Between 2009 and 2012, IUCN supported Polistovsky’s forest community in Russia’s Bezhanitsy municipality (Western Russia) in developing ecotourism opportunities, in response to the region’s collapsing community and unsustainable forest management. This community-based ecotourism was aimed at improving environmental management and empowering the local community in the pursuit of more sustainable livelihoods.
One year after the end of IUCN’s intervention through the FLEG I Program, the Polistovsky community has been able to take full control of the ecotourism development while sustainably utilizing their natural forest resource. This ecotourism venture has not only provided a source of employment and income but has also strengthened the community awareness on the importance of protecting their forest resources.
In the Polistovsky Nature Reserve, the opportunity of tourism exists because of the natural beauty manifested in its wetlands, forests and bogs that sustain a wide variety of flora and fauna. However, due to strict forest legislation and overall economic decline, the number of Polistovsky’s dwellers in nearby Tsevlo settlement, dropped to today’s 600 from 2500 in the 1980’s; as inhabitants were forced to forego the great natural beauty to look for employment elsewhere.
As one of the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) implementing partners, IUCN established a dialogue between the local community and the Director of the Polistovsky Nature Reserve, in order to improve the relationship between the two parties as well as to determine their needs and priorities before providing recommendations for ecotourism and conservation of the forest reserve. The FLEG programme promotes legal and viable use of forest resources as well as sustainable livelihoods of local communities in Russia and 6 European Neighbourhood Policy East Countries.
“Our major task was to help the community to build a roadmap and steps to take in order to develop a sustainable model for the use of non-timber resources, and making sure that this model is legal” says Andrey Zaytsev, IUCN’s FLEG coordinator based in Moscow.
Andrey Zaytsev inspired Polistovsky’s community to apply for a grant from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The community was awarded 7000 Euros which helped create their plan of action and initiate the “Eco-tourism Pilot Project”. The significance of this achievement was recognized by the Governor of the Pskov region, which in turn made the community feel valued and motivated to fully cooperate with the FLEG programme initiatives.
Eco-trails, cranberries and teas
There is an abundance of cranberries growing wild in the natural bogs of the Polistovsky Nature Reserve. “These cranberries are delicious and pollution-free”, adds Andrey Zaytsev, who saw the potential and success of serving cranberry Russian cakes in the restaurant located in the reserve. Indeed today, the Polistovsky Nature Reserve restaurant draws crowds of tourists, by serving specialty cranberry cakes. The restaurant and visitor centre also sells a variety of medicinal herbal teas, made using the leaves of forest plants, as well as local handicrafts.
IUCN FLEG programme continued to provide Polistovsky Nature Reserve with information on regulations of forest resources and technical assistance in setting up an integrated tourist strategy, leading to the successful culmination of the pilot phase. This success enabled them to leverage more funding from the Russian Ministry for Nature Protection of about 100,000 US Dollars, which financed the construction of the nature reserve visitors centre and the refurbishment of its restaurant and lodge. The Nature Reserve has also reached an agreement with several Estonian tour operators to include Polistovsky eco-trails into their travel programmes.
Mikhail Yablokov, Director of Polistovsky Nature Reserve visited other nature reserves in Estonia, England, Sweden and USA to learn about conservation management strategies and conflict management of poaching and encroachment. “However, we can now rely on the support of the community in reporting poachers and illegal activities” stated Andrey Zaytsev. “The local community now has a sense of ownership and responsibility for their land and natural resources and I consider this to be a very important achievement.”
The Polistovsky model of ecotourism has been so successful that it will be replicated in Northwestern Russia, the Baikal Region and Russian Far East. In October 2013, FLEG launched the second phase of the Program, and the FLEG-2 programme has begun negotiations with 15 reserves that are interested in replicating Polistovsky’s successful model of ecotourism.