How the Miory district flourished on the largest swamp in Belarus

18-05-2021

Youth initiatives, sports events, environmental actions – a number of activities have come together to bring a second life to a northern district of Belarus.

It is worth coming here not only to enjoy the unique scenery, but also to learn from the locals how to develop, with the support of partners, the valuable gifts that nature has given.

From 2019 to 2022, the Miory District Executive Committee, in partnership with ‘APB-BirdLife Belarus’ and the Latvian Rural Forum, implemented the project ‘Together for Community and Nature: Strengthening of Development Process in Miory District by Partnership of Authorities and Civil Society’. The project is funded by the European Union.

The area is developed by the residents themselves

The project covers various domains. To enable the residents themselves to have a say on the development of the district, the first Public Council in Belarus was created under the Miory District Council of Deputies. Together, residents and authorities developed a strategy for the sustainable development of the district, and also plan to develop a youth strategy for sustainable development, as well as a guide on strategy for developing rural areas. Meetings of the Public Council are held once a month to consider issues of concern to residents.

To implement the developed strategy, a number of seminars and trainings are held. Local residents learn various relevant skills, develop ideas, and turn them into projects. Last year, a competition of local initiatives was held among residents, from which ten winners received funding. The project has also purchased an ambulance and a car for the Yelnia nature protection institution.

Natallia Budzko, thematic coordinator for social infrastructure, is responsible for three areas: education, culture, and medicine. Here, the main task is to make life in the local community more comfortable and interesting.

For example, participants of the ‘Mireya’ club organised quizzes for adults in a café during the pandemic. Residents participate in volunteer activities to clean up garbage in Yelnia. And during the recent spring break, a school camp was organised, where students developed ideas for the ‘Cranes and cranberries of the Miory district’ festival to be held this September.

“Last year, there were ten meetings with schoolchildren from the district, during which young people were taught about the UN Sustainable Development Goals are and why they are needed,” the coordinator explained. “Our task was to get an answer to the question: What kind of Miory do you want to see for you, young people, so that you want to come back here, build a family and a career.”

Over the two years of the project, public infrastructures have been improved - now lanterns are being installed, a path repaired, the Miory art object, a children's playground, and new benches are being built.

The Miory brand book is also an important introduction, bringing a stylistic unity to the most diverse public facilities in the district. For example, in the colour of the bench near the playground, one can immediately guess the distinctive cranberry. Each of these visual elements is like using a #miory hashtag. Such elements work on the visual impression and are immediately recognisable.

“We try to awaken the activism of locals, to bring them into the project activities, so that they have opportunities for development,” says Natallia Budzko. “The participants in the local initiatives competition, who received grants from the project, after receiving so much information and seeing the opportunities, realised how important it is. Now they attend all our workshops. Moreover, our workshops are attended not only by schoolchildren, but also by students, adults, and leaders of organisations – they understand that this is both interesting and necessary.”

This year, the tenth ‘Cranes and Cranberries’ festival will have a slightly different format. The young people themselves will develop what they organise at the youth playground, and they are set to surprise the guests.

Strengthen your health

Uladzislau Utkin, thematic coordinator for sports, said all the activities in his area are carried out thanks to European Union funding, and with the help of co-financing from the sports and tourism sector of the district executive committee. The sports school has undergone major repairs, while sports grounds for working out with outdoor exercise equipment have been opened in the villages of Yazna and Uzmiony.

Also, three covered spectator stands have been built on the sports complex - two near the mini-football pitches and one near the beach volleyball court. There are also plans to build a cover the stands at the city football ground.

Within the framework of the project, a number of sports events have been also held – volleyball, football competitions as well as the ‘Miory Ski Track’. The first ever Miory district bike ride was launched, and two Christmas mini-football tournaments were organised.

This unique place attracts tourists

The landmark of the Miory district is the Yelnia swamp. It is the largest high bog in Belarus and the fifth largest in Europe. But until recently, it was difficult to visit this natural attraction. Now, the project has funded a wooden flooring – an ecological path across which visitors can comfortably walk through the swamp.

There was still about a kilometre of off-road terrain to reach the path itself, which was very difficult to get across, especially in the wet season. This year, this problem has been tackled with additional wooden flooring built in the framework of the project. Within ten minutes you are at the campsite, where there is a place for a fire, a toilet, a tent. And next to it is the ecological path itself.

Maryna Hernat, thematic coordinator for green infrastructure, is in charge of this task: “There were a number of difficulties during the construction of the flooring. It is on the territory of the reserve, so it was necessary to thoroughly coordinate everything. And the work itself had to be carried out so as not to do any harm to nature. Not a single tree was damaged during the construction on the territory of the reserve!”

Before, Yelnia was just seen as a place for picking cranberries, but now the stir around the site has led to a completely different attitude. In 2020, most people couldn’t go abroad on holiday due to the pandemic so Yelnia became a domestic destination for pleasant and ecological recreation. As part of the project, watch towers will also be built along the ecological path,  from where visitors will be able to observe both the swamp and the birds.

Thanks to the project, the Miory district is developing its capacities and attracting tourists. And above all, it is becoming more and more attractive for the locals themselves, who want to stay here and make it even better.

The swamp created by the last glacier

Maryna Hernat shared some unusual facts about Yelnia:

  • The swamp is about 9,000 years old. It was formed after the retreat of the last glacier. On both sides of the road leading to the swamp, one can see moss-covered boulders left over from the glacier.
  • In May, the surface of the swamp is covered with white - this plant is cotton grass.
  • In Soviet times, there were plans to carry out land reclamation here. Thanks to the exhaustive arguments of scientists, they managed to convince the authorities and prevent the swamp from being drained.
  • There is a lot of sphagnum here – a moss that has no roots. Sphagnum was used to disinfect wounds, and for women's hygienic purposes.
  • Sundew grows in the swamp, a carnivorous plant that digests insects.
  • One hectare of bog produces ten times more oxygen than a forest of a similar area.
  • In Belarusian, the words "žuravy"(cranes) and "žuraviny" (cranberries) are similar, perhaps because the cranberry flower resembles the head of a crane.

Article published in Belarusian by intex-press.by