History of Foundation
A region of stunning beauty and natural diversity has been preserved among the dense forests and endless, rolling fields of the Oka valley - Meschera. In the southwest of Meschera sits the Okskiy national biosphere nature preserve - one of the oldest nature preserves in Russia. It was founded in 1935 for the protection of the muskrat (Desmana moschata), a species native to Russia, but eventually, its goals widened considerably, and currently the duties of the preserve include the preservation of the entire set of ecosystems of Meschera. The borders of the preserve have been redrawn frequently; at the moment, it consists of 55.7 thousand hectares, with 32.8 thousand designated as the nucleus.
The main elements of the preserve's landscape are hilly, sandy plains and river valleys. The aquatic network consists of tributaries to the Oka - the rivers Pra, Lamsha, Narma and Kursha, and various lakes. Among them is the forest karst lake Svyatoe Lubyanikskoe. The pattern of natural landscapes of the preserve is unique and inimitable - a sequence of fields, swamps and woods. Pines grow along the tops of the sandy hill formations, carpeted in lichen, birches cover lowlands that have been fertilized by past forest fires, and alders grow thickly around the beds tiny rivers. In the Oka valley, landscapes shift as one ascends further up from the banks to the terraces, from rolling fields, through the willows, to the oaks.
Diversity of Flora and Fauna
The preserve is home to 825 species of vascular plants. Among them is a rare orchid - Venus' shoe. In the waters, one can find a relic of the Trisassic period that has been classified as endangered - the caltrop (Trapa natans), or water chestnut. Among the forests, three distinct varieties can be separated - evergreen, oak, and secondary birch and willow woods. A great diversity of plants can be found in the fields of the Oka valley.
The wildlife is diverse as well. The preserve is home to 57 species of mammals. Two of them are endangered - the muskrat and giant noctule (Nyctalus lasiopterus). Among the aquatic mammals are the beaver, muskrat, otter, mink and beaver-rat. The most common predators in the woods are foxes; there are frequent sightings of raccon dogs as well. In certain years, the wolf population spikes noticeably, creating problems for inhabitants of nearby villages. Minx tracks are seen constantly, and of late, there have been brown bear sightings.
In 1959, a bison nursery was created on the grounds of the preserve. At the time, the bison were very close to extinction. More than 300 calves have so far been birthed in the nursery, and more than 200 of them have been released in protected areas, in Russia, and abroad as well.
256 species of birds can be found in the preserve, and 25 of them are listed as endangered. Since 1979, a nursery for rare species of crane has been functioning on the grounds of the preserve, with the mission of preserving these unique birds and restoring their population in the wild. All seven types of crane that can be found in Russia live and breed in the nursery. In the years of its operation, the nursery has grown around 300 chicks. The endangered ones among them are: Siberian white crane, the Japanese crane (Grus japonensis), white-naped (Grus vipio) and hooded cranes (Grus monacha).
In the waters of the preserve 37 species of fish have been spotted. Pike, flounder and plotva are common. The endangered sterlet is also present.
What to See
On your trip to the Okskiy preserve, you can take part in a series of most interesting excursions, during which you can learn about the history of the preserve and the peculiarities of the nature of Meschera, visit museums, and the bison nursery, where you will have the chance to feed the bison and take some photos as mementos. You will also visit the unique crane nursery, learn about its inner workings, about the everyday life of the birds, and about the feeding technique employed with the chicks. You will also have the opportunity to feed them. The most important thing is for the birds not be frightened of you, and for this you must follow the instructions of the nursery staff.