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Masurian Lakes Biosphere Reserve, Poland

The Masurian Lakes Biosphere Reserve is distinguished by extraordinary environmental and landscape values. It is an area dominated by forest and aquatic ecosystems. The picturesque landscape standing out among other parts of Poland developed several tens of millennia ago as a result of the activity of the Scandinavian ice sheet. By progressing and retreating, it formed the currently forested undulating hills and extensive plains. Wetlands, rivers, and lakes developed in depressions. In addition to large lakes surrounded by forests, the area features several tens of smaller lakes. Many of them are dystrophic lakes with accompanying peatland vegetation.

Designation date: 1976


Regional network:  EuroMAB

Ecosystem-based network: 




    Surface : 58,693.71 ha

    • Core area(s): 6,786.90 ha
    • Buffer zone(s): 13,499.93 ha
    • Transition zone(s): 38,406.88 ha

    Location: 53°43’13” N – 21°34’29” E

    Administrative Authorities

    Regional Director for Environmental Protection in Olszty
    ul. Dworcowa 60, 10-437
    Tel: +48 89 53 72 100

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    Ecological Characteristics

    The rich mosaic of ecosystems provides favourable conditions for occurrence of many rare, protected, and relic species of vascular and cryptogam plants, lichens, fungi, and vertebrate and invertebrate animals. A total of 499 taxa recognised as valuable have been recorded in the area of the proposed biosphere reserve so far. The group includes 271 taxa under strict legal protection in Poland, 138 under partial protection, 61 species from Polish Red Books, 192 taxa from Polish red lists, 75 species from appendices of the Habitat Directive (App. II) and Bird Directive (App. I), and 251 from the Global List of Endangered Species developed by IUCN.

    The biosphere reserve also largely contributes to the preservation of genetic pools of native animal races. Since 1949, traditional stable breeding and reserve breeding of Polish pony has been conducted. The animal is recognised as a unique environmental-breeding relic evidencing the contribution of Poland in the global breeding culture. Research conducted by the Field Station of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Popielno is also of high importance. It concerns protection of Polish Red Cattle. This native race constitutes valuable material for ecological agriculture, in biological, landscape, and ethnographic terms.

    Socio-Economic Characteristics

    The area of the biosphere reserve features considerable historical-cultural resources. They include single objects as well as fragments of landscape related to the history of settlement and human activity in various historical periods: archaeological sites, historical settlement complexes also covering cultural landscape units, historical buildings, old cemeteries, and roadside alleys.

    The disappearing cultural values include Old Believers’ villages which kept their unique atmosphere and beauty of perfectly preserved rural layout. Old Believers’ cemeteries constitute valuable evidence and readable remains of the disappearing religion, as well as an important element of the cultural landscape distinguishing the area among other parts of Masuria. Abundant and well preserved wooden architecture with banias (steam baths) unique for Masuria is also an important element of the Old Believers’ cultural landscape. Next to sacred buildings and cemeteries, these small wooden cottages are the most characteristic feature distinguishing Filipian villages among the remaining ones in the area. 

    For years, the local communities, local authorities, and non-profit non-governmental organisations have been undertaking activities aimed at the protection of historical sites (temples and cemeteries) as well as traditions, rites, and beliefs passing with the last Old Believers. An example of such activities is the implemented “Plan of renewal of the Wojnowo village”. It assumed undertaking a broad spectrum of measures aimed at improving the quality of life in the village, and strengthening the identity of the inhabitants. Another interesting undertaking is action “Save Old Believers’ Villages”. Popularising the history and cultivating old and disappearing traditions is a great chance for the proposed biosphere reserve to create a tourist product valued in Poland and Europe, namely a unique historical enclave of Old Believers. 


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    Last updated: April 2019