Bikin National Park becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Amur-Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica); Photo: Viktor Filonov / WWF

Amur-Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica); Photo: Viktor Filonov / WWF

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee declared the Bikin National Park a World Heritage Site on 2 July 2018. This decision adds the park to the ‘Central Sikhote-Alin’ region, which has been a World Heritage Site since 2001. This site is a mountain range that stretches from the east of Bikin region as far as the Pacific Coast. The 1.16 million hectare National Park is the largest protected temperate virgin forest region in Eurasia. Among other things, it is home to the Amur tiger.

The Bikin region is situated in the Russian Far East. Two projects have supported its placement under protection, which were funded as part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Environment Ministry (BMU). On behalf of KfW Development Bank, the projects were implemented with various Russian ministries, the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) and GFA ENVEST. ‘With its recognition as a World Heritage Site, the Bikin region will definitely receive greater international attention and more protection,’ explains a delighted Markus Radday from WWF Germany. ‘At the end of the day, that is great news for the tiger, too.’

The wilderness around the middle and upper Bikin River is a sea of mixed deciduous and coniferous forests, and the typical habitat of the Amur tiger. The Bikin region is known as ‘Russia’s Amazon’ due to its biodiversity. The Korean pine plays a key role in the local ecosystem. Its seeds are key sources of food for boar, roe deer, Sika deer and elk – the prey of the Amur tiger.

Bikin landscape; Photo: Yury Bersenev / WWF Russland

The Bikin region is sparsely populated; local inhabitants are mostly from the Udege population. The Udege are an indigenous people of the Russian Far East. They have been using the forests and river in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner for centuries. The Udege people still largely live on what nature has to offer. Their culture, too, is based on the natural riches of their environment. The natives have developed a range of traditional fishing and hunting methods.

From 2008 to 2016, the two IKI projects in the region worked to preserve the forests, which are rich in biomass, as key carbon reservoirs to protect the climate, and also to create additional income for the local Udege people from sales of forest products and marketing of climate certificates. In 2009, the Bikin region was leased as a special concession together with the Udege people, giving harvesting of forest products like nuts priority over logging.

‘Without the project, the timber industry would have destroyed the region’s biodiversity and also taken away the livelihoods of the region’s indigenous people,’ says Markus Radday. From 2014 on, a second IKI project supported its long-term protection as a national park, where the Udege people can continue to exercise their traditional use rights. The Bikin region was proclaimed a national park in November 2015, and declared a World Heritage Site in 2018.