GB No. 2(13)/94


The Eastern Carpathians constitute the biggest part of the Carpathian massif. They stretch for 1000 km through the territories of five countries: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania. The south-westernmost end of the Eastern Carpathians lies on the territories of Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. The portion of the mountain range located on the territory of Poland and Ukraine is the Eastern Beskidy, including the Polish Bieszczady Mountains. In Slovakia these mountains are called Bukovske Vrchy. The geobotanic character of this part of the Carpathians is uniform and its wildlife is clearly distinct from that of the remaining mountain ranges, particularly the Western Carpathians.

Typical landscape in the Bieszczady mountains

Great scientific interest in this part of the Carpathians contributed to large scale protection of the mountain range, although the present level of protection of flora, fauna, and landscape varies in the different countries. In Poland, the Bieszczady National Park was set up in 1973 and exists in addition to a network of about 20 wildlife reserves. In Slovakia, 15 reserves were set up to constitute an important part of the Eastern Carpathian Landscape Protection Reserve (Chranena Krajinna Oblast Vychodne Karpaty -- 67,000 ha). In Ukraine, the Stuzica forest and landscape reserve has existed for several dozen years as a continuation of the Slovakian reserve of the same name. These reserves run along the borders and constitute a natural whole. The three borders meet at Mt. Krzemieniec (1221 m above sea level).

In 1990 during the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Conference in Kiev, the Polish National MAB Committee put forward a proposal to set up a reserve on the territories of the three countries. The proposal met with preliminary acceptance. Since then, efforts have been made to establish common protection of the region and to recognize it as an International Reserve. Since 1990 governments and wildlife protection organizations have been conducting negotiations to set up an unprecendented transboundary Biosphere Reserve in the Eastern Carpathians. The reserve includes the Bieszczady National Park (27,064 ha), two adjacent landscape parks to the west (46,025 ha), and the San Valley Landscape Park (35,835 ha) to the north of the Bieszczady in Poland; the proposed Eastern Carpathians National Park (40,601 ha) in Slovakia; and the Stuzica Reserve (2542 ha) together with a protection zone (about 1708 ha) in Ukraine. The total area of the biosphere reserve amounts to 153,775 ha. In November 1992 the Polish-Slovakian Reserve was accepted by UNESCO. The Ukrainian part is still in preparation.

The region has unique wildlife, landscape, and folkloric characteristics. It is the only MAB Biosphere Reserve to protect Europe's largest natural beech forest stands as well as eastern Carpathians mountain pasture (połoniny). The reserve covers territories with very low population density -- 5-20 persons per square kilometer. Natural vegetation (forests and non-forests) is dominant over extensive areas. Many protected plant and animal species, including species endemic to the Eastern Carpathians, can be found in the reserve. The reserve covers one of the largest areas in Europe for large forest animals, such as brown bear (Ursus arctos), bison (Bison bonasus), red deer (Cervus elephus), lynx (Lynx lynx) and wildcat (Felis silvestris). The reserve protects gene pools of endangered bird species and of such domesticated animals as the East Carpathian pony (Equus caballus huculensis), a local attraction. Relics of regional peasant architecture and religious monuments such as old Orthodox and Catholic churches, roadside chapels, and statues are also found in the reserve. Traditional agriculture and shepherding is still preserved in the region. Land use, particulary the raising of sheep, will be continued on the lower slopes, while the highest peaks will be strictly protected.

The reserve has a mountain climate with continental features. It is characterized by large amplitudes of day and night temperatures. Mean annual air temperatures decrease with altitude from 7.5° C at 300 m to 5.9° C at 530 m and 4.9° C at 840 meters above sea level. The warmest month is July (mean temperature 15.3 to 17.4° C), and the coldest months are January and February (mean temp. -4.0 to -7.4° C). The lowest recorded temperature was -40° C in Ustrzyki Gorne, and the highest temperature was 31° C, recorded in Sianki near the Polish-Ukrainian border. Annual rainfall in this area ranges from 800 mm at lower elevations to 1250 mm in the highest parts of the mountains. Most of the rain falls in the summer, with July being the wettest month. Snow cover lasts for 90-140 days a year, with a depth of 40-80 cm up to a maximum of 150 cm, depending on altitude.

The Eastern Carpathians are made of sedimentary rocks from the Cretaceous Period and the earlier Tertiary Period. These sediments are often called Carpathian flysch. The mountains are moderately high -- the highest peak Tarnica reaches 1346 m. Anticlinal ridges are most often made of limestone resistant to weathering, whereas synclines consist mostly of more easily weathered shists. The result of this geological structure is a ridge-and-valley arrangement of mountains ranges and picturesque river valleys. The river beds are cut by rocky ridges, which are characteristic for this region.

Two types of soil prevail in the biosphere reserve: brown forest soils that arose with the weathering of limestones and shists, and hydrogenic soils, occuring mostly in river valleys. The greatest area is covered by leached brown soils and gley, which are are relatively acidic and rocky. Mountain tops are covered mainly by cryptopodzol soil and the slopes by gley. The valleys are built of mud soils and, less commonly, of marshy soils on peaty subsoil.

The most typical landscape forms, not present in any other mountains, can be found in the Polish Bieszczady. On the highest mountain tops, which are relatively rounded and grassy, there are picturesque rocks which emerged during a long period of erosion. They are surrounded by stony fields with sparse vegetation (goloborza in Polish). The rocks stand on their own or form groups, sometimes resembling long ridges. Some of them reach up to 12 meters. Most rocks are asymmetrical. South-west faces are steep and precipitous, while those facing the opposite direction are relatively gentle and are covered with alpine meadows. The landscape of Bukovske Vrchy consists of more rolling hills and valleys dividing mountain ranges.

Springs under the mountain tops and ridges are the beginnings of streams that join together in the lower parts to create rivers. The river network forms a grid, which is characteristic of mountains with a ridge-and-valley structure. This part of the Eastern Carpathians has an important hydrological role as a source of waters contributing to two catchments: those of the Baltic and the Black Sea. Three important rivers have their sources here: the San, the Dniestr, and the Uż. The springs are situated close together, near the Polish-Ukrainian border. The San collects waters from numerous streams flowing from the northern slopes and discharges into the Vistula and then to the Baltic Sea. The Dniestr flows east and discharges its waters directly into the Black Sea. In the south, smaller rivers such as the Ulicka and the Zbojsky Potok join the Uż, which in turn joins the Cisa and the Danube, eventually reaching the Black Sea.

Within the biosphere reserve, the vegetation of the Eastern Carpathians is characterized by specific altitudinal zones. Unlike the Western Carpathians, the Eastern Carpathians have only three zones: the foothills zone (up to 500 m), the lower forest zone (500 to 1100 or 1150 m), and the mountain meadows zone, which is regarded as alpine (over 1100-1150 m). The spruce forest characteristic of the upper forest zone is not present, and neither is the zone of dwarf mountain pine which is typical of the Western Carpathians. It is presumed that the dwarf mountain pine is replaced by groves of Alnus viridis, occuring above the forest boundary. These groves are a phenomenon unique to this region.

Old, virgin forests not yet altered by civilization are still preserved in extensive areas of the biosphere reserve. These Eastern Carpathians primeval forests with natural vegetation including huge old beeches, firs, and sycamores deserve protection as the most precious examples of the natural heritage of the region. In the Bieszczady Mountains, such valuable forests include Puszcza Bukowa, the Bieszczady Forest on the San River, and forests in the Sine Wiry and Huculskie Reserves, which are included in landscape parks.

In Slovakia, the old forests are called "preforests". Many "preforests" are preserved in the highest zones of the Bukovske Vrchy Reserve and are protected as strict reserves. Beech preforests are protected in the Stuzica, Rozok, Havesova, Riaba Skala, Plasa, and other reserves. Fir preforests are protected in the Udava Reserve, the Palotska Jedlina Reserve, and the Komarnicka Jedlina Reserve. Beech and sycamore forest can be found in the Beskid and the Stinska reserves.

The region has a fascinating history and folklore, created by the peoples who settled there and learned to live in harsh mountainous conditions far from Europe's communication and trade routes. Ancient settlers, mostly the Łemkowie in the west and the Bojkowie in the east, built their homes and churches of wooden logs, with simple carved or painted ornaments. Despite widespread destruction in World War II and immediately afterwards, many relics of old peasant architecture are still preserved. The oldest wooden monuments, dating from 1658, are those in Bodruzala, Slovakia. Similar relics (though not so old) can be found in the Polish Bieszczady. Wood has been used for a long time not only as a building material and a household fuel, but to produce charcoal. Beech wood is best for this purpose. Old chronicles and documents say that charcoal was produced in the region as early as the 15th and 16th centuries. Increasing demand for charcoal resulted from the development of metallurgy. To transport the wood as well as people, narrow-gauge railways were built and operate to this day. The traditional way of burning charcoal in primitive kilns and more modern retorts is still preserved.

The International Biosphere Reserve in the Eastern Carpathians serves not only to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the region, but also as an area of local and international tourism. There is a well-developed network of good roads and tourist trails, especially in the Bieszczady National Park (where the highest mountains are located). Tourists can admire broad panoramas and enjoy a beautiful, unspoiled setting.

from Biosphere Reserves in Poland
the publication of Polish International MAB Committee

GB No. 2(13)/94 | Contents