Murmansk Oblast

The Kola Peninsula's protected areas

The home of reindeer and beavers in Russian Lapland

10.10.2022 // There are not many places left in the world where pristine nature is preserved intact. The Lapland Nature Reserve will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary, during which time it has managed not only to conserve the ecosystem but also to partially restore the biosphere. It is easily accessible from Murmansk, and protected area staff are happy to give tours of the nature trails for anyone interested.

The Laplandsky Reserve is located near Monchegorsk, and the St. Petersburg – Murmansk motorway runs along its eastern border. The reserve spans over 278,000 ha. It is the fourth largest state nature reserve in the European part of Russia. It is also special in one more way: before it became a protected area, no people had ever lived there or conducted any economic activities.

Thanks to that, the Laplandsky Reserve is still a fully untouched natural area. Its history began in the 1920s–1930s.

At that time, natural resources were being actively developed in the Kola Peninsula, as about 400 geological, research, and stock survey expeditions operated in the Polar Region. In order to ensure that the amazing nature of the land is not lost during the industrial development of the North, in 1930, scientists working in the Arctic proposed to establish a reserve there and to keep a record of the reindeer population living in the area. The main objective of the reserve was indeed to preserve the reindeer inhabiting the northern taiga and mountain tundra.

In 1935, the Laplandsky Reserve was included in the system of state nature reserves of the RSFSR. In 1985, by decision of UNESCO, it was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. At present, 55% of its area is occupied by forests, 30% by mountain tundra, and the rest is rocks, lakes, rivers, and swamps.

The Laplandsky Reserve comprises five separate mountain ranges between 600 and 1,114 m high, separated by river valleys. The largest of these, the Chunatundra (Sami for Goose Mountains), stretches for 40 km. Its most prominent peak, Ebr-Chorr, or Rainfall Ridge (1,114 m above sea level), is among the highest on the Kola Peninsula.

Another miracle of the Laplandsky Reserve is the particularly valuable primaeval forests.
There is another miracle in the Laplandsky Reserve: the Chunozero Estate, where Father Frost of Lapland has lived since 1995. His terem, a log palace, is located on the shore of Lake Chunozero. Father Frost is happy to meet visitors to the reserve, personally give guided tours, as well as organise contests and games for the youngest guests.

The main species here are Friese’s pine (Pinus friesiana, average tree age 140 years), Siberian spruce (Picea obovata, 200 years), as well as warty birch (Betula pendula), subarctic birch (Betula subarctica), moor birch (Betula tortuosa), and dwarf birch (Betula nana). There are eight distinct lake and river systems within the reserve, with several rivers flowing entirely within its territory from source to mouth. The largest water system is that of the Chuna River, which flows into Chunozero, with an area of 21 sq. km. The moors are an attraction of the Laplandsky Reserve in their own right. There are several types of them here, including ledging ones (swamps located at different levels and separated by natural dikes) and hanging ones (their surface being inclined, but the vegetation, soaked through like a sponge, retaining water). These are low moors, fed by running water containing mineral salts. High moors, in turn, are atmosphere-fed. Their vegetation cover mainly comprises sphagnum moss on which bushes or dwarf birch trees take root like on a tight cushion.

The Laplandsky Reserve is home to over 2,000 plant species, including red-listed ones. Over 30 mammal species live there. These are mainly typical inhabitants of the taiga and tundra, but worth a special mention are wild reindeer (thanks to conservation measures, their population in the reserve tallies about a thousand) and the European beaver.

The beaver population of the Kola Peninsula was eradicated back in the 19th century, but the Laplandsky Reserve managed to reacclimate imported animals. European beaver, a rarity in our country, is listed in the Red Book of the Murmansk Region.

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