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Regeneration of the Kozelsk Zaseka: A Unique Site of Natural and Historic Importance

D. Pavlov, the Chief State Inspector of the Berezich forestry, the Ugra National Park

Broadleaf oak forests of the Kozelsk Zaseka (abatis forest) are justly considered both a precious natural landscape and a unique historical monument. Its great importance in the past has predetermined its safety and modern image.

Until this moment, the forest of the Zaoksk Zaseka Line, which also comprise the Kozelsk forests, are considered the largest oak forests in Europe

Oaks, ash- trees, lindens and other broadleaf trees dominated vegetation in central Russia about a thousand years ago. As the result of the forests extensive industrial use most of them were destroyed together with their rich flora and fauna.

Nevertheless, several fragments of ancient large- leaved forests in the Zhizdrinsk district of the Ugra National Park have survived. In 2003, this place received a UNESCO bio- reserve status, and is justly considered an object of international importance.

The uniqueness of the Berezich broadleaf forests is explained by its historical role: between the 15th and 17th century the Stolpitsk Zaseka, a part of Zaoksk Zaseka Line of Russia, was already here.

The first stages of national forest management in Russia developed here. In the Tula and Kaluga forests they tested first methods of forest harvesting, forest tending and other silvicultural methods.

Surviving forests of the Zaoksk Zaseka Line.

I would like to thoroughly analyze historical events and conditions of landscape formation in the Kozelsk forest Zaseka. In a long history of battles between Russians and steppe nomads, the Oksk frontier gained a strategic role in the last quarter of the 15th century, in the times of Russias consolidation under the reign of Tsar Ivan III.

Until this time, the dukes had been too weak to create a solid military strategy. In earlier history (the 10th and 11th century), when the borders of Russia were much to the south, strong Kievan dukes successfully implemented an offensive strategy. Both Svyatoslav Igorievich and Vladimir Monomakh were famous for their spring military offensives, taking advantage of the fact that the cavalries of the Khazar and Polovtsy were weaker due to the shortage of animal fodder in spring.

Lets go back to the beginning of the 16th century. Under Ivan the Terribles reign, Russia was not yet prepared to lead offensives. Besides, its troops were not as mobile as the nomads. However, thanks to the development of firearms Russian troops soon gained advantage in defensive positions.

Ivan the Terrible initiated a construction of the Zaoksk Zaseka Line in order to minimize southern nomads movements. In this situation the role of a 5 to 7 kilometers long forest line was considerably more important than a construction of moats, walls, and other fortifications. The Zaseka Line was difficult to pass through for the cavalry and the artillery wagon of the enemy. Due to the Zaseka Line the offensive and return routes of the Crimean hordes were easy to foresee. The hordes could only intrude through the opening in the Zaseka, known as gates. Russian troops watched these gates thoroughly.

During the 200 years leading up to the 18th century, the Zaseka Line was in a complete neglect. Locals used it for ordinary household purposes. In the period of Peter the Great, the Zaseka Line gained new importance. Due to its boundary role between settlements in a forest scarce area, the Zaseka Lines were made property of the Tsar. This policy saved them from logging and agricultural use.

At the same time, the Kozelsk Zaseka was given to Tula firearms factories. Due to their remoteness, they were less subjected to logging. In the 19th century, because of their well-preserved character they became a laboratory for the Russian forestry development. The first state forest country- houses (dachas) were constructed there.

Preservation of the Kazelsk Zaseka forests is of natural and historical importance. The research and restoration program in the broadleaf forests of the National Park Ugra holds as its main aim the sustainable restoration of broadleaf forests on the vast areas of the Berezich Forests.

This program is the first step in a long- term project on restoration and conservancy of the Kozelsk Zaseka forests. The implementation of this program became possible in 1997, thanks to the formation of the Urga National Park, which comprised the most precious area forests.

The most historic and natural value of the forests belongs to the ancient (up to 160 years old) diverse large- leaved forests consisting of shingle oaks, ash- trees, elms, common and Norway maples, and small- leaved lindens.

Multiple researches show that among all the wood species, shingle oaks regeneration is the most problematic. We noticed that in the reserve conditions the number of oak is drastically reducing so are the areas of oak- groves.

The most vivid signs of shingle oaks degradation include:

  • On the area of 10,000 hectares (in the common area of oaks growth) there are no oak- groves younger than 40 years old.
  • Under the cover of medium- aged, mature and decaying (up to 160 years old) woods dominated by oaks (more than 20%) in the upper story, young growth of the oak is scarce or absent. At the same time, there is an opulent presence of fir- trees and large- leaved species.
  • We noticed that in planted forests as well as clear felling areas the was a decline in oaks number in the general forest composition. By the age of 20- 30 years old, oaks either die out because of weak light or form the second story with no possibility for regeneration.
  • There were no cases of natural vegetation succession for the oak registered.
  • The decline of old oak- groves in the fertile loess loams is accompanied by an aggressive expansion of ash- trees, elms and Norway maples.
  • As a result of long- standing selective felling, the majority of the oak- groves have a high level of fungoid and other infections. These areas are characterized by low resistance to the diseases and low temperatures.
  • Most of the oaks younger than 20 years old, died out due to improper planting and tending. The oaks, aged between 21 and 50 years old are also characterized by a high mortality rate due to thickset or lack of proper tending.

Below you can find methods to improve spatial and age structure of the population within the Berezich forestry.

The strategy on regeneration of the species under the risk of mortality includes:

  • Regeneration of an even age structure of the population.
  • Presence of the young growth with a considerable number of oaks in its composition can be achieved by:
    A) Planting oaks in small, narrow felling areas or under the cover of understocked forests.
    B) Two or three selective felling operations of the secondary species in the first story in the areas with young oak growth.

  • Increase of seed production of the best species, in the areas where the presence of the oak is scarce.
  • Employment of rare felling techniques, which are rare due to their technological complexity and lack of commercial reason. We propose felling operations for border of forest formation. (According to G. Morozov)
  • Improvement of the oak gene pool.
  • Search and tending of the best (healthy) species and use of their seeds for future plantations.

Proposed works in the Berezich forestry have been in progress since 2003. More than 10 experimental projects took place within the framework of the program. Planting of the oak under the cover of overmature or weakened species is especially important.

Oak transplants were planted in spaces, natural gaps in birch and oak forests as well as in the areas where clear sanitation felling had taken place.

We have tested several oak regeneration methods. The most successful was to plant 2 or 3 year old transplants. The novelty was in planting in the areas of strip and sanitation felling without any preliminary ground preparation. We made use of two types of landscape.

In type 1 we used secondary aspen and birch- tree forests on sabulous soil, which were previously employed by agriculture. In spring 2003 on the area of 220x50 meters, using the method of notch planting (the Kolesov spade), we planted 2-year-old oak seedlings. The distance between the seedlings was 3x 0.5 meters. (See the picture)

We also left some viable species of oak, maple and several aspens on the experimental plot; this technique provided partial shadowing of the plot. In spite of severe frosts and cankerworm larvae infestation, the seedlings recovered and had a positive increment. August 2005.

By August 2005, the average height of an oak was 55cm, and the survival capacity was 86%. In the course of two seasons the area was manually weeded and mowed with an electric weed wacker.

Negative factors that affected the plot include cankerworm damage and frost damage in May 2004. In January 2006 considerable damage from deer was registered.

Type 2.
In type 2 we used pine-tree and fir-tree subors on sandy and sandy clay soils. In these conditions, similar to type1, the duff and humic layer are thin and any soil preparation could lead to worsening of nourishment conditions. Three- year- old oak species were planted on 3 medium-sized plots previously subjected to sanitation felling. The territory of the plots was 0.2, 0.5 and 0.7 hectares, the rows of oaks and pine- trees alternating. A negative factor characteristic for this area was late spring frosts. 87% of the seedlings were damaged in May 2004. However, many of them have recovered and have satisfactory increments (15 cm up to 20 cm).

Type 3 comprises planting of oak seedlings in spaces and gaps in understocked and old- aged oak- groves.

This method was tested in spring 2003 and 2004 on two plots on territory of 9.5 hectares of the 140 year- old oak grove. The transplants were put into spaces, 5 trees for each space. By August 2005 the worst results on capacity survival were registered here: about 10% in 2003, and 23% in 2004. The main reason for the mortality was an outbreak of spring cankerworm, which led to a complete defoliation, about 90- 100% of transplants as well as mature oaks.

Deer also badly affected the area. In spite of vegetation abundance, deer destroyed the tops of the young growth, at times pulling them from the ground. This fact was registered after three years of regular observation. Deer walked around the spaces with new growth, sometimes damaging up to 4 from the total amount of 5 in each space.

We would like to continue working on our program, although as any other non- commercial project its main problem is lack of funding and equipment. Nevertheless, we hope we will be able to finish this important project.

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