How to make Urungoch Lake cleaner? Decision found!

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Do you know why nature conservation in Uzbekistan is so much challenging and exciting at the same time? Apart from diverse wildlife, unique ecosystems, extensive wilderness there are responsive people who live in the country with the highest level of population density in the whole Central Asian region. In average, over 40 people inhabit every single square kilometre regardless of its importance for biodiversity. Using ecosystem services of sometimes degrading lands, these people know for sure what should be done for protection of their sites.

While implementing ‘Monitoring of IBA ‘Oygaing valley’ and the adjoining territories’ UzSPB/OSME project we met with local people living in mountain villages. Awareness raising activities carried out by the project team resulted in a number of biodiversity conservation issues raised by locals from Pskem village located on this site. The most acute issue was the waste recycling problem on Urungoch lake, known as the gem of Uzbekistan.

Urungoch Lake and its environs is important for eleven bird species of the Eurasian High Montane Biome (Alpine and Tibetan) and two endangered species. One can regularly see Cinereous Vulture, Lesser Kestrels, Egyptian Vultures, Lammergeiers and Golden Eagles.

Lammergeier - Valentin Soldatov

The true beauty of Urungoch which can be compared with the Swiss Alps only attracts over 1,000 tourists every weekend from March to September. The number of visitors in the hottest days of this August reaches 1,700 people! Before we started, the small territory of this lake did not have any waste collection facilities! Moreover, most of the visitors were not organized or guided by someone. OSME support allowed us to identify this issue as a priority and organize a roundtable event attended by representatives from the Ugam-Chatkal National Park and local village residents. 

White-throated Dipper - Valentin Soldatov

During the meeting with landusers and administration of the site, UzSPB managed to find supporters and like-minded people in order to resolve current problems of waste pollution on this lake.

This meeting resulted in another project aimed at testing different mechanisms for ecosystems conservation in Uzbekistan. This project was supported by the Van Tienhoven Foundation. Its implementation has already started and Urungoch is in the list of the project sites. So, what has been done on the lake so far?

All our summer activities on this site were aimed at changing tourists’ attitudes to the problem of lake pollution caused by household waste. However, this work was as difficult as the roads leading to the lake. First, we set up two sets of colourful information boards asking people to take their rubbish away with them, as well as signs with creative slogans and stylised litter bins which were greatly appreciated by a number of tourists.

Arrows that have slogans such as ‘You are visiting nature as a guest! Put your rubbish in the bin!’ and ‘Look at the beauty all around you! Do not spoil the view!’ indicated locations of the litterbins. Tourists are advised to only dispose of their waste in specially designated places.

We returned to the lake at the height of the tourist season at the beginning of July. We immediately noticed bins overflowing with rubbish, with large quantities of litter lying alongside. Inspectors from Ugam-Chatkal National Park rangers could not manage to empty bins regularly. From that moment, we started the next stage of our work aimed at sustainable and regular collection of rubbish from the lake.

In short, we started targeting tourists visiting this site at the entrance to the territory and giving out garbage bags with special stickers. Demonstrating two pictures to compare clean lake with polluted one we tried to persuade site visitors to pick up their own waste. Special #ЯзаЧистый #Урунгоч digital campaign was launched on Facebook in order to motivate and promote those who pick up their waste. It was a great fun and people started collecting and bringing back to the city not only their own waste but also a garbage left by others. The way to keep Urongoch clean was found and we will keep implementing this mechanism in the next tourist season.

Oleg Kashkarov on behalf of the UzSPB/OSME/Van Tienhoven Project Team

Oleg has worked for the Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds for over 10 years, since it was founded. He coordinates awareness and education activities for the society and implements applied conservation actions on KBAs together with local communities and supporters.