Elena Dobretsova

Elena Dobretsova

Landscape Architecture

The Palimpsest of Peatlands

From a city swamp to a new template of a nature reserve  

Despite once being one of the most abundant landscapes, untouched swamps are a rare find as they have been cultivated and used by humans for different means of production. From turf extraction and production forestry to peat meadows for grazing and building new housing, the original palimpsest character of swamps once portrayed in countless fairytales and paintings has disappeared. And with it came the steady decline in the multitudes of environmental benefits that peatlands offer: poor carbon sequestration, lack of water storage and biodiversity loss. Restoration of peatland has become a global task for countless countries around the world.  

Russia has an immense area of peatland: this cultural landscape here is the most abundant in the world. However, the Soviet Union was once known for its vast industrialisation and wood production, most of which harvested on cultivated peatland. Following World War II, a housing shortage caused the biggest cities such as St. Petersburg to expand further. Large areas of swamp were drained, pushing the border of the city outwards. Luckily some pieces are still left today, such as untouched 8000-year-old bogs within 15km of St.Petersburg. Due to their poor connectivity to the city and lack of interest from recreants, these spots hardly get attention. It wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic forced people to explore their surroundings that suddenly a huge surge of tourists rushed to appreciate the traditional Russian landscape.  

The Palimpsest of Peatlands is a transformation of the existing template for nature reserves in Russia into a new type of natural park where both nature and humans can co-exist. This park will connect the city’s edge together with the existing swamps creating a variety of encounters ranging from a short hike to a weekend trip where one can get lost and learn about the beauty and treasures that this nature brings. The concept of Terra Forma is used as part of the experience to demonstrate the layered nature of swamps, where all life can be seen all around you all at once, like the layers of a palimpsest. In order to transform nature from centuries of exploitation a renaturation strategy is set into place. Parts of the swamp are made inaccessible for humans through the inundation of drainage canals. The raster of ditches slowly transforms itself over the period of 80 years as the swamp nature changes with the restoration of the water table. This dynamic process creates a variety of different swamps, each with its own unique biosphere. The residents of St. Petersburg get to watch the landscape evolve over the years and pass on their appreciation of the cultural landscape through the generations.  

To further involve humans in the education process, three pioneer groups are considered as part of the nature reserve template: the dachniki, wellness enthusiasts and an artist collective. These are the first residents of the landscape who take care of the swamp and provide the public with educative and innovative approaches on how to integrate this landscape into Russian society. As the nature reserve transforms itself, the pioneers become an indispensable part of the renaturation process. By developing such templates in various nature reserves in the future, landscape architects will be able to create resilient yet flexible nature, placing themselves on the frontier of climate change.  

Graduation date: 12 July 2022
Graduation committee: Maike van Stiphout (mentor), Eva Radionova, Arjen Spijkerman
Additional members for the exam: Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuize, Gert-Jan Wisse

Back to list