Right now, vast swathes of Russia are covered in “illegal” forests. 10% of all the forest in Russia (that’s an area about twice the size of Spain) lies in areas formerly or currently designated as agricultural land.  

Russian Forest © Tatiana Khakimulina/Greenpeace
A view of the forest in Russia © Greenpeace

Part of these are old forests, which remained on farm lands and were unaccounted for after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the rest are new forests which have started to grow on abandoned agricultural lands.

Bizarrely, Russian legislation demands that the owners of these lands keep them free from forests. They risk paying huge penalties and can even lose their private land to the State.  Most of them are completely forgotten, and have no clear status. This means that they’re often logged without restraint or simply burned, releasing CO2 and black carbon into the atmosphere.

That’s all about to change, as a result of a campaign by Greenpeace Russia to protect and restore these forests by changing the federal Forest Code to acknowledge the existence of forests on agricultural lands. The changes made so far only cover a small (but important!) part of federal legislation.

If we can regulate these 100 million hectares of “illegal” forests in a smart way, they could be a big part of nature conservation and restoration. Just by changing this one bit of legislation, it would be a huge win for biodiversity in Russia: more trees could be planted, sequestering carbon, and aiding the fight against climate change.  We could turn previously empty land into a huge carbon sink. 

Young "illegal" forest on agricultural lands ©Yulia Petrenko/Greenpeace
Young “illegal” forest on agricultural lands © Yulia Petrenko/Greenpeace

Over 50,000 people in Russia have already signed a petition asking President Putin to change the legislation which prevents this from happening. We presented it to him at the Presidential Council on Human Rights last year. The actual application of this particular change will depend on implementing regulations which are still to be defined, and we need to make sure that it is good enough.  

Russian forests are crucial to our climate and biodiversity. Half of the Great Northern Forest, the green crown of our planet is situated in Russia. You can help us to save this amazing forest by joining us here.

Anna Kosnikovskaya is a campaigner with Greenpeace Russia