Specially protected natural areas in Russia were visited by 10.6 million people last year
Daria Matsuk
Head of Roszapovedtsentr

Specially protected natural areas in Russia were visited by 10.6 million people last year

Recently, festive ceremonies have been held in Sochi to open the first monument to the state inspector of the Caucasian State Biosphere Reserve and launch the “Path of Feelings” tourist attraction at the Caucasian Reserve, the first one in specially protected natural areas (SPNAs). in her interview with EcoTourism Expert, Head of Roszapovedtsentr (Federal Budgetary State Institution “Informational and Analytical Centre for Protected Areas Support”) Darya Matsuk spoke about the prospects and main clusters for the development of SPNAs. 

- What are your plans for the development of tourism at the Caucasian Reserve, in particular, for the expansion of mountain resorts? How do they comply with the rules of specially protected natural areas?

- The Caucasian State Biosphere Reserve has a huge tourism potential. There are 19 tourist routes and sightseeing trails, two tourist shelters and other tourist facilities at the Caucasian Reserve. For several years, the Reserve has been visited by more than 250,000 people a year. The Reserve seeks to concentrate services and tourist flows near its boundaries, in limited areas (guarded areas, near settlements, and so on). All trails and traveler attractions are the infrastructure of educational tourism. 

The Caucasian Reserve does not have plans to create or develop resorts in its territory. At the same time, on the eastern slope of Mount Abadzesh located in the Lagonaki Biosphere Test Site, it is planned to create an all-season mountain Lagonaki eco-resort within the framework of the Tourism and Hospitality Industry national project. The investor is the “Krasnaya Polyana” Non-Profit JSC, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, the government of the Republic of Adygea and the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Caucasian State Reserve” also takes part in the project, and the work is done under their control.

The project will be implemented on the principles of sustainable development. Designing and construction will be carried out taking into account “green” construction standards, which provide for the use of predominantly natural materials, the implementation of a set of measures to ensure the rational use of energy and water, a ban on using the vehicles with internal combustion engines within the biosphere area, as well as the environmental certification of hotels and responsible waste management.

As part of the project, a unified network of eco-trails and a Caucasian Reserve’s visitor centre will be created, and the eco-resort intends to support environmental and educational initiatives in the region on a regular basis.

The specialists of the Caucasian Reserve are busy developing a plan of joint actions to organize ecological tourism and protect the environment during the project implementation period.

The Reserve outlined the most important requirements for the project, which have already been taken into account by the investor. So, the eco-resort will be built within the Lagonaki high mountain grass land and it will not be expanded; all infrastructure will be located in a way to avoid the soil erosion; there will be no accommodation facilities in the Lagonaki Biosphere Test Site like hotels, campsites and others; the eco-resort will work closely with the Caucasian Nature Reserve to minimize the recreational load on adjacent areas and exclude spontaneous uncontrolled tourism. These measures will help ensure compliance with the protection regime of the Caucasian Reserve and seamlessly integrate the future Lagonaki Resort into the natural environment of the eastern slope of Mount Abadzesh.

- How is tourism developing in the specially protected natural areas in Russia? What are the main development clusters today?

- Last year, 10.6 mn people visited specially protected natural areas. We expect this figure to increase significantly this year. The Gorny Altai (Mountain Altai) cluster, the Caucasus, Baikal and Kamchatka ones are developing especially intensively.

With this in mind, we did our best to prepare in advance for the high tourist season in the protected areas, that is why a special working group was set under the Department of Protected Areas of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia and Roszapovedtsentr, which conducts a SWOT analysis and analyzes difficult situations happening at each reserve and each national park. 

To manage the tourist flow, we actively build infrastructure in the SPNAs within the framework of the Conservation of Biological Diversity and Development of Ecological Tourism federal project. More than 170 visit centres have already been built in the protected areas, 120 museums were established as well as 580 information centres, over 300 viewing platforms, 775 places for recreation, 1,500 tourist camps, and over 600 ecological trails and tourist routes were made with a total length of more than 40,000 kilometres.

All this work allows creating comfortable conditions for the tourists and minimizing the anthropogenic impact on nature. In addition, we plan to strengthen such work as ensuring a better transport access to the protected areas, developing and promoting tourism products in cooperation with leading marketing specialists, and strengthening information support for the protected areas’ activities.

- How are the problems of legislative regulation of the development of ecotourism in specially protected natural areas solved?

- To achieve more intensive development of the tourist infrastructure in the SPNAs, it is necessary to increase interest of the business community in investing in protected areas, which is impossible without a strong and effective legislative framework. To this end, the Roszapovedtsentr of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia has prepared comprehensive amendments to the current legislation aimed at legal regulation of issues related to eco-tourism and recreational activities in the SPNAs.

The general philosophy of the changes being introduced suggests that ecological tourism can be both in specially protected natural areas and outside SPNAs. If the ecological tourism comes to the SPNAs, the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia and directorates of the SPNAs must create conditions for it to develop. To create conditions for the development of ecological tourism, recreational activities are carried out in the specially protected natural areas.

- To what extent does the development of ecotourism correspond to the idea of ​​biodiversity conservation? How are issues related to construction in the SPNAs resolved? Is there a reduction in the SPNAs’ area due to this?

- The development of ecological tourism in the specially protected natural areas is in line with the idea of ​​biodiversity conservation, since it is carried out taking into account the main thing, the nature protection. For example, a research work has been completed to develop a methodology for calculating the maximum allowable recreation carrying capacity of each SPNA. The results of this work will serve as the basis of the relevant regulatory act that will determine the calculation procedure. This procedure will make it possible to identify the possibilities of an SPNA to receive tourists and as well as to determine the number of people who can stay there with minimal damage to natural complexes and to determine the possibility of the SPNA’s restoration while maintaining a high quality of the tourist product. The permissible load will be calculated for the specially protected natural area as a whole and for its separate functional zone or for a specific ecological trail or route.

The construction that is carried out at the national parks as part of their activities is carried out strictly in accordance with the current legislation, which prohibits a major construction of permanent buildings and facilities, as well as the reduction of the SPNA’s area.

- How is the development of ecotourism in the Crimea going on? Please say a few words about the Great Crimean trail, how many people have already visited it, what are the forecasts?

- The concept of the Great Crimean Trail is currently under development. One of its sections will pass through the Yalta Mountain and Forest State Nature Reserve. The Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia and the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Zapovedny (Protected) Crimea” made proposals to adjust the project in order to integrate the Great Crimean Trail with the network of environmental education routes and objects existing at this Reserve.

In the development of ecotourism in general, several components can be distinguished like increasing the comfort and safety of visitors through creating tourist infrastructure, for example, establishing recreational areas, including those with an increased level of comfort, the so-called “glampings”; clearing the trails; installing the navigation and other signs; and improving the information component so that visitors could enjoy the views while using the environmental education routes and also gain new knowledge. This is facilitated by improving the quality of information boards and the qualifications of guides.

- What are the features of the development of children’s tourism in specially protected natural areas and what are the difficulties?

- One of the main tasks enshrined in the law on specially protected natural areas is environmental education, educational or controlled tourism. Therefore, children’s groups, children with parents or with teachers visit a reserve or a national park to see, learn, enjoy nature, and spend time usefully. To organize educational leisure, specialists in ecological tourism and environmental education of the SPNAs offer educational programmes, hold various events like festivals, holidays, master classes, exhibitions, competitions, volunteer actions, and others for various target categories, including children’s groups with teachers, family groups or youth. It cannot be said that there are any special difficulties associated with children’s tourism in the specially protected natural areas. The development of this type of tourism requires solving all the same basic tasks like increasing the number and improving the quality of tourism infrastructure in the SPNAs, increasing the transport accessibility of nature reserves and national parks, improving the skills of SPNA’s employees, and so on. However, it should be mentioned that visiting a SPNA requires special preparation. First of all, before going there, parents should tell their children about what a specially protected natural area is, and also about the basic rules of conduct in a reserve and national park.

- How is the issue of environmental education being solved, in particular, how is the implementation of the Ecosophy project going on?

- After lifting the Covid-19 restrictions, environmental education and volunteering in specially protected natural areas began to develop offline again.

At the same time, the online format the people got accustomed to over the last two years continues to be in demand, making it possible to ensure the availability of environmental information to an unlimited number of people.

Last year, 7,615 public environmental education events were held in the SPNAs and more than 1.2 mn people took part in them. These are such all-Russian fests and campaigns as the March of Parks, Earth Day, Water Day, Ecologist Day, Tiger Day, Baikal Day, Green Marathon, the Water of Russia campaign, and others that are held on a large scale and are always well received.

In addition, last year, the reserves and national parks held 745 online events, in which over 846,000 people took part.

Also, one of the indicators of the effectiveness of environmental education activities is an increase in the number of volunteers rendering support to the specially protected natural areas. Last year, almost 25,000 people took part in volunteer activities in the SPNAs. At the same time, an increase in the number of individual volunteers is seen, which amounted to about four thousand people.

As part of cooperation with the Ecosophy project, the Roszapovedtsentr of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia will supervise a separate field of activities related to eco-travelling. Our experts are happy to share their experience and support the project participants.