Europe’s largest wetland wilderness under threat from E40 inland waterway | Save Polesia

An environmental catastrophe looms over Europe’s largest wetland wilderness

Polesia is Europe’s Amazon. This stunning floodplain region straddles the borders of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, and spans 186,000 km2 –  roughly twice the size of Portugal. It is one of Europe’s most biodiverse and culturally rich areas. The survival of many globally endangered species depends on it – including European bison, grey wolves and Eurasian lynx as well as thousands of migratory birds. It is an extremely important site for migrating waders.

This stunning region, which straddles the borders of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, is the continent’s greatest intact floodplain region. Despite ongoing threats from climate change, hunting, logging, and mining, huge areas of Polesia remain pristine. ©

The Polesia – Wilderness without borders’ project, supported by the Endangered Landscapes Programme, brings together organisations and research institutions from four countries to preserve Polesia as one of the last wilderness areas in Europe.


But this hidden gem is under threat: Governments of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine plan to build a waterway cutting through Polesia’s heart. The so-called E40 waterway would connect the Black Sea and the Baltic and at 2,000 km in length would be 25 times longer than the Panama Canal. To construct this huge infrastructure project, dredging, damming, straightening and deepening would be needed along some of Europe’s last major undamaged rivers, including the Pripyat and Vistula. This could have disastrous impacts on local communities, the global carbon balance and world class nature – 60 internationally protected biodiversity sites on the proposed E40 route would be directly impacted. Considering climate change and water shortages this project makes even less sense. The E40 waterway would be extremely expensive (over $12 billion) and the economic case for it is weak. Despite this, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine appear to be progressing individual elements of the waterway.


Save Polesia’ is an international partnership of six civil society organisations with the aim to stop the E40 waterway plans. Save Polesia believes that before the waterway is progressed further, proper assessment of the whole E40 corridor is urgently needed. This should consider cumulative and transboundary environmental impacts and enable full public participation. Instead of the waterway, Save Polesia encourages national governments to boost local and regional economies by investing in existing rail infrastructure and using the huge potential for nature-based tourism in Polesia. Save Polesia has launched a petition to save Europe’s largest wetland wilderness from the E40 waterway. Please raise your voice to save Polesia and sign our petition:


For more information about the ‘Polesia – Wilderness without borders’ project see

For more information about the ‘Save Polesia’ campaign see

Black-tailed Godwits breed at the River Pripyat Floodplains. Turov area, Polesie, Belarus. © Daniel Rosengren

Featured image: An aerial photo of the River Pripyat and its surrounding wetlands and oxbow lakes. This is an extremely important site for migrating birds (mainly waders) who stop here to feed on the abundance of food before continuing their migration. Turov area, Belarus. © Daniel Rosengren