You have to travel far to find a place where large wilderness areas still predominate. Kamchatka, the peninsula in Russia’s Far East, is such a place. Kamchatka - 1.5 times the size of Germany - impresses its visitors with the large Pacific forests, boggy taiga and clear creeks and rivers. Volcanic activities and diverse coastlines give a special note to the landscape of Kamchatka. Its nature is of high ecological value due to the diversity of its species and ecosystems. 58 % of the animal and plant species living in Kamchatka are red-listed in Russia and are considered as endangered. In 1996 UNESCO included about 4 million hectares of Kamchatka’s volcanic landscape in its network of World Heritage sites.
Kamchatka still has large wilderness areas but shadows are lingering at its doorstep threatening this paradise. Together with state agencies and various conservation NGOs, the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung strives to preserve this oasis of pure nature for our planet. Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung’s current focus is the support of the “cluster Bystrinskii” in the Nature Park “Vulcanoes of Kamtchatka”; with just over 1.3 Million hectares it is the largest protected area on the peninsula. Fighting salmon poaching and forest fires are the park’s most important challenges. The foundation organizes a Russian-German Voluntary Service together with the nature park administration and helps financially with individual projects focussing on nature conservation and environmental training. The "European Voluntary Service" is co-financed by the European Union.
Owing to its inaccessibility and its use as military training area, access to Kamchatka had been restricted for strangers and foreigners until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Consequently, nature was able to flourish without significant human impact. Since 1990, Kamchatka has been increasingly exposed to human pressure. Foreign fishery fleets have been acquiring licences and are over-fishing the coastal zones; mineral resource exploration and mining – which is very detrimental to the environment – have started. In parallel, transport infrastructure has been upgraded considerably, which eases access not only for tourists but for poachers too, even to remote areas.
Poaching is one of the greatest problems in this region. Targets are ,among others, different species of salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, O. nerka, O. kisutch, O. keta), which annually migrate upstream in the larger rivers. Tons of salmon are caught every year for red salmon caviar. In some regions, the reduced salmon stock already affects the bear population, for salmons are an important part of the bears’ diet in autumn. Many of our ‘ancestors’, as the Evenes call the bear, are hunted for trophies, legally and illegally. Bear bile is particularly popular in Traditional Asian Medicine, where it is used as a highly valued aphrodisiac. Other hunted and importuned species are the sable and the snow sheep.
It is rather difficult to control poaching, as the area is huge but the number of rangers and the amount of financial support for their work are minimal. In addition, corruption often hampers the fight against poaching. The nature park does not even have the authorisation to arrest poachers on its own territory. Forest fires are also a threat to Kamchatka’s nature; these fires are often caused by tourists or old vehicles. These are mostly former military crawler vehicles that are used offroads where paved routes are missing for transport.
Until the end of 2009 our project region Bystrinskii was an independently managed nature park. In 2010 the naturepark was consolidated with another 3 nature parks to “nature park Vulkanoes of Kamtchatka”. The Bystrinskii region was renamed to “cluster Bystrinskii”.
Between 2004 and 2009 the foundation supported a variety of activities which belong to an overall concept and were linked to the management plan of the park and coordinated with the activities of other organisations such as WWF, IUCN, UNDP and pro Sibiria e.V.. Our activities included park surveillance, environmental training and eco-tourism. We helped to acquire a 4-wheel-drive and to build up a ranger hut and a visitor centre.
In 2005 an ecological children and youth club has been founded to raise awareness for nature conservation and to provide environmental training for children and adults. In close cooperation with the park management, children and young people are being encouraged to help building tracks and setting up fixed fireplaces to prevent forest fires. The activities of the club list excursions, nature movie presentations as well as joint events with the school of Esso and experts from all over Kamtchatka.
Since 2010 a former volunteer, Larisa Kravcova, manages the children’s club. In support of her work she receives a financial contribution from the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung and from the NGO Pacific Environment.
Since 2006 the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung concentrates on a voluntary programme. Young people are encouraged to work in the Bystrinskii Nature Park for a period between 6 and 12 months to experience nature and natural protection in a strange but beautiful landscape. They not only get to know a foreign country and culture. They are also encouraged to develop their own abilities to be creative and tolerant. Young Europeans also have positive effects on the community in Esso.
They exchange experiences with the locals and are both willing to learn from one another.
Until now the German-speaking volunteers leave many “footprints” in the park. In the last years they added interesting exhibits, information poster and a kid´s area to the visitor centre, as well as a slideshow presentation at the visitor´s computer. For outdoor activities the volunteers produced info brochures and maps of the hiking trails in three different languages, a botanical guide and a herbarium.
German and English language courses given by the volunteers for children and adults are very popular. Another field of activity is of course maintenance work in the park. The volunteers help to set up trail signs, huts, toilets and fire places. Scientific work includes inventory methods, bird watching, field mapping, and botanical and faunistic monitoring.
From 2008 until 2014 our voluntary program has been supported by the EU programme “Youth in Action” (YiA) . Since 2014, the EU Programme "Erasmus+" supports the European Voluntary Service (EVS) where the German volunteers take part. It aims to inspire a sense of active citizenship, solidarity and tolerance among young Europeans and to involve them in shaping the Union's future. It promotes mobility within and beyond EU borders. It is based on non-formal learning and intercultural dialogue, and it encourages the inclusion of all young people, regardless of their educational, social or cultural background.
The German contact for the EU programme is "Jugend für Europa". (See below)
Since 2009 the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung additionally supports young Russian-speaking experts to take part in our voluntary programme. We would like to foster the exchange and team work between Russian and German volunteers and to support qualified trainees for the park. Young Russians, Ukrainians or Belorussians with a “green” backround as biologists, ecologists or else have the chance to get work experience in a nature park. On the other hand, for the remote park it is difficult to find qualified employees. The young Russians stimulate discussions about the chances of nature conservation activities which is very important to promote the nature park.
So far the voluntary service enriched the lifes of every former volunteer. All of them were engaged and inserted good ideas that were helpful for the nature park. For the Bystrinskii Nature Park volunteers are a great benefit. With their open-mindedness and communicative character they increase the acceptance of the locals for nature protection. By now some 40 volunteers stayed round about one year in Esso and have been working in the Nature park, mainly in the visitors centre, the ecological youth club as well as in hut and track building. More volunteers of several countries came only for 1-4 months to participate. Here you can see more of the activities: 1 2 3 4 5
Some of the already returned volunteers took part in the „European Voluntary Service“, financially supported by the European program „Youth in Action“. It encourages personal encounters between young people and supports cultural exchange.
If you are interested in working as a volunteer in Kamchatka, please do not hesitate to contact us. E-mail: info(a)m-h-s.org
"Volcanoes of Kamchatka": www.vulcanikamchatki.ru [in Russian]
Bystrinky Nature Park (made by the volunteers)
For other interesting information on Kamchatka and related links see also:
www.prosibiria.de [in Russian, English and German]
United Nations Development Programme: Kamtchatka [Englisch]