Republican hydrological reserve "Miranka": unremarkable secrets and beauties

Republican hydrological reserve "Miranka": unremarkable secrets and beauties

Through the Wolf Swamp

Just seven kilometers from the place of attraction of numerous tourists of the country and abroad – Mir Castle – lies the republican hydrological reserve "Miranka". Unremarkable at first glance, it hides many secrets and beauties. Rare for Grodno region massifs of open marshes of transitional and lowland types are situated here. They are of great interest for studying the processes of how swamp communities are restored after re-bogging of worked-out peat deposits. The core of the reserve is a huge Wolf swamp.


Land that gives peat

Miranka nature reserve got its name from the Miranka River, which flows near it. Half a century ago, peat processing was actively carried out here, huge black fields were seen everywhere, a peat processing plant worked in the village of Miranka. The plant was a breadwinner for the local population and warmed the entire region. People who came to the protected areas in the post-war years, carried out hydrotechnical reclamation, drained the swamps, took everything he could from the ground. Then the time came to help the earth to recover. Secondary waterlogging was carried out. 



  “The reserve was created in 1996 on the site of the former peat mining for the conservation and rational use of valuable forest-bog ecosystems of wild animals and plants included in the Red book of the Republic of Belarus, as well as for stabilization of the hydrological regimes of the rivers Nieman, Usha.” Vasily Levkovich said, the chief of Korelichi district inspection of natural resources and environmental protection. “Later, in 2005, the regime of protection and use of the territory of the reserve was clarified, as anthropogenic loads and the threat to the safety of the valuable natural complex increased. The greatest danger to it was posed by hydrotechnical land reclamation, forestry activities and fires. Since then, the territory of the reserve has become a "zone of rest".


The territory of the reserve can be referred to as a model of the natural complex of the central part of the country, it is a reserve of many rare and endangered, even relict plant and animal species included in the national and international Red Books, as well as unique and typical plant communities.  Its area is more than 3,200 hectares.

On the way to Mir Forestry, we can learn that 15 categories of especially valuable plots have been allocated on the territory of Miranka. They occupy 30 percent of the territory. They include the habitats of protected plant and animal species, as well as large tracts of open transitional and lowland swamps. The swamp occupies 14 percent of the reserve's land, while forested land dominates -76 percent. 


Through the Wolf Swamp

The former forester of Mir forestry of Vasily Chura, who devoted forty years to forestry, and the current young forester Andrey Masko, undertake to guide us through the Wolf Swamp. People who are in love with their work talk about the swamp as if it is the eighth wonder of the world. It is necessary to walk through the swamp for about three kilometers. The path is getting narrower. My feet sink into the black earth, where water oozes out from under them. There are almost impassable reed-willow thickets around us. But how beautifully nature returns to life after hibernation, filled with color and sounds! Tender foliage is appearing from the buds that are about to explode. A white heron flew up, cranes flew by… 


Fortunately, we did not meet any wolves in the Wolf Swamp, although there are a lot of them in the reserve. And judging by the stories of old-timers, there were even more of them before the peat mining. That's why they didn't go into the swamp. Even the Germans avoided this dangerous in all respects zone during the war.

“The total area of the swamps in the reserve is more than 300 hectares.” – our guides tell us. “Wolf swamp and others are interesting for studying the processes of restoration of swamp communities during the re-swamping of worked-out peat deposits.”

Young forest, birch trees in the swamp

"Miranka" is not only a swamp. 


“The eye rejoices when you see the areas overgrown with young forests after peat mining, the birch groves and pine forests, which have grown.” – Vasily Chura expresses his delight.

The forests in the reserve are mostly young, with only about one percent of mature plantings. And mainly pine, birch, spruce and black alder grow here. A minor admixture to these species is aspen, oak, elm, linden, maple and ash. Half of the total area of forested land is covered by pine forests. Birch groves rejoice the eye, thin birch trees in the middle of swamps surprise. In lowland and swampy floodplain high-grass meadows, moisture-loving species of cereals, sedges and various grasses predominate. Aquatic and coastal-aquatic vegetation is represented by communities of aquatic, air-aquatic and near-water plants. All of them grow on the banks of the Neman and Usha, as well as channels. The flora of the reserve includes more than 100 species of plants!


Our guides told us that in the reserve you can find two species of rare and endangered plants included in the Red Book of the Republic of Belarus: the fen orchid and the Alpine bulrush – vulnerable relict species protected in Belarus.

In addition, 12 species included in the list of wild ornamental, medicinal, food plants and other economically useful plant species have been registered on the territory of the hydrological reserve. And also a medicinal mushroom the inonotus obliquus, or chaga grows on the trunks of birch trees in Eremichi forestry.  


The rest zone and the beaver kingdom

“Since the territory of the reserve is declared a "zone of rest" (there is no hunting, no cutting down trees and vegetation, no fires are lit, no tourist parking is arranged), there are a lot of animals.” – Vasily Levkovich says. “Beavers are gnawing the trees over there – they really like to live in the reserve. Also you can find the badger, hare, elk, wild boar, deer, roe deer, wolf, fox, lynx here. The lynx population has greatly increased.

The reserve is home to 115 species of vertebrates. Among them are eight species that are subject to protection in accordance with national legislation. The Red Book protects badger and seven species of birds: crane, corncrake, little crake, Eurasian bittern, little bittern, white-tailed eagle, black stork. 


Due to the high water-content of the reserve territory, it is a real dream for the mammals of the wetland complex. Almost all reservoirs and watercourses are inhabited by river beaver, muskrat and water vole. Wetlands are inhabited by raccoon dog, American mink, European polecat. The otter feels great on the banks of the Usha and Neman rivers, the badger likes the embankments of the swamp.

The combination of forest, meadow and swamp communities created favorable conditions for the fox, wolf and lynx. In the forests you can see forest and beech martens, weasel and stoat, European and mountain hare, red squirrel, white-breasted hedgehog, mole. In the spring, everything sings and chirps in Miranka: 72 species of nesting birds live here.

Almost all types of reed warblers and grass warblers are found in wetland and near-water-marsh complexes on former peat processing sites overgrown with reeds and bulrush. Thickets of swamp vegetation and open water mirrors were chosen by ducks: the mute swan, mallard, common pochard and tufted duck, gray duck, common coot. Favorable conditions are here for the habitat of rare and protected birds in Europe – common coot and Eurasian bittern, the white-tailed eagle. Amphibians feel great and breed well in the reserve. 


Villages-cottages on the banks of rivers

The reserve belongs to the Neman River basin. Some sections of its northern borders are located on the left bank of the river. The protected area is also drained by the Usha River, which is the left branch of the Neman, and by the Miranka, the right branch of the Usha River. The Miranka flows north across the plain to the village of Mir, where it passes Mir Castle. The water from this river helped to fill  the castle moat in the XVI century.  


On the banks of the winding Usha, the picturesque villages of Zarechye, Berezhno, Miranka are situated. The latter, by the way, survived and developed while the peat processing plant was working. Today, there are only a few residents here, although there are two dozen houses. People use them for summer cottages.

The well-maintained village of Zarechye stretches like a snake along the Usha. Many old houses have roofs covered with tin – this is a sign of the wealth of the former owners. By the way, there are no empty houses in this village. The inhabitants love their village, they have improved the coastal area of the Usha with their own efforts and even planted a new garden on the wasteland. A real masterpiece of wooden architecture is a small blue church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and a bell tower built in 1858 on a high hill in the middle of the cemetery. Masses are held here once a month. 


There is an old wooden bridge across the river. And on the other side of the Usha there is the village Scarici, a small homeland of Belarusian poet Ales Miliutia. There is plaque hanging on the wall of his home.

There are no historical and cultural monuments protected by the state on the territory of the Miranka nature reserve. But it is worth visiting to feel the nature, to see the coastal villages, which have a soul and color, to hear stories and to communicate with people. And after driving seven kilometers, you can touch the history and feel the power of your own roots in the magnificent palace and park complex "Mir".  

By the way, the popular tourist route "Novogrudok – Mir – Nesvizh" passes through the hydrological reserve. Eco-tourism is also being developed in the region. 

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