Probably many in Uzbekistan know and remember the UNDP-GEF project "Creation of the Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biosphere Reserve as a model for the conservation of biodiversity in Uzbekistan." The project was (2001-2007) really great. Unfortunately, it did not end with the creation of a reserve, for reasons beyond the control of the project. It's up to the government.
The GEF SGP project has become, as it were, a small continuation of the work begun in a medium-scale (large for us) project. But let's go in order. We will go from what to protect in the project - further to threats - and what the project is doing to reduce them.
What globally significant biodiversity is the project aiming to conserve?
This project is a biodiversity conservation project. And like any GEF biodiversity project, there has to be something to protect in the first place. The project area is centered around the existing Nurata Reserve, and in a broader sense, is aimed at the territory of a potential biosphere reserve. We still hope that it will be created.
So what do we have in this area?
The project area is located at the junction of Jizzakh, Samarkand and Navoi regions of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In physical and geographical terms, it includes the Nuratau and Koitash ridges (the extreme northwestern spurs of the Pamir-Alay) with their piedmont plain (Farish steppe), the western part of the Hungry Steppe, the remnant Pistalitau ridge, the southeastern part of the Kyzylkum desert and the Aydar-Arnasay system lakes. The flat part occupies about ¾ of the project area, here an average of 200 mm of precipitation falls annually, in the mountainous part 300-400 mm of precipitation falls. The climatic conditions of the region well reflect the main features of the climate of Uzbekistan - aridity and continentality.
This region is unique for Central Asia in terms of biological and landscape diversity. The territory is located in the transition zone between the Pamir-Alai and Tien Shan mountain systems and the desert plains of the Turan lowland and is a kind of reduced model of the whole of Central Asia. On a relatively small area, most types of natural complexes characteristic of Central Asia are represented here, including sandy, gypsum, clay and saline deserts, remnant low mountains, foothills, medium-altitude mountains, plain and mountain water-semiaquatic ecosystems. Only the highlands are missing.
The most threatened and valuable of the region's ecosystems are mountain and desert forests, primarily the floodplain walnut forests of the Nuratau ridge, which represent a unique genetic fund of various ancient walnut varieties and other walnut tree species. In the South-Eastern part of the Kyzylkum desert, a significant area is occupied by natural saxaul forests, which have no analogues on the territory of Uzbekistan. In general, the forested area is about 49 thousand hectares (less than 5% of the district). Most of the forest lands (about 46 thousand hectares) are part of the Farish forestry, the rest are located on the territory of the Nurata reserve.
The project area has a rich and distinctive flora and fauna, including many endemic, rare and valuable species of animals and plants. A significant part of the flora and fauna of this region is made up of Turanian and Turkestan endemics. The species composition of flora and fauna is quite highly representative in relation to the flora and fauna of Uzbekistan. The Aidaro-Arnasai system of lakes and the Nuratau ridge are included in the list of key ornithological territories of Central Asia. The Aidaro-Arnasay system of lakes is the largest habitat in the region for more than 100 species of waterfowl and shorebirds and one of the most important places for mass wintering. This reservoir is supposed to be included in the list of the Ramsar Convention.
The flora includes about 1200 species of higher plants, of which 41 species are listed in the Red Book of Uzbekistan, including 7 species of tulips, 5 species of astragalus, 4 species of eremurus, 3 species of onions. 32 species of plants in the project region are endemic to the Nurata Mountains (including 1 endemic monotypic genus Anura), 1 species is endemic to the Pistalitau remnant, and 14 species are endemic to the Kyzylkum desert.
The fauna of invertebrates includes more than 2000 species, 11 of them are listed in the national Red Book. The vertebrate fauna includes 409 species: 22 fish species, 2 amphibian species, 32 reptile species, 314 bird species (including 166 migratory species) and 39 mammal species. 5 species of vertebrate fauna of the region are included in Appendix I of CITES, 51 species - in Appendix II. Birds migrating through the project area include 10 species included in Appendix I of the Bonn Convention and 79 species included in Appendix II.
The project area is inhabited by 2 species of reptiles, which are included in the International Red List of the IUCN: the Central Asian tortoise and the Central Asian cobra. 3 species of reptiles are included in the Red Book of Uzbekistan.
19 species of birds found in the project area are listed in the International Red Book, 37 species - in the Red Book of Uzbekistan. This region is an important nesting site for many rarex and endangered species of birds (curly pelican, white-eyed duck, black stork, steppe kestrel, black vulture, bearded vulture, golden eagle, short-toed eagle, beauty bustard, etc.).
7 species of mammals in the project region are listed in the International Red Book and 4 species in the Red Book of Uzbekistan. Among them, the most threatened is Severtsov's sheep - an endemic subspecies of mountain sheep, which is found only in the Nurata mountains and the remnants of the Kyzyl Kum. More than 80% of the entire world population of the Severtsov sheep lives on the Nuratau ridge.
Thus, the unique biogeographical character of the region and the presence of a large number of endemic and critically endangered plant and animal species make this area of undeniable global importance in terms of biodiversity.
What are the threats to this biodiversity?
In the Farish district of the Jizzakh region, infrastructure and production are very poorly developed, the unemployment rate is high, therefore the basis for the existence of the local population is personal subsidiary farming (primarily raising livestock) and collecting various "gifts of nature". Due to poverty and environmental illiteracy of the population, the lack of relevant knowledge and skills, as well as the lack of adequate state control and regulation, the use of natural resources is carried out in a predatory extensive way. In the minds and behavior of people, the stereotype of a consumer attitude to nature and obtaining momentary benefits dominates.
Although protected areas have existed in the region for more than 30 years, this not only does not solve the problem of biodiversity conservation, but also exacerbates it to some extent. There is an acute contradiction between the workers of the reserve and the forestry and the population of the surrounding villages. The local population leads unstable extensive forms of management, its numbers are growing rapidly, the lack of land, water and other resources is felt more and more acutely, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the usual way of life and economic stability. The lands of the current reserve and forestry were previously private gardens or communal pastures and hayfields, so local residents still feel the “moral right” to use the land of their ancestors. Legislation does not allow the population to use the resources on the lands of the reserve and restricts access to natural resources on the territory of the forestry, which becomes the basis of conflicts. In addition, local residents constantly observe the use of the resources of the reserve and the forestry for personal purposes by their employees. The difficult socio-economic situation in the region in the post-Soviet period exacerbated this situation (thus, the workers of the reserve receive extremely low wages and are forced to live off the illegal use of PNA resources).
Among the negative anthropogenic factors in the project region, there are three that have the most large-scale and destructive impact on biodiversity and ecosystems:
• direct human destruction of wild animals and plants;
• felling of trees and bushes.
The most negative impact is caused by overgrazing, which takes place over a long period of time. As a result, the process of desertification is developing in the project region, lands and vegetation are degrading, the natural dominants of plant communities are being replaced by weed species, the areas of mountain and desert forests are shrinking, soil erosion is increasing, the hydrological regime is being disrupted, springs are drying up and the flow of mountain rivers is decreasing.
In addition, due to grazing, habitats are disturbed and the number of rare species of flora and fauna is reduced. For example, at present, almost all the feeding grounds of the Severtsov sheep on the Nuratau ridge, with the exception of the reserve, are occupied by livestock. In addition to the fact that livestock destroys the forage base of wild sheep, the constant presence of livestock and people creates the strongest factor of concern. As a result, due to the degradation of ecosystems, disturbance and illegal hunting, in the presence of a large area of potential habitats, Severtsov's sheep are quite numerous in the reserve, and are extremely rare outside of it. In relation to the endemic and rare plant species of the region, overgrazing is the number one threat. At the same time, even species that are not eaten by livestock suffer from trampling, such as, for example, the intoxicating hare lip, listed in the Red Book.
Another powerful negative anthropogenic factor is the destruction of trees and shrubs. Due to the rapid growth of the population, the needs of local residents for wood for construction purposes and fuel wood have increased many times over. Firewood is the main source of fuel in the household of almost the entire rural population of the region. Only a few settlements are supplied with gas in the project area. Coal and liquefied gas are almost inaccessible due to their high cost and difficulty in delivery.
In this regard, all types of trees and shrubs in the region are cut down uncontrollably by the local population for firewood or building materials, and naturallyThere is practically no renewal due to overgrazing. The unique desert forests in the southeastern part of Kyzylkum are rapaciously cut down and uprooted with the help of tractors, and not only dry, but also living trees and shrubs are destroyed. Most of the artificial plantations of black saxaul on the piedmont plain, which previously occupied rather large areas, were also cut down for firewood.
As a result, over the past few decades, the area of mountain and desert forests has significantly decreased throughout the project region, which have important water and soil protection significance, are habitats for many rare animal species and are of great economic value. Most often, logging is carried out illegally, including on the territory of the forestry and the reserve. Destruction of trees and shrubs, combined with overgrazing, causes desertification processes, including the movement of sands. Mudflow hazard has significantly increased in the mountainous part of the project region due to deforestation. If until the 1970s mudflows on the Nuratau Ridge were extremely rare, several times a century, now these natural disasters occur almost annually.
The third strongest negative factor affecting the biodiversity of the region is the destruction of wild animals and plants by humans.
Hunting does not play an important role in the local economy, but it has a significant negative impact on wildlife. The real volumes of hunting and hunting animals are not known, since hunting is mostly carried out uncontrollably, by poaching. At the same time, no terms and rules of hunting are observed, not only males are mined, but also pregnant females and young animals. The main reasons for this are the ignorance of the environmental legislation by the population, the consumer attitude to nature and the inefficiency of the work of state environmental structures.
Due to unregulated hunting in the project area, the number of rare species of wild animals (Severtsov's sheep, bustard, white-bellied sandgrouse) continues to decline. Despite the fact that these species are listed in the Red Book, protected by law and significant fines are set for their production, local residents continue to hunt these animals. In reality, all Severtsov's sheep outside the Nurata Reserve quickly become victims of poachers. Cases of poaching are not uncommon in the territory of the reserve. A vivid example of the negative impact of hunting is the complete extermination of the goitered gazelle in this region by the end of the 1970s.
Common species that are not classified as rare, such as wild boar and porcupine, are also actively persecuted. The number of these animals is more or less significant only in the reserve, in the rest of the territory they have become extremely small as a result of uncontrolled hunting.
In addition to hunting species, other wild animals are mercilessly exterminated. For example, local teenagers grazing cattle in the mountains throw stones at the nests of black vultures “for fun”. Everywhere you can see boys with slingshots, shooting small birds or ruining their nests. Of the 10 species of snakes in the region, only the gyurza and the extremely rare cobra are dangerous to humans. However, out of fear, the locals kill every snake they meet, and even the snake-like yellowbell lizard. In severe winters, when Severtsov's sheep are weakened by starvation and cannot move quickly in snowy areas, residents of Ukhum and other villages located near the border of the reserve (most often teenagers and young guys) often drive exhausted animals into deep snow and kill them with sticks and stones. This series of examples can be very long.
The main reason for such behavior is the low level of environmental consciousness of the population and environmental illiteracy.
Wild-growing medicinal and food plants are perceived by the population as free and no-man's "gifts of nature". The Farish forestry harvests some types of plant raw materials in a planned manner, local residents collect wild plants uncontrollably, so the actual volumes of harvesting are unknown. Harvesting of vegetable raw materials is carried out in an unsustainable way, the frequency of use of thickets is not respected, which causes serious damage to populations. Particularly affected are those species in which underground organs (rhizomes, bulbs) are harvested. So, as a result of predatory preparations, they became extremely rare and were listed in the Red Book of allohruza kachimovidnaya, mixed onions.
What does the project do?
The goal of the project is to reduce the negative impact on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the project area through work in the district center and several key settlements located near the Nurata Reserve and the Farish Forestry.
To achieve the goal, the project plans to work in two directions to mitigate the existing threats to biodiversity: 1) promoting the development of ethno-ecological tourism as an alternative type of economic activity of the local population to animal husbandry; and 2)better understanding of the values of biodiversity by the residents of the project region and, as a result, a change in their behavior in relation to nature.
Of course, the project cannot and is not within its competence to eliminate the negative factors listed above; this will require long-term and large-scale efforts by the entire state and civil society. The activities of the project are clearly localized, its activities will be held in the district center of Yangikishlak and several key settlements located near the reserve and the forestry enterprise. The project is able to act on some of the causes of the problem and play the role of a catalyst, thanks to which a favorable development of the situation in the region will be possible in the future.
To achieve the goal, the project sets itself two specific and interrelated tasks:
Task 1. Environmental education and education of the younger generation for a better understanding of the values of biodiversity
which will include:
(I) create a traveling exhibition about the biodiversity of the region. A series of portable stands will be decorated with large-format color photographs and popular information about the types of local flora and fauna, first of all, the most vulnerable, subject to destruction. The exhibit is designed to act as one of the tools to raise awareness through the provision of visual information complemented by the guide's oral explanations.
(II) an ecological trail has been created - Providing information in school lessons or in a visual form is not enough to realize the completeness and importance of the problem being covered. In our case, the effect of the traveling exhibition will be enhanced by the effect of creating an ecological trail, where visitors can see, feel, feel the richness and value of biodiversity in natural conditions, as well as see and understand the consequences of human activity. The ecological trail has not only a cognitive function, its main task is to cultivate an ecological culture of behavior in nature.
(III) an electronic database on the biodiversity of the region has been created, which will help all stakeholders to obtain more detailed information about the richness of the biodiversity of the project area.
Task 2. Promoting the development of ethno-ecological tourism
which will include:
(iv) develop and market a local tourism product; And
(v) measures were taken to develop local tourism services.
Already existing project results
Although the project is in full swing, we can already talk about some results of the project. You can check them out below:
For the first task of the project, the project team did a great job. Special thanks to Natasha Beshko, whose knowledge and heart were invested in the prepared materials.
We present you the opportunity to get acquainted with the materials of the project, which were prepared to create a traveling exhibition. In fact, information for the exposition can be used not only in the project area, but also throughout Uzbekistan, because we have already mentioned above that this territory is a reduced copy of the whole of Central Asia.
Here you can find information on the biodiversity of the project area, which was prepared for the exposition. The materials are very well selected, illustrated with simply gorgeous photos, and equipped with text in Russian and Uzbek. Almost everywhere there is also a translation into English.
The materials take up a lot of space and may take a long time with a modest internet speed to download them. But if you download them, then it will be an excellent material both for yourself and for educational work. The photographs are simply excellent. As far as I understand, these are photographs of Natalia Beshko.
The project has also developed a manual for teachers of schools, colleges and other educational institutions on how to create and conduct classes using the ecological trail. Virtually everyone can create such a trail and make interesting activities for schoolchildren and students, which will help them gain more knowledge and better understand why nature and biodiversity are important. Biodiversity is everywhere - near your place of residence, in the country, in the world.
You can download the developed guide below.
A lot has already been done on the second task as well. In fact, several tours have already been created. products that are actively promoted in the tour market. services. Details of one of these routes can be found here. I highly recommend you and your friends to use it. No one will regret the money spent. Take your family, friends and try to visit these unique places.
We will keep you updated on the progress of the project.