Arkhangelsk Oblast

Pristine and hard-to-reach forests of the Arkhangelsk Region

Onsky Biological Nature Reserve

30.10.2023// There are still spots in the European part of Russia where nature has been untouched, seemingly since the Palaeolithic era. Within the Onsky Biological Nature Reserve, there are forests that have never experienced the sound of an axe, and it is home to woodgrouse, wolverines and partridges who are oblivious to human existence. It is secluded, remote and hidden from the world, but with a certain level of determination, it can be reached. It is in this place that one can fully experience the spirit of a pioneer coming face to face with the raw wilderness.

Established in 1976, the Onsky Biological Nature Reserve of regional significance serves as a protector for numerous rare species of flora and fauna. The protected lands are situated in the watershed of the Tsebyuga and Ona Rivers. These areas are extremely inaccessible, hence ancient forests where no logging has ever occurred have remained untouched. These forests are home to larches, grey and sticky alder—tree species that have become scarce in the rest of the Arkhangelsk Region.

Despite hundreds of thousands of years of human existence in European Russia, these places have not developed any clear cultural layer. Of course, it's possible that there were some hunter or fisherman camps, or perhaps in the 17th century an Old Believers community might have tried to settle here—but these are all conjectures and imaginations.

To date, no historical or cultural artefacts have been discovered within the Onsky Biological Nature Reserve.

Virgin forests cover three-quarters of the Reserve's total area of 20,600 hectares. In the summer, vast fields of blueberries and lingonberries mature under the tree canopies, attracting brown bears for a feast. Deer, wolverines, martens, muskrats and other local inhabitants feel entirely secure within these protected lands. They reproduce within the confines of the reserve and gradually spread across the entire district.

The Onsky Reserve significantly contributes to the restoration of bird species such as grouse, black grouse and partridges. Hunting is strictly forbidden in the reserve, making the local forests incredibly abundant with feathered game. Nevertheless, you can still fish with a rod and gather mushrooms and berries. Due to the remoteness of the protected areas, locals from the Arkhangelsk Region don't frequently visit the local rivers and streams, but tourists are likely allowed to catch a couple of fish for soup.

Visiting here allows you to see the northern forests as they were first seen by the initial settlers of what would become the Arkhangelsk Region. However, independent access is not permitted—only organised groups are allowed within the protected area.

You will also need to forego tracked all-terrain vehicles, off-roaders and quad bikes. Within the reserve, there is a network of service roads that only staff members are permitted to use, but access for everyone else is restricted. A trip to the Onsky Reserve will likely be a true expedition, involving a lot of walking with a heavy backpack, warding off wild animals from your camp and dealing with other aspects of truly wild nature.

The rules for navigating the rivers of the Onsky Reserve by water transport are considerably more lenient. If your boat can handle the challenging riverbeds of the local rivers, all routes are open to you (except for individual shore landings). Jet skis are the only type of watercraft prohibited from navigating these waters.

Regardless, you will need to arrange your trip to the Onsky Nature Reserve independently. Currently, there are no pre-packaged tours available, although there is a legal provision to visit these places. To plan the trip, it's necessary to locate a tour company or guide, negotiate with the protected area management and be ready for unexpected situations that will inevitably occur during the expedition.

One thing you should absolutely avoid is attempting to access protected lands independently. You'll be deemed a poacher and apprehended, and that's not even the worst-case scenario—the local wildlife may very well view an incautious tourist as a substantial meal.

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