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Yuntolovo - urban natural reserve in St. Petersburg (1 Viewer)

Florin Chirila

Well-known member
I spent a few days in St. Petersburg mid May and I wanted to go birding somewhere in the area. My first choice was Nizhnezvirsky Reserve, a protected wetland some 300 km from the city, on the shore of Lake Ladoga. I gave up the idea due to a number of reasons: distance (which made very difficult to cover the visit and trip within one day) and lack of info. I tried to contact several persons, using different channels, and I got no useful answer. Indeed, many Russians tend to lack the common sense of answering e-mails (or perhaps lack basic English knowledge) and, if they still respond, you cannot retain any useful information from their ambiguous and elusive answer which seem to be indended to make you not wish to bother them again.

Just when I seemed to run out of ideas, I found about Yuntolovo reserve, a protected area which lies within the boundaries of the city. Thank to my very basic (yet useful) Russian knowledge, I managed to find contact info on the website (in Russian) of a NGO named Save Yuntolovo: http://www.sos-yuntolovo.spb.ru/contacts
To my surprise, my email was answered very quickly and I got in touch with Tatyana Skrodenis, so I managed to arrange a meeting on a very short notice. Tatyana was very kind and helpful and even provided me a bike, so that I can cover as much as possible in the few hours I had planned for my visit.

Since I didn't have any tip as per where exactly to find good birding spots (Tatyana is an enthousiastic nature lover who dedicates much of her spare time working as a volunteer for this NGO, but she isn't actually a birdwatcher), I spent much time covering the main track by bike. This is why I don't have a real trip list from Yuntolovo, but my intention is rather to let you guys know about the place, in case someone ever goes to Petersburg. Anyway, my greatest achievment is that I finally succeeded in seeing and taking a shot of Luscinia luscinia (Thrush nightingale), a bird that I had heard many times back home in Romania, but had never seen.

About the reserve: I think not many great cities in the world can claim to have within their boundaries (and not some 30 miles away) a fragment of undisturbed, original nature. As we know, St Petersburg was founded three centuries ago by the visionary Russian czar Peter the Great, who aimed to transform a large marshy and swampy area lying between Lake Ladoga and Gulf of Finland in a majestic capital. Since there wasn't any environmental concern back then, the construction of the city compromised a huge wildlife habitat. Well, Yuntolovo is one of the surviving bits of this original environment, and it's the closest to the heart of this marvelous city. It is a protected area, I don't know under which paragraph of law, but I have the disturbing impression that environmental legislation in Russia is only meant to impress foreigners, rather than actually protect nature (we all heard about massive illegal bird hunting in Russia, particularly for geese).
Moreover, the reserve, as it is, is heavily threatened by a highway already under construction, which runs right on the edge of the protected area. At the other side, residential areas also come close to the boundary of the reserve. Pressure on the habitat is high, economic interests are very big and I wish guys like Tatyana and her mates at Save Yuntolovo all the luck in the world, because this piece of heaven needs it badly.

If you ever go there, here are some tips:
- follow the main track (a dirt road) on the Northern boundary of the reserve. Access is possible through a gate which is positioned at 60.0285203N 30.2079158E. You can get there by taking the minibus №71 from the metro station Staraya Derevnia to the cross street Planernaya / Glukharskaya.
- from the main track there are a few side paths on the left side (south), running through the woods (an extensive birch-tree wood, spectacular !). I don't know how deep they go, but it's certainly more productive than just following the main track
- the best way, in my opinion, to get some cool action, would be to sail on the narrow little river Kamenka all the way through the reeds and woods to the Lakhtinski Razliv lake. I know it's not easy to bring a boat or to get one there, but this is what I would want to do if I ever go there again. Maybe a small inflatable boat could be a solution. Anyway, if you plan to do this, you may want to check locally with someone who could tell you if this is allowed.

I have attached a few photos. It's rather for atmosphere than for documenting purposes.
For those of you who would like to get a glimpse of St Petersburg in general, you can take a look here:


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