Virgin Komi Forests
Virgin Komi Forests
Natural Russian Federation Europe And North America Komi Republic

Located in the north-western region of the Komi Republic, on the western slopes of the Northern Urals, the Komi Forest is dominated by lowlands in the west that rise to form the mountains in the east.

The eastern area of the forest is dominated by the Northern Ural mountains, which are oriented in a north-south direction. They are characterized by mountain-glacier formations, of which the southernmost glaciers occur within the Telpossky massif. The dissolution of limestone along the foothills has formed a karst landscape with subterranean caves, craters and river beds that are seasonally flooded. Weathering in the Ilych, Podcherema, Shchugora and Bolshaya Syn basins has given rise to columns and residual mountain structures. These are protected as Natural Monuments. Many of these features are remnant reef structures, the oldest of which date back to the Ordovician period. The undulating terrain to the west comprises marshes, lowlands and several hills which also give way to mountains. The eastern mountainous and western lowland regions are linked by the Uniya and upper reaches of the Ilych river basins. The south-central part of the Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve lies on the Pripechova lowlands, a plain of sand and morainic loam at the foot of the North Urals.

The vegetation of the lowlands comprises marshes and flood plain islands. Boreal forest extends from the marshes to the foothills of the Urals and is superseded by subalpine scrub woodlands, meadows, tundra and bedrock. Boreal forest predominantly comprises pine and larch, the latter found in higher areas. Ground cover consists of cowberry, bilberry and reindeer mosses. Extensive spruce, fir and pine forests are found in the valleys. The Virgin Komi Forests is the only place in Europe where the Siberian pine grows.

The area to the west comprises marshes and flood-plain islands. Low-altitude wetter areas such as bogs support sphagnum moss with cranberry, bilberry and cloudberry. The flood-plain island terraces are dominated by willow, rowan, blackcurrant and bird cherry.

The fauna includes both European and Asiatic species with some 43 mammal, 204 bird and 16 fish species recorded. Threatened mammal species include wolf, otter, beaver, sable, wolverine and lynx. Mammals include hare, squirrel, flying squirrel, beaver (reintroduced), grey wolf, fox, brown bear, weasel, otter, pine marten, sable, wolverine, lynx and elk. Musk rat has been introduced to the area. Bird species include capercaillie, black grouse, willow grouse, hazel grouse, black woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, nutcracker and red-flanked bluetail. A number of waterfowl species, including golden eye, goosander, wigeon, teal and bean goose, breed in the area. Fish species include salmon, grayling and whitefish and almost all rivers in the designated site provide salmon spawning grounds

Prior to Russians settling in the area during the 17th century, the residents included the Pechera and Zyriane groups of the Komi people, the Ostiaki group of the Khanty people and the Voguly group of the Mansi people, of which the latter group were driven out of the Urals. The 10th- and 11th-century chronicles name the Chiud, Merya, Ves and Pechera peoples as the main inhabitants. The hills of this region have traces of Palaeolithic camp sites and fossil remains and an ancient sanctuary of the Mansi people has also been found. Present settlements within the Uniya basin include those of the Komi people and the Old Believers, a religious sect that was proscribed by the Russian authorities in the 17th century.