Virgin Komi Forests - A Vital Heritage Site

The Virgin Komi Forests form the first UNESCO World Heritage Site declared in Russia. Added to the World Heritage List back in 1995, the Virgin Komi Forest is one of the largest virgin boreal forests still surviving in Europe. For more than 50 years the plant-life, rivers, lakes and peat bogs of the area have been carefully studied and provide insight into the natural process which affect taiga biodiversity.

Russia's Virgin Komi Forests have the status of State Biosphere Reserve as well as National Park. Located in the Northern Ural Mountains, the heritage site takes in some 32 800 km squared of virgin boreal forest. The Virgin Komi Forests actually encompass two areas, namely, the Yugyd-Va National Park and Pechoro-Ilychsky Nature Reserve. The endangered boreal forests of the region's north-west consist mainly of spruce and fir trees along with Siberian cedar. As you reach the mid- and northern taiga zone there is a change to forest tundra with mountain tundra. The east of the Virgin Komi Forests is dominated by the North Urals. The foothills of the mountains feature interesting formations of subterranean caves, river beds and craters. Weathering of the basins has resulted in fascinating structures which are guarded as natural monuments. The western reaches consist of lowlands, marshes and hills, leading to mountains. The marshes and flood plains see extensive growth of moss, bilberries, willow, rowan, cloudberries and bird cherry.

The Virgin Komi Forests of Russia are home to about 43 mammals such as squirrels, beavers, grey wolves, foxes, brown bears, otters, weasels, wolverines, lynx and elk. The pristine boreal forests of the Virgin Komi Forests provide exceptional habitat for 204 species of birds including black grouse, hazel grouse, nutcracker, red-flanked bluetail, goosander, teal, bean goose, black woodpecker and others. Residents of glistening waters in the area include salmon, whitefish and grayling, as well as others.

Over and above the fine natural heritage of the region, the Virgin Komi Forests also have a rich cultural heritage. Originally the area was inhabited by the Komi people. Various Paleolithic camps and fossils as well as a Mansi sanctuary have been discovered. Presently there are thriving Komi and Old Believers' settlements in the Uniya basin. Some 2 000 visitors make their way through the Yugyd-Va National Park each year.

Possessing an extensive virgin boreal forest ecosystem, a home for threatened plant and animal life, as well as many natural monuments, the Virgin Komi Forests of Russia are certainly worthy of their World Heritage Status and deserve the utmost protection and appreciation.


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