Untouched by roads or other significant human activity, the Dvinsky forest in Russia is classed as an Intact Forest Landscape (IFL), and is one of Europe’s last remaining areas of intact forest ecosystems. It forms part of the Great Northern Forest, or Boreal forest, which spans Canada, Russia and Scandinavia.
Forest landscapes like Dvinsky are unbroken ecosystems large enough to support complex, intact and native ecosystems while also playing a vital role in holding vast stores of carbon in place. NGOs are working hard to protect these special places because they are also under threat from industry and development. Russia alone accounts for more than half the total IFL loss in the Great Northern Forest - much of it to feed sawmills for timber, pulp and paper mills for tissue, labels and packaging products among others. Some sawmills are even investing in infrastructure to maximise the use of the trees harvested and convert waste sawdust that would have been burned or discarded, into pellets to fuel heat and power plants in Europe.
Because positive engagement with companies sourcing from forests is so important to communicating the needs of buyers and their commitments to responsible sourcing, over the past five years Earthworm Foundation and Nestlé have been building relationships with Nestlé’s upstream suppliers operating in the Arkhangelsk region where Dvinsky is located. Arkhangelsk Pulp & Paper Mill (APPM) is one of these, and is Russia’s largest producer of cardboard and a leading pulp producer sourcing from an area that is also home to other IFLs.
“The future of Dvinsky relies on engagement with the local industry, communities and regional government to find a balance between production, environmental and socio economic development,” said Alastair Herd, Senior Manager at Earthworm Foundation. “We are focused on using our members’ supply chain connections to enable a practical, sustainable way for industry and local communities to continue to thrive, while protecting the forest.”
Understanding supply chain risks
In 2016, Earthworm Foundation started engaging APPM and its logging partner Titan as a high priority supplier in Nestlé’s supply chain given the presence of IFL and High Conservation Value forest within their sourcing area. A visit was carried out and highlighted the challenges related to the extensive forest model practiced in Russia putting pressure on IFL and HCV areas. It was the start of better understanding of APPM and Titan’s operations and our collaboration with WWF-Russia, Greenpeace and FSC in the region.
A few months later, in March 2017, Greenpeace’s Eye on the Taiga report was a wake-up call to many in the industry, revealing the alarming rate of forest loss in the Arkhangelsk region and particularly in the Dvinsky IFL. In the weeks following the report, we joined Nestlé on a visit to APPM and Titan’s operations and the Dvisnky IFL to discuss the issues highlighted in the report in situ and gain more transparency of the context and the expectations of Nestlé’s Responsible Sourcing Policy.
“Our approach was to stay engaged in order to tackle issues on the ground,” said Hanna Jager, Global Responsible Sourcing Lead for Pulp and Paper at Nestlé. “It would not have made sense to walk away from our supplier given the huge capacity they have to become a responsible steward of the forest.”
In April 2018, the government of Arkhangelsk joined with Greenpeace Russia, WWF-Russia and local industry to sign a moratorium agreement with the intent to establish and protect 300,000 hectares of Dvinsky’s Intact Forest Landscape. Nestlé and APPM initiated a Starling satellite monitoring pilot to help demonstrate to all interested parties that APPM was respecting its moratorium commitments.
Monitoring and holistic land use planning
“Starling’s monitoring of the area proved invaluable in demonstrating our commitments to the protection of this forest that is part of developing a robust long term land use plan,” said Timur Sokolov, Director of APPM parent company Pulp Mill Holding.
The pilot provided vital insights for Nestlé. “Following the Starling pilot phase, we looked at rolling out forest cover basemapping and monitoring of large areas of Arkhangelsk to help understand the dynamics of forest operations we are linked to in the landscape, and the deforestation and degradation aspects, which is key to our 2050 Climate Pledge, and bring this intelligence to discussion with companies about Nestlé’s policy and HCV expectations,” continued Hanna Jager.
Recognising the real potential to demonstrate balanced land use in an important sourcing area for many forest derived products, another Earthworm member joined the effort. Mars’ arrival at the table in 2019, marked the moment when Earthworm and its two members began collaborating towards a shared vision for the long-term health of the Dvinsky Landscape.
These efforts and funding from Nestlé and Mars were key in kick-starting two key activities in the first phase of the WWF-led landscape project. This includes ecological zoning and mapping, and socio-economic surveys in 2020, which helped partners understand the ecological and livelihood needs of Dvinsky’s forest communities. Activities in 2021 included tagging and monitoring wild reindeer to study ecological network in the area and establishing the requirements for a resource centre to support livelihoods other than forestry. An official MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) was signed between WWF-Russia and Earthworm in 2021.
“It was extremely positive that Earthworm members was supporting work on the ground to help drive transformation in this landscape initiative,” continued Andrey Shegolev, WWF-Russia's Forest Programme Director. “Following the first phase, we were looking to sit down with the key stakeholders in 2020 to plan next steps and activities in the main phase and we envisaged that other Earthworm pulp members, as well as other downstream customers sourcing from this area, would come on board and help drive this change.”
The Federal and Regional Government were reviewing the moratorium proposals, and on 1 October 2019, it was announced by the Arkhangelsk Government that they had adopted a resolution to formally establish the 300,000 hectare moratorium area as the Regional Dvina-Pinega Landscape Reserve. Whilst this was a massive step forward and something to be celebrated after 17 years of work from WWF-Russia, Greenpeace Russia and others, there was still much to do in working with the industry and local communities on integrated land use planning in the landscape surrounding the newly formed reserve.
In December 2019, Titan self-declared an incursion within the newly protected reserve by its subsidiary Verkhnetoemsky LPH, with 150 hecatres logged. Nestlé wrote to APPM/Titan, communicating that this should not happen again in the Dvina-Pinega Reserve or other moratorium areas within their and third-party supplier leaseholdings. Nestlé also set out the terms for continued business, requiring that Titan continued to meet Nestlé’s Responsible Sourcing Standard and that the harvested wood from this logged area did not enter Nestlé’s supply chain. It also required Titan to proactively engage and support Nestlé’s broader landscape initiatives. Finally it asked that before 2020, Titan comply with WWF’s proposal and compensated the 150 hectares lost by voluntarily protecting the equivalent of two quadrants – approximately 2,000 hectares - bordering the reserve. APPM/Titan expressed regret for this breach and continue to investigate how it happened, along with agreeing to all measures.
On 30 December 2019, Titan and WWF signed an agreement to voluntarily protect 1,834 hectares as damage compensation for the illegal logging in the Dvina-Pinega Reserve, as well as outlining specific activities towards protecting High Conservation Forest until 2028. Nestlé’s stance was one shared by Mars, recognising the complexity of landscape-level working and the importance of healthy supplier relationships to protect these special places.
Collaborating for forests globally
Landscape-level working is a key part of Earthworm Foundation’s strategy to secure a future for the world’s forests by promoting collective action. We firmly believe land use planning solutions are most effective when they are created by those people who live and work in that landscape. We are currently involved in landscape projects in Indonesia, Brazil and Peru, to name a few. Conditions and solutions vary hemisphere to hemisphere and between localities, but what works well in one area can often be applied with great success in another.
In Russia, as well as working to inspire companies to be part of the landscape project, we were exploring solutions in other parts of the region, working in parallel with the landscape project’s efforts.
“All stakeholders share the same goal - to find a balance,” concluded Alastair Herd. “Bringing a balance is about collaboration, engagement and compromise. The partners in this project want to reduce the pressure on Dvinsky and halt its degradation, whilst at the same time promote and support a more efficient forest industry. This is a challenge, but we feel there is a commitment amongst all parties to do something overwhelmingly positive, and learning from this could be replicated elsewhere in Russia.”