The Forest & Park is the largest green space in the city. It provides recreational and cultural activities and visitors can swim or practice sports on the artificial Piacersk Lake and surrounding. In the area, there is also an old nursery for endemic tree species and an eco-village located in the southern part of the Forest & Park.
Besides providing cultural ecosystem services, such as a natural place for recreation and cultural events, the Piacersk Forest & Park offers a number of other valuable ecosystem services, namely:
– Provisioning: the forest provides timber for constructing houses of local residents, non-timber products (mushrooms, berries, fruits, etc.) for collection as food by visitors and local residents, fresh air for everyone in the city;
– Regulating: the forest serves the purposes such as air and water purification (in the Dubrovenka river, which flows through the forest) (Image 2), carbon sequestration and climate regulation;
– Supporting: essential functions of any forest ecosystems, such as photosynthesis, soil formation and retention, and nutrient cycling that enable the forest to exist and provide other ecosystem services.
Development plans for the area increase the risk of ecosystem loss and degradation. Plans for the construction of an aquatic park, football stadium and a hotel complex, is part of the Mahilioŭ City Development Master Plan and has been approved by the President of the Republic of Belarus. Approval is valid for a period of 25-30 years. However, the plan has not been implemented yet due to the lack of investors.
Despite the existing problems and challenges, there are also opportunities for sustainable use, protection, and management of the local forest ecosystem in the Piacersk Forest & Park. These are:
- the alteration of the Mahilioŭ City Development Master Plan: despite officially approved and having the status of a legal document, it is still a general development strategy that can be altered according to corrections suggested by relevant stakeholders and approval by responsible authorities.
- the Piacersk Forest & Park serves as an important water purification and treatment site for the Dubrovenka River and the artificial Piacersk Lake. For this reason, there is a number of water protection areas established along the river in the Forest & Park. This fact can be used to support the proposal of conservation and sustainable management of the forest ecosystem along the entire stretch of the Dubrovenka River within the Forest & Park;
- the abandoned nursery of plant species can be transformed into a pleasant urban park and garden without interventions into the natural forest. Practically all the interviewed stakeholders support the development of this opportunity;
- insufficient interest from investors and lack of investment into the Aqua Park, swimming pool, and football stadium infrastructure means that these ecosystem-damaging developments are not going to be implemented in the nearest future, allowing the proposal of alternative solutions;
- there is a possibility for some parts of the Piacersk Forest & Park to be designated as protected areas, which in Belarus are called natural monuments of local significance (“памятники природы местного значения”). These “natural monuments” have special regulations for access of visitors and management of the area. The designation of the Forest & Park areas as “natural monuments” is possible if there are certain vulnerable and/or endangered species of flora and fauna found on the Forest & Park territory.
- there is a group of local residents (at least 400 people) that would like the Forest & Park to be managed sustainably and that is likely to oppose any ecosystem-damaging developments within it;
- the initiative group “Save the Piacersk Forest & Park” together with the Inspection for Natural Resources and Environment Protection and the forest management authority “Mahilioŭzelenstroy” (“Могилевзеленстрой”) organize tree planting events (for example, Forest Week in spring) and engage interested residents into them. These re- and afforestation events can serve as a communication and engagement opportunities for proposing sustainable management solutions for the Piacersk Forest & Park.
The Piacersk Forest & Park is a forested area located in the valley and basin of the Dubrovenka River in the north-western part of the city Mahilioŭ, Belarus.
In terms of degradation of the local forest ecosystem, there are a number of challenges, which include:
- spreading infection of trees by bark beetle (caused by the weakening of tree health due to low underground water level, climate change effects, and other factors) (Image 3) and the need to cut and remove the infected trees from the ecosystem;
- weakening of secular spruce stands in the Forest & Park;
- littering and pollution of soil and water bodies of the Forest & Park;
- risk of human induced forest fires. Some visitors make bonfires in the forest, although it is illegal and punishable;
- general disturbance of the forest ecosystem and its biodiversity by visitors;
- expansion of residential buildings and cemeteries into the territory of the Forest & Park;
- visual contamination of the landscape by high-storey residential buildings around the Forest & Park;
- road network with urban traffic going through valuable tree stands in the Forest & Park;
- conflict of interests over possible land uses in the Forest & Park and its surroundings
- development plan, which envisions the construction of recreational infrastructure in the area: Aqua Park, football stadium and hotel complex.