Saturday, 27 June 2009

Belarussian Peatlands - pristine ones and exploited ones around Berezhinsky National Park

The cartoon-like factory producing briquettes for buring in homes and industry for heat generation. It looks like a Terry Gilliam creation with tubes and bits stuck on to every available surface. The factory is state owned and subsidised as it runs at a loss. There is no money for repairs and it seems to me that there is little reason to keep extracting peat without profit... answers anyone?

The final product. Only 40% of the raw peat extracted can be made into bricks. The rest is burnt at the plant to produce the heat needed to dry the water from the fraction which is used.

The conveyers wich take the briquettes to trucks, and some unspoiled mire in the background.

We were visiting the factory with a group of german students and their Prof Hans Houston, an international expert on bogs and mires. Here the manager of the factory explains how one tonne of peat only cost $20... the price is artificially low because it is not sold on the free market.

The disrepair... this thing-em-ee-bob looked dangerous and I nearly jumped out of my skin when it made a loud noise shortly after I had walked past it. I wonder what function Terry Gilliam might have given it.... bone cruncher perhaps.

We were shown the machines which expertly cut and transport the peat from the mire to the factory.

Birch branches used as sleepers for the tracks taking peat to the factory. In the background are piles of raw peat which is almost powdery - like compost from the garden centre... if that isnt stating the obvious too much!

We used this crazy mega 4x4 bus to get to the site, but it had a little wobble.

A peatland ecologist scratches his head trying to work out the economics of this operation. There is no point being purely emotional this kind of thing, but it seems to make no sense even on purely monetary scales. These lands take thousands of years to regenerate - putting peat extraction well into the category of unsustainable. Its not just borrowing from future generations, it is stealing from them. But what of local people who work here - they need employment and are proud of their factory. There is an alternative - begining the more sustainable practices of generating power in biomass power plants.

Nice pitcher plant in the forest with a spider making use of its insect traps.

And an Ellie in the forest.

This is one of the more intact peatlands.

Local houses are often made using traditional methods. The sphagnum from the peatlands is used as insulation, stuffed between joins in the wood. They're very good at absorbing water so it probably helps to keep the wood dry too.

This was our guide for one day - proper Belarussian naturalist. He even made a seat out of twigs before he sat down.

They're not short of sphagnum here.

Good boggy, peaty foresty goodness.

Ants, bitey ones.

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