Virgin Komi Forests

Cultural criteria: vii, ix
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 1995

This enormous and almost not affected by human economic activities natural tract, situated in the northeast of Komi Republic, in 1995 became the first Russian object included in UNESCO's list in nomination for nature.

This heritage object comprises two large neighboring protected natural territories. Firstly, this is one of the oldest in Russia Pechora-Ilychsky wildlife preservation (721.3 thousand hectares, created in 1930), also having the status of a biosphere reserve, together with its conservation zone (666 thousand hectares). The reserve is situated on the western pitches of North Urals. Secondly, this is the Yugyd Va National Park (1891.7 thousand hectares, created in 1994), the largest among all parks of Russia, covering the western hills of Nether-Polar Urals, i.e. situated straight to the north of the reserve.

In whole all this extensive protected region, oriented from south to north, being 50–70 kilometers in width and about 400 kilometers in length, is of primary importance for stabilization of the state of natural environment: Ural forests are of primary climate-regulating and erosion-preventive importance, they serve as last refuges for many animals and birds, including quite a number of rare and endangered species. Here is the source of Pechora – one of the largest rivers of the Russian North.

From the viewpoint of a landscape the region is clearly divided in two constituent parts, and this division is directed not towards the southern and northern parts (i.e. not towards the reserve and the park), but towards a zone of foothills-low-hill terrains (west) and mountains proper (east).

Piedmont lowlands with valleys swamped by the running here big rivers (Pechora, Ilych), as well as Ural low-hill terrains, are covered approximately to the heights of 400–600 meters with dense forests – the very same ones that have actually brought this object to the World Heritage List, and gave it so image-bearing name.

Indeed in this region there remained the largest tract of northern taiga in the whole Europe, almost not affected by economic activities. Local forests mainly consist of Siberian fir, Archangel fir, Silver fir, as well as several species of birch, Siberian larch, Siberian cedar. It is obvious that overall such forests cover not less than 1/2 of the whole area of the reserve and park. And there is the following distribution at that: in the Pechorskaya Lowland prevail pine forests combining with large sphagnous bogs; the Upper Ilych Lowland is overgrown with fir groves and pine forests; in Ural low-hill terrains prevail fir and silver fir, and in Medium Land larch and cedar mingle with them.

The list of local flora is made approximately by 600 species of higher plants, among which there are especially rare ones, listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation, for example, they are Minuartsija Gelma, rogue peony, alpine woodsia, snowdon rose, Kuznetsov’s shiverekia, blotched and yellow lady's slipper (the latter also figures in the International Red Book). Some species are recognized endemic and deleted. 20 species of plants possess edible berries; berrying grounds often occupy vast areas.

Inhabitants of these forests and bogs are typical northern taiga fauna combining European and Siberian species. Among over 40 species of mammals are caribou, moose deer, wild boar, brown bear, wolf, lynx, glutton, fox, Arctic fox, sable, Siberian weasel, ermine, marten, muskrat, mink, beaver and river otter. Among variegated birds (and there are over 200 species) that deserve attention are building here their nests osprey, golden eagle and white-tailed (sea) eagle (all of them are included in the Red Book of Russia, and the latter in the International Red Book too). In spring there is mass flight of ducks, here are also many cocks of the wood, heath cocks, fritillaries, various species of big owls, including eagle-owl, as well as white grouses. And in the upper reaches of local rivers spawn 16 species of fish, including grayling, cisco, taimen, freshwater cod, salmon.

The high-mountain part of the heritage object, although it is covered with a forest in a less degree, is also very precious, but already from another point of view, namely from the aesthetic and recreational, as well as glaciological and geological one. Because the question is now about the highest, the most separated and the most hard-to-reach section of the Ural Mountains, section that was affected by strong Quaternary glaciations and possesses a typical alpine relief. This is a country of subalpine crooked forests and cold mountain meadows, warming themselves only in summer, mountain tundra, rocky wastelands-bald mountains and almost insensate snowfields and glaciers. Here one can see crystal pure lakes and picturesque rivers running in gorges and canyons, falling in beautiful cascades; kurums – stony placers, covered with brightly colored lichens; exotic rocks buttes and other interesting forms of weathering; various glacial forms of relief – kars, cirques, sharp peaks and crests. The most known are “stone blocks” on the mountain plateau of Manpupuner, playing the role of a “visiting card” of the Pechora-Ilychsky Reserve – they are 7 stony columns buttes up to 40-50 meters in height, laid with strong sericitic-quartzitic slates, corroded by rains and winds. And “visiting cards” of the Yugyd Va Park are the picturesque Sabre and Belfry mountains, as well as rushing mountain Kozhim and Shchuger rivers, very popular among water tourists. The northeast borders of the Yugyd Va Park are “guarded” by the highest summit of the whole Ural – Narodnaya Mountain 1,895 meters in height.

The present level of the national park’s attendance is about 4 thousand tourists a year, that of the reserve and its protected area is about 0.5 thousand.

The virgin nature of the reserve and the park is of interest both for archaeologists and palaeontologists: here was found one of the most northern upper palaeolithic stands and the largest in the whole north of Europe location of pleistocene fauna (mammoth, fleecy rhinoceros, liger etc.)