• Vadim Sidorovich

Naliboki Forest as an outstanding natural and historical phenomenon

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Primeval look of Naliboki Forest in the Middle Ages. Drawing by Aliaksandr Mitianin.

I never had a doubt that Naliboki Forest is an extremely valuable semi-natural terrain that also has a unique human history. You could feel it when you are in Naliboki Forest and you’re travelling across it - it goes without saying, even without any specific knowledge, on some kind of an intuitive level. As time passed, I was only surer that not everyone feels that way and I had to provide some proof.

Little by little I worked out a line of arguments, which, nevertheless, were apprehended by not all people, no matter whether they were experts in this sphere or not. The regular pessimistic approach to Naliboki Forest is the following: “Well, that’s quite a big forest, but it was almost completely cut down after the Second World War. Besides, almost all the swamps there were drained during the post-war times. So, the ecological value of Naliboki Forest is not very high. Historiography of Naliboki Forest is not worth talking about. What really counts is Bielaviezha Forest (Bielaviezhskaya Pushcha), because even Russian tsars went hunting there.” And the comparison of these two forests (Naliboki and Bielaviezha), which praises the second one, could be heard in almost every such answer. And that makes me present the fair comparison of unique values of these two forests.

In this case I usually say the following. First of all, what concerns the history of Naliboki Forest: that forest-swamp terrain situated in the bottomland of the river Nioman was the territory of Lithuanian lords since the remote 14th century, when the famous Kreva castle was being built on the edge of the forest. Naliboki Forest is preserved as an outstandingly huge natural complex not without a reason: it was a place for hunting for bisons and other big games as well as at the same time for training the army during such a complicated and labour-consuming hunting. Together with that, Naliboki Forest is surrounded all over by rural-urban lands, which were one of the most important parts of a former Belarusian state - Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which first capital was Navahradak, that is still situated near the forest. There is a good reason for the fact that the closest to Naliboki Forest towns and villages have so many medieval castles: Mir, Niasvizh, Liubcha, Navahradak, Kreva and Hal’shany. It is also necessary to admit here that the castles of Lida, Vil’nius and Troki are situated considerably close to the forest as well. Where else could you see such a combination of kings’ residences and a large semi-natural terrain? Bielaviezha Forest lacks these historical features. Also this famous part of the country, which is situated near Nioman, is sometimes referred to as “Lithuania” or “the place where Grand Duchy of Lithuania was founded” (Yermalovich, 1991; Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Encyclopedia in three volumes, 2006-2008). One more eminent fact about Naliboki Forest is that it is situated near the river Nioman, which has always been figuratively seen as a progenitor of the Belarusian lands by the Lithuanians in the past and by the Belarusians in the present. That’s why the comparison of Naliboki Forest and Bielaviezha Forest not always ends in favor of the second one, because it doesn’t have such a famous and significant river situated there; it doesn’t even have the one like Biarezina.

Hunting on bison in Naliboki Forest in the Middle Ages. Drawing by Aliaksandr Mitianin.

Multiple passionate allusions of Naliboki Forest can be seen in works of poetry of the local writers, Adam Mitskievish and Uladzislaw Syrakomlia. Their life and art are filled with those places. Adam Mitskievich devoted so many lines to the passionate description of that Naliboki Forest in his famous poem “Pan Tadeusz or the last foray in Lithuania” (Mitskievich, 1985). We get to know that he wrote about those places from the topographic references, for example, the lines about Kupijsk, which is near the river Nioman, at the edge of Naliboki Forest. Besides that, Naliboki Forest was a much bigger swamp- forest terrain during the Adam Mitskievich’s times.

According to Uladzimir Arlow’s novel “Times of Plage”, the Lithuanian King Aliexandr and his suite’s famous hunting for bisons, which was described in the well-known Mikola Husowski’s poem “Carmen de statura feritate ac venatione bisontis”, took place in Naliboki Forest. During that hunting, a huge bison attacked the hunting camp of the King’s suite, but they all were saved by one of the hunters. It was the famous Lithuanian poet Mikola Husowski. Perhaps, what we are reading there is his passionate description of greatness of Naliboki Forest and his admiration of the Forest’s scope, its bisons and hunting there (Husowski, 1973).

Nioman big river thai is flowing at the southern border of Naliboki Forest.

But it all is what was left in the past. And what is there now? Now Naliboki Forest is still a huge forest area of about two thousand square kilometers, and it will take you the whole day to go across it by a vehicle. And there are still not so many people, even during the warm time of the year. So, there are almost 80 kilometers from the forest projection at the Mir town at the south-eastern part of Naliboki Forest to the forested surroundings of the Vishniava borough at its north-western part. The phenomenon of boundlessness of natural environment during the present times of its fast destruction and ubiquitous human presence is already a certain difference of the present time. It is necessary to admit here that really Naliboki Forest was quite harmed after the Second World war, but there are still a lot of fragments of the old and, in some places, primeval forest habitats. Such unreachable for woodcutters pieces of the old forest can be found in any part of Naliboki Forest, but most of them are in the Biarezina valley and in some other places.

Thus, the ubiquitous draining of Naliboki Forest, which was held during the 1960-1980s, significantly changed its natural environment. But the numerous canals and dry land openings, that were created during the draining, later were mostly abandoned by people because of lack of need. Draining canals were populated by beavers. They had built a great number of dams across those canals, which in their turn, created thousands of ponds in Naliboki Forest. Those ponds helped to bring back the grassy marshes and black alder and birch swamps. This way a habitat-diverse terrain with dense package of ecologically rich habitats appeared.

Beaver dam on drainage canal in Naliboki Forest.

Beaver populated all rivers and drainage canals in Naliboki Forest.

Beaver settlement on abandoned drained land in Naliboki Forest.

Beaver pond on drainage canal in Naliboki Forest.

There is one more outstanding character of the wildlife in Naliboki Forest. By analyzing of its flora and fauna, it becomes evident that the transzonal positioning of Naliboki Forest provides the increase in the species richness because of in the region many boreal species are still present, and simultaneously nemoral ones appear.

In effect of all these environment heterogeneity and wildlife diversity an ecologist, who accidentally happens to be there, is usually shocked by the ecological richness of Naliboki Forest, which was created not without the human help.

Also, here it seems to be important to add that Naliboki Forest is not isolated from neighboring large forested areas. There are forested corridors, which join Naliboki Forest with the other vast forests such as Bielaviezha Forest, Harodnia Forest, the vast more southern and northern forests.

Bison in Nasliboki Forest. Currently there are about 100 of bison.

Brown bear is populating Naliboki Forest again. Nowadays there are 8-12 individuals in Naliboki Forest.

Capercaillie in Naliboki Forerst. Still therte is a viable local population of the western subspecies.

Lynx is a common predator in Naliboki Forest nowadays. There are 80-100 of them.

Great grey owl is wide-spread species in Naliboki Forest.

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