activities will be held at the four project territories – Zhada, Vostrava, Biarozavik and Haradok. The rewetting (ecological restoration) is the most effective method of sustainable use of disturbed peatlands that has been developed and tested within the previous UNDP-GEF International Technical Assistance projects.
Moreover, the “Wetlands” project will contribute to the improvement of environmental legislation in Belarus and assists the Ministry of Natural Resources & Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus in drafting the Law "On the Protection and Use of Peatlands", which should state the legal framework for the protection and rational (sustainable) use of mires (peatlands), conservation and improvement of their habitat forming, water protection and other functions, satisfaction of economic, aesthetic, and other needs of present and future generations. The Law has no analogues in Europe and its draft has already been submitted by the Ministry for public discussion.
Disturbed peatlands: the scale of the problem in Belarus
Significant areas of disturbed peatlands have been formed in Belarus as a result of peat extraction, drainage of peatlands unsuitable for economic use and intensive agricultural development of drained land. Such disturbed peatlands have little potential for further economically efficient use because of different reasons, including the degraded peat soils that were previously used in agriculture, inefficiently used peat deposits (143,300 ha) that have been removed from commercial operation, as well as 89,900 ha of natural peatlands with significantly disrupted hydrological regime.
Today Belarus has 260,000 ha of drained peatland forests and the increase of this area causes significant environmental damage.
Drained and disturbed peatlands change from being a carbon sink to the carbon source and are affected by loss of soil carbon and soil fertility. Disturbed peatlands and peatland forests produce between 5-15 tCO2-eq/ha/y.
The hydrology of most of these areas is disrupted (i.e. groundwater table much below surface). Inappropriate management (or complete lack of management) of the groundwater table in drained peatland forests results in degradation of habitat, drying out of peat soil, release of carbon dioxide through soil mineralization, loss of small rivers, and cause peat and forest fires.
Large areas of drained forest peatlands have lost their productive capacity and can no longer be used gainfully for forestry. A drop in the water table by 0.5-0.7 meters, as a result of drainage, has caused the biodiversity decline.
Today Belarus is one of the world leaders in ecological restoration of peatlands. 51,000 ha of inefficiently drained Belarusian peatlands have already been restored within the International Technical Assistance projects in Belarus. The UNDP-GEF “Wetlands” project will also contribute to this large-scale work.