Mass marches are saving the national parks of Russia, and changing perceptions of nature conservation, thanks to the determined efforts of Irina Chebakova.
From islands in the Arctic to the deserts of Central Asia, Russia has a rich and fabulous natural heritage. The country’s upheavals of the late 20th century, however, have made it increasingly difficult to protect.
People have lawyers to defend them, but parks have no lawyers to plead their cause. And that applies to nature and to all species.
Irina Chebakova sought to overcome these challenges through her March for Parks crusade. The nature reserve specialist believes these annual events have helped change attitudes in Russia during a critical period after the collapse of the Soviet system. From 1995 to the 2000s, they set conservation on a new level, gaining support from the public and increased funding from governments.
In the mid-1990s, Chebakova, inspired by an American colleague’s experiences, began to encourage people to march in support of parks and protected areas. In 1995, in the first event in Russia and surrounding countries, 5,000 people took part in 20 marches. By 1998, the year of her Rolex Award, there were half a million marchers, by 2003 a million people were calling for protection of national parks and nature reserves, or zapovedniks. Traditionally these have been off-limits, reserved for scientists, something that Chebakova has also drawn public attention to.
Until 2004, when she left March for Parks to work for NGOs helping young people, Chebakova headed the movement, a major feat of organization. Much of the success is due to her lobbying efforts, her targets ranging from park wardens to regional governors. March for Parks remains active, its 22nd event held in May 2016.
People who took part in the first March for Parks
Number of zapovedniks (strict nature reserves) in Russia
National parks in Russia