Analysis and Commentary
Лапландский заповедник. Типичный ландшафт
© from the archives of the Lapland Biosphere Reserve

Lapland Nature Reserve – savage and beautiful

The Lapland Nature Reserve (LNR), a piece of virgin northern wilderness, is located in the center of the Murmansk Region on the Kola Peninsula. People have never lived or farmed in this area thus preserving the nature and pristine beauty. Arctic.ru asked the LNR’s director, Sergei Shestakov, about its past and present.

The Lapland Nature Reserve was established in 1930 by Gherman Kreps, the first local environmentalist. "He came to the Kola Peninsula as a member of a development expedition in 1930 and immediately realized how vulnerable nature was in this northern area. He saw that there were few wild reindeer left on the Kola Peninsula. In neighboring Finland (which was part of Russia at the time), there were no wild reindeer at all; the entire population was exterminated in the early 19th century," Sergei Shestakov said. Before the reserve was established, poaching was rife on the Kola Peninsula despite the ban Russia had imposed on reindeer hunting. This was the main reason the reindeer population was shrinking. Gherman Kreps and his colleagues concluded that they could only save the wildlife in this area by establishing a nature reserve.

"The project was met by some obstacles, but it owed its ultimate success to Gherman Kreps with his enthusiastic and vigorous manner. He knew how to find like-minded people and win them over. He could talk as an equal to everyone, be it a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a government official, or one of the Sami who lived on the Kola Peninsula. These unique qualities enabled him and his colleagues to prepare the necessary documents for opening a nature reserve," he said. The Lapland Nature Reserve was established on January 17, 1930, by a resolution of the Leningrad Regional Committee (the Murmansk Area was part of the Leningrad Region at that time).

Who inhabits the ancient woodlands?

Old forests are one of the nature reserve's many assets. The Kola Peninsula is the only Russian region where forests grow beyond the Arctic Circle. They appeared after the retreat of the last glacier nearly 10,000 years ago. This is why some local forests are several thousand years old, with pines averaging 140 years, fir-trees 200 years, and birches 45 years.

But a more usual landscape is characterized by an abundance of perennial plants and evergreen shrubs. This is due to the local climate, chiefly a long winter and a cool and brief summer. This climate works better for plants with a short vegetation-to-seed cycle.

There are also swamps boasting eight species of insectivorous plants: three species of butterwort, two species of sundew, and three of bladderwort.

Surprisingly, orchids grow in this area alongside typical Arctic plants even though they are regarded as tropical flowers unfit for the cold climate. There are 19 species of these exotic flowers endemic in the Murmansk Region, ten of which occur in the Lapland Nature Reserve. Of course, they are not as bright as their southern counterparts but every inch as graceful and beautiful. Look, for example, at the pink-and-lilac Calypso orchid.

The Lapland Nature Reserve is the only place in Fennoscandia and the Kola Peninsula that has a herd of wild reindeer that numbers over a 1,000 head. The reindeer population was only saved because of the nature reserve. "It has been 87 years since the nature reserve was established. In 1929, there were 95 reindeer. Today there are nearly 1,000," Mr Shestakov said.

The local animal world includes the European beaver. Unfortunately, it was exterminated in the 19th century, but soon after the reserve was established, the beavers were reacclimatized and the numbers stabilized.

Other animals in the territory are elk, brown bears, wolves, foxes, martens, wolverines, Norwegian and wood lemmings, and many others. There are 198 bird species, including permanent and migratory species such as divers, mallards, thrushes and bullheads.

Studying and protecting  

Research is a priority for the staff, which monitors the environment and collects data on the state of the nature, which are entered in the annual chronicle.

The staff makes an inventory of the local flora and fauna, natural systems and entities. They also compile lists of plants and animals. "Our latest inventory began in 2003. At that time, there were just 114 species of lichens. As of today, we have counted 629 species; some of them quite rare and previously unknown in Eurasia. Earlier their presence was only reported in North America. We do have some rare finds," he said.

Nature conservation, including protection against anthropogenic activity, is one of the most important functions of any nature reserve. Slightly less than a century ago, when the Lapland Nature Reserve was established, the Kola Peninsula was not as developed as it is now, and wildlife was not so much endangered. But as industry encroaches, the nature reserve becomes even more important.

"When our nature reserve was being established, there were about 5,000 people living in small villages on the far side of Imandra Lake, 30 kilometers from the reserve. There were no industrial companies. Now, 87 years later, there are 220,000 people living within 10 to 40 kilometers of the reserve, and big industrial enterprises, some of the biggest in Russia, are here now. The nearest one, within 7 kilometers of the reserve, is Severonickel, a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, which is part of the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company. In our vicinity we also have the Kola nuclear power station located 19 kilometers to the south of the reserve, Apatit (29 kilometers), and the Olenegorsky Mining and Processing Plant (29 kilometers)," he said, adding that they strive to keep nature intact nonetheless.

"We are cooperating with these businesses, primarily with the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company and the Kola nuclear power station," he said.

Poachers sneaking into the protected territory are also a danger. To fight them inspectors mount regular patrols in any weather regardless of the time of day or season of the year. "We patrol our borders and try to cut off any attempt to sneak into our reserve to poach," he said.

Environmental paths

How can an ordinary nature lover visit the nature reserve? The only opportunity to do that is to join the environmental knowledge tours that are organized by the staff.

"In the summer, we offer guided tours on our environmental paths; we tell visitors about the seasonal changes in northern nature and reveal its secrets," he said.

Since 1995, Father Frost lives here from November to January in a log tower on the shore of Chunozero Lake in the Lapland Nature Reserve, where New Year's celebrations are held for children and adults. From February to March, Farewell-to-Winter and Maslenitsa festivals are held for tourists.

Every year, about 5,000 people visit the nature reserve, including the Chunozero tours and environmental estate.