Protected birds
Sergey Shevelyov
The Head of the Caucasian Nature Reserve

Protected birds

The Priazovsky State Nature Sanctuary is located in the Slavyansky District of the Krasnodar Territory and is distinguished by its rare beauty and diversity of its ornithologic fauna. Director of the Caucasian State Natural Biosphere Reserve Sergey Shevelyov told us in an interview about how the Sanctuary is today, how it fights against poachers and interacts with neighbouring enterprises - and much more. Created in 1958, the Priazovsky State Nature Sanctuary was placed under the Reserve’s control three years ago.

- Everyone knows about the Caucasian Reserve. But not much is known about the Priazovsky State Nature Sanctuary. Tell us about it.

- The Priazovsky State Nature Sanctuary is located on the Azov Sea shore, in the Akhtar-Grivna estuary system, between the Kuban and the Protoka rivers, in the Slavyansky District of the Krasnodar Territory. The federal Reserve was established on April 11, 1958. Today, its total area is 42.2 thousand hectares. There are dozens of estuaries in this area, most of them are habitats for birds - from large rookeries to single rare species. As for its environmental significance, the Sanctuary was created to preserve waterfowl, wild boars (Sus scrofa) and muskrats (Ondatra zibethrica), as well as the floodplain and estuary landscapes of the Azov Sea. In general, the system of the Azov estuaries in the Sanctuary is a unique natural complex. Back in the early 1990s, these places were considered the richest natural ecosystems perfectly preserved. The region of the Azov estuaries was recognized as a Key Bird Area of ​​International Importance. It probably makes no sense to describe the picturesque system of floodplains and estuaries - just have a look at the photos. The landscapes are amazing, they are unusual for the Sanctuary’s staff who normally see the mountain and forest landscapes, but no less beautiful.

- In 2019, the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Caucasian State Reserve” got the control over the Priazovsky Sanctuary. In what state was the Sanctuary handed over to you? What has changed over a space of three years? 

- In the Reserve, we have always worked in the mountainous area. In the Sanctuary, there are mainly water areas, the Azov estuaries. Therefore, the environment there is not difficult for us, but rather different. It took us some time to get to know the peculiarities of working in such an area and to adapt to new conditions. Of course, when we examined the area, it became clear that the Priazovsky Sanctuary had never been protected. Now, we are doing our job. The first thing done was setting up proper security teams. It was necessary to stop poaching immediately. A lot of various seines were set in the estuaries, backwaters and the Protoka River, the bottom was covered with creels used to catch thousands of crayfishes non-stop judging by the number of seized gear. In other words, for many years, poachers systematically took all the living things from the backwaters. Let’s see some numbers: in the first year (since June-December 2019 - ed.), about 3,000 creels were removed in the Sanctuary, and another 5,000 creels were removed in the area adjacent to the Sanctuary, and these figures were without taking into account other illegal gear used for fishing and catching crayfishes. When there are, say, 10 crayfishes in one creel - it cannot be called ‘mass poaching’. For six months of 2019, 198 official reports were drawn up against poachers. Practically, all of the reports were against individuals, only five of them were against legal entities, and 38 reports were transferred to the Slavyansky District Department of Internal Affairs to be used for initiating criminal cases.

The second thing done was equipping the security guards. It is impossible to locate poachers without good equipment. Now, the employees of the Sanctuary have everything they need, even a quadcopter, which allows them to detect and fix violations at a distance.

It was also necessary to establish control over agricultural enterprises, and all this was also done. We see the result of the inspectors’ work. Mass poaching has stopped. In 2020, the number of seized illegal fishing gear amounted to 300 units, and their number was 64 in 2021. Official reports were drawn up regarding all the violations. When the damage to nature was significant, a criminal case may also be initiated against a violator.

As for the infrastructure, there is a problem with the organization of an office. But it’s not even a real problem - it’s a matter of time. We have changed the entire group of the inspectors at the Sanctuary. At first, we worked closely with the law enforcement agencies and carried out joint raids. Now, we have 10 inspectors, they have vehicles, motor boats, communications, night vision devices - everything to control the Sanctuary area as much as possible and not give violators the opportunity to escape responsibility.

- Earlier, there were fish farms working in the Sanctuary. After the Sanctuary was placed under your control, were any restrictions introduced? How do these companies operate now?

- Historically, the Priazovsky Sanctuary borders on various settlements, and there are farms and villages, as well as the lands of agricultural and fish farming enterprises located near the Sanctuary. These organizations have no restrictions other than those prescribed by the Russian law. They keep on working. Our interests do not overlap. These companies have private ponds, they run their businesses, and we do not interfere with their work. As for the Protoka River, it is true, we have insisted on removing all fishing enterprises from the riverbank. However, we have not introduced any rules and laws of our own, we only insisted on observing the environmental legislation and complying with the rules of the Priazovsky Sanctuary as a specially protected natural area. The only thing that has changed is that we force them to comply with the law requirements. And everybody must respect the law. Everyone can develop the business, where it is allowed only. The rules are for everyone.

- How is the Sanctuary doing now? How do you cooperate with the neighbouring areas?

- Not only poaching and fishing are seen in the Sanctuary. The other day, I held a meeting with the security guards and set the task - to control more carefully the entire Sanctuary area, not only our water areas. After all, there are many problems like spontaneous garbage dumps, the use of fertilizers by agricultural enterprises, hunting grounds, etc. Some time ago, I met with the heads of rural settlements, and we agreed to work together in holding events, subbotniks (volunteer clean-up days), and meetings, we agreed to collaborate. It is very important to understand each other. We understand that local people need to make hay and put it in storage, but the rules of the Sanctuary forbid this. We met their needs and allowed haymaking in certain areas, as well as we allowed cattle grazing in certain areas. I hope, our proposals for joint work will be accepted. Well, as for new species of animals and birds emerging in the Sanctuary, we cannot do anything about this. Our task is to ensure conditions so that no one disturbs the birds in the ‘rest zone’, and to avoid hunting.

- The Priazovsky Sanctuary is distinguished by the variety of birds. Tell us why the avifauna of the Reserve is so amazing.

- Not only environmental protection, but also a lot of research work is being carried out at the Priazovsky Sanctuary. From June to October 2019 - 2021, the expedition groups worked alternately in the floodplains and estuaries in the Sanctuary; those were not only the employees of the Caucasian Reserve, but also the specialists from different regions of the country, including the representatives of reserves and national parks, as well as the experts from NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) Armenia. Based on the results of the first expedition, the researches came to a common opinion that the Priazovsky Sanctuary confirms high importance of the ‘Kuban Delta’ as the Key Ornithological Area of ​​International Importance.

Here, such rare species for the Sanctuary as the horned grebes (Podiceps auratus) (reported twice earlier), spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), shelducks (Tadorna tadorna), avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), water rails (Rallus aquaticus) (previously noted in the Sanctuary only once - ed.), jays (Garrulus) were found regularly (previously noted in 2004 and 2013), as well as hoopoes (Upupa) (noted only a few times in 1989, 2004, 2012 and 2013). Bird species new to the avifauna of the Sanctuary were also met - song thrushes (Turdus philomelos), mistle thrushes (Turdus viscivorus), and isabelline chats (Oenanthe isabellina).

In total, according to the preliminary data, more than 100 thousand birds belonging to more than 90 bird species were noted during the observation period. As of February 2022, the ornithologic fauna of the Sanctuary included 232 species of birds, most of which permanently live in this area.

As for counting other animals, the jackals (Canis aureus) were repeatedly seen in the Sanctuary. Botanists, geobotanists, soil scientists, entomologists also regularly visit the Priazovsky Sanctuary and continue their research. The result of geobotanical expeditions was the increase in the Sanctuary’s flora species, and ten more species previously unrecorded in its area were added. The work of scientists and the study of the Sanctuary continues.

- How has the number of visitors to the Sanctuary changed over the past three years? Has their number increased or decreased, and how much? Why?

- All visitors to the Priazovsky Sanctuary are the local people from the nearby farms and villages, as well as fishermen who come to take fish with a pole sitting on the shore or a riverbank. Since there is no organized tourism in the Sanctuary yet, the visitors are not registered. But it can be seen that these areas are not deserted.

- How many employees are working in the Sanctuary today? Tell us what important and interesting things they do.

- Security guards make the basis of the Sanctuary staff. They bear the main burden and responsibility for the order in the Sanctuary. Last year, an employee of the environmental education department appeared in the Sanctuary. This methodologist conducts classes at schools, organizes exhibitions, environmental education events, talks about the value and species diversity of the Azov area fauna. This is also very important, since no one has previously told local residents what a unique place they live in and why the preservation of nature depends on each of them, and not just on state inspectors and security guards. In the near future, new specialists will appear with the development of tourism and the emergence of a full-fledged office at the Sanctuary.

- How is eco-tourism developing in the Sanctuary?

- This is the topic of the future, everything is still in our plans for the development of the Nature Sanctuary. To develop ecotourism here, a good, solid foundation is required as well as the solution of personnel and logistical issues. The security in the Sanctuary is reliable, the task force keeps the situation in the floodplains and estuaries under control all the time. But to develop tourism, it is necessary to open a visitor centre, organize recreation areas, and provide the necessary services. We are planning to build a floating visitor centre in the Priazovsky Sanctuary and create the viewing platforms for birdwatchers. After all, the avifauna is the main value of this area. In order not to disturb the birds and at the same time have the opportunity to watch them, we will create such platforms and equip them with optical devices. I’m sure it will immediately attract all those keen on birdwatching, as there are already requests for this type of recreation and tourism.