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Established: 1945
Size: 112,673 ha (1,127 km2)
Buffer Zone: 27,028 ha (270 km2)

Contact information:
Kuznetsov, Andrey Vyacheslavovich, Director

Russia 162543, Vologodskaya oblast, Cherepovetsky raion, p/o Ploskovo, p. Borok

Tel: (7-820-2) 66-69-70

Darvinsky Zapovednik, named for Charles Darwin, was founded in 1945 to study changes the newly created Rybninskoye Reservoir would have on natural ecosystems in the Vologda and Yaroslavl regions in northwestern Russia. The nature reserve protects the southern portion of a peninsula on the northwest shore of the reservoir. More than 40 percent of the reserve is aquatic habitat along the shores of Rybninskoye Reservoir, among the six largest in the world. The protected area supports some of the largest nesting populations of white-tailed sea eagle and osprey in Europe. Many species of waterfowl and shorebirds nest in the reserve in the summer or stop here along north-south migration routes. A number of animals - moose, bear, wild boar, and others - are attracted to the lake's sandy shores to feed.

Photo © 2001 Igor Shpilenok

Zapovednik Images
Zapovednik Facts

Images of Darvinsky Zapovednik
Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 2000 Ivan Kuznetsov

An eagle and a swan share an opening in the ice in early spring.

© 2001
Igor Shpilenok

The dark islands are remnants of hilltops flooded with creation of the reservoir.

© 2000 Ivan Kuznetsov

The capercaille is one of the rarer birds found in the reserve's forests.

© 2000 Ivan Kuznetsov

The reserve protects one of the largest nesting populations of osprey in Europe.

© 2001 Igor Shpilenok

Birch trees fill in gaps where forests were logged before the reserve's creation.


© 2001 Igor Shpilenok

Peat islands formed when bogs were flooded and clumps of peat floated to the surface.

© 2001 Igor Shpilenok

The pink blossoms of andromeda add color to the forest floor in summer.

© 2001 Igor Shpilenok

Pine stands grow along the elevated shores of the reservoir.

Zapovednik Facts:

While populations of moose (Alces alces), brown bear (Ursus arctos), and wild boar (Sus scrofa) have all declined in the surrounding region due to hunting, the number of animals within the reserve has remained virtually unchanged. These mammals, finding refuge in the nature reserve, are attracted to the shores of Rybninskoye Reservoir to feed on fresh vegetation. Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) are other mammals common in the zapovednik, where they prey on rodents and birds. Blue hare (Lepus timidus) can be spotted along the lake foraging on summer grasses. In the fall, bears frequent sphagnum swamps to feast on berries before hibernation. Badgers (Meles meles) and ermine (Mustela erminea) are constantly on the move in search of small prey. A large population of beavers (Castor fiber) inhabits the reserve. Beavers were reintroduced here in the 1980s, where they began to build their dens on floating peat islands in the reservoir and in small streams. Lynx (Felis lynx), wolf (Canis lupus), and otter (Lutra lutra) are rare here. Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), pine marten (Martes martes), as well as a multitude of other rodents (Microtus spp.) make up the remainder of the reserve's 37 species of mammals.

In all, 230 species of migratory and nesting birds have been identified in the reserve. Northern hazelhen (Tetrastes bonasia), western capercaille (Tetrao urogallus), northern black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), Siberian jay (Cractes infaustus), and willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) are a few of the more prominent birds found in the reserve's protected forest and swamp habitats. Waterfowl includes all kinds of ducks, gulls, and waders such as mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), northern pintails (A. acuta), and green-winged teals (A. crecca). The greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons), bean goose (A. fabalis), and whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) use the reservoir as a resting place to feed before heading north during spring migration.

In spring and fall, the reservoir's open waters attract large numbers of Eurasian wigeons (Anas penelope), tufted pochards (Aythya fuligula), greater scaups (A. marila), and red-breasted and common mergansers (Mergus serrator, M. merganser). Ducks common here include black and white-winged scoters (Melanitta nigra, M. fusca) and long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis). Peat islands are inaccessible to most terrestrial predators and make attractive nesting sites for black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus), common tern (Sterna hirundo), and herring and mew gulls (L. argentatus, L. canus).

Rare birds that nest in the reserve include the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and osprey (Pandion haliaëtus) - listed in the IUCN and Russian Federation Red Books, as well as the white tailed sea-eagle (Haliaëetus albicilla). The reserve protects some of the largest osprey nesting areas in Europe with as many as 45 to 50 pairs on a 1000 km2 area. The osprey feeds exclusively on fish, which it catches by plunging into the water, sometimes even diving up to 1.5 meters. Forests provide refuge to other birds of prey like the northern eagle-owl (Bufo bufo), greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga), and black kite (Milvus migrans). In all, 15 species of birds listed in Russian Red Book are protected in the reserve.

Common adder (Vipera berus) and viviparous lizard (Lacerta vivipara) are common among reptiles in the zapovednik. Fish composition changed following creation of the reservoir since new dams blocked ascent of sturgeon (Asipenser sturio) and sterlet (A. ruthenus). Chub (Leuciscus cephalus) and other species became rare. New species, however, adapted well including zope and carpbream (Abramis ballerus, A. brama), roach (Rutilus rutilus), id (Leuciscus idus), pike (Esox lucius), sander (Stizostedion lucioperca), and eelpout (Lota lota). During the spawning season, the shores of the lake appear to boil with activity.


Much of the reserve is aquatic habitat, where rich organic matter from fields and forests flooded when the reservoir was created provided a basis for new plant and animal life. In the reservoir's warm shallow waters, sedge (Carex spp.), bent (Agrostis spp.), bur-reed (Sparganium emersum), buckwheat (Fagopyrum), and clasping-leaved, common floating, and shiny pondweed (Potamogeton perfoliatus, P. natans, P. lucens) grow in dense bands. Peat islands, remnants of flooded peat bogs that rose to the surface when the land was submerged, can be seen floating in the reservoir. Peat islands are inhabited by moisture-loving plants such as cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum), phragmites (Phragmites australis), and cat's tail (Typha latifolia). Some peat islands are overgrown with white birch (Betula pubescens) and willow (Salix spp).

More than three-quarters of the zapovednik's land area is covered with marshlands and bog forests. As much as 20,000 ha (200 km2) are temporarily submerged each year due to changing water levels from precipitation and operations of nearby hydroelectric stations. Fluctuations can range from two to three meters. For this reason, vegetation cover along the lake's shore is frequently changing: in low water years, annual grasses grow along the shores, while in high water years, moisture-loving plants dominate the landscape.

High muskeg bogs are the most common wetlands in the reserve. A sparse scattering of scraggly Scotch pines (Pinus sylvestris) covers these bogs or "carrs." The understory is made up of leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne spp.), adromeda (Andromeda poliofolia), marsh tea (Ledum palustre), blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), European cranberry (Oxycoccus palustris), and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus).

Pine forests cover the majority of the land area in the reserve with a soft pillow of green and white mosses blanketing the ground in higher areas. Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and cowberries (V. vitis-idaea) draw birds and mammals here in summer and fall. Common juniper (Juniperus communis) is also found beneath the pine trees. Spruce stands found along rivers have a grassy understory, while higher up mosses blanket the ground. Birch (Betula spp.) forests are common, though often these are swampy. Norway spruce stands (Picea abies) are found in areas.

In all, the reserve protects 590 species of vascular plants, 125 mushrooms, and 148 mosses and lichens. Rare species in the reserve include yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) and spurred coral root (Epipogium aphyllum) among other plants.

Geographical Features

Rybninskoye Reservoir, Russia's third largest man-made lake, extends for 120 km and averages 50 to 60 km in width at its center. In the 1950s, Rybninskoye was the largest reservoir in the world and remains among the top six in surface area today. Unstable weather conditions are common on the reservoir - blowing winds can stir up the calm mirror-like surface, creating large waves, which beat the sandy cliffs along the shore.

Darvinsky Zapovednik, on the northwest shore of the Rybninskoye Reservoir, protects the southern part of the large peninsula formed from flooding of the area between the Moloda and Shaksna rivers. The reserve straddles the Yaroslavskaya and Vologodskaya administrative regions. The territory includes 45,400 ha (454 km2) of the reservoir.

Conservation Status

Darvinsky Zapovednik, named for Charles Darwin, was founded in 1945 to study changes the newly created Rybninskoye Reservoir would have on natural ecosystems in the Vologda and Yaroslavl regions in northwestern Russia. Studies in the reserve were carried out to provide recommendations for improving conservation along the Volga-Kamsky cascade of hydroelectric stations.

Today, the natural ecosystems of the zapovednik are affected by industrial activities in the city of Cherepovets, a large industrial center only 30 km north of the reserve. Cherepovets, located upriver from the reservoir, is one of the largest polluting cities in European Russia with heavy metallurgy, chemical, and other manufacturing plants. The ecological situation in the region is critical - six tons of industrial dust and pollution fall on every square meter of the reserve each year. At the same time, the zapovednik's role in protecting parts of the reservoir and peninsula facilitates restorative processes by filtering and cleaning water and air, as well as helping to neutralize toxic substances, contributing to biodiversity conservation in the region overall.


Mukhin, I.A., Darvinsky Zapovednik. Soviet Russia Publishers, Moscow, 1983.

Sokolov, V.E. and E.E. Syroechkovsky, eds. Zapovedniks of the USSR: Western European Part of Russia I. Mysl publishing agency, Moscow, 1988.

Zabelina, N.M, L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova. Zapovedniks and National Parks of Russia. Logata. Mosow, 1998.

Text prepared by Laura Williams.

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