The Geography of Penza Oblast
Penza Oblast in its present form was established on February, 4th, 1939. It lies in the East European Plain (also called the Russian Plain) and occupies the central and western parts of the Volga Upland. The region stretches 330 km west to east, 204 km north to south, and covers the area of 43,300 km2.
The population of the region amounts to 1,379,800 people and includes 80 different ethnicities and nationalities.
461,900 people live in the countryside. There are 11 towns and 16 urban settlements in the region. The largest towns are Kuznetsk (87,700 residents), Kamenka (39,100 residents), Serdobsk (35,000 residents).
The proximity of industry centres, favourable transport connections and geographical position make it possible to bring raw production and energy resources to the region, as well as to establish business links and export the regional produce. Geopolitical position of the region is very stable due to its neghbourhood with the regions with balanced political situation and similar ethnic and religious composition and also due to the great distance to the national borders of Russia. Small territory and quality transport links contribute to the region’s opennes to investments. Thanks to the combination of favourable natural conditions for agriculture, the region is quite independent in the sphere of food production.
Penza Oblast lies in the north temperate zone, at the junction of forest, forest-grassland and grassland terrestrial ecosystems.
The region has temperate climate. The continental cllimate factor grows from west to east. Precipitation is most variable among climatic factors. Annual precipitation ranges withn 450-500 mm, in drier years it drops to 350 mm and in wetter years reaches 775 mm. Draught spells are typical in spring, but also quite often occur in summer and autumn.
Natural landscapes are very diverse. The low-lying, slightly hilly landscape creates favourable conditions for economy. The region’s terrain encompasses the western part of the Volga Upland and the eastern point of the Oka-Don Lowland.
There are more than 200 rivers in the region. The biggest of them are the Sura, the Moksha, the Khoper, the Vorona.
Fertile chernozem soil (black soil) that is predominant in the region (accounting for 68% of all soils in the area) is one of the key natural assets of the region. Most common soil type is leached chernozem, while podzolized and typical chernozem soil types are less common. Major areas in the north and north-east of the region have grey forest soils.
Wild vegetation is still preserved at one third of the region’s territory. Meadow and woodland landscapes dominate the north and the north-east of the region, while the south is predominantly characterized by meadow grasslands and grassland landscapes. Broadleaf and mixed forests occupy 20% of the territory. The forests have not so much industrial but environmental (water and soil protection) and recreational value. The grasslands are mainly used in agriculture. Small regions of pristine grasslands untouched by human activity still remain (Poperechinskaya, Kuncherovskaya, Ostrovtsovskaya grassland conservation areas).
Wildlife of the Penza region is very diverse. There are more than 60 species of mammals, 30 species of fish, and 200 species of birds inhabiting the region. The region boasts a large number of nature reserves and wild game husbandry farms. In terms of human health, the climate of the region is one of the most favourable (temperate climate with moderately hot summers and moderately cold winters, low-lying relief, low bog factor, high percentage of woodlands, etc.).
Penza Oblast lies in the south-east of East European Plain (also called the Russian Plain). The region’s terrain encompasses the western part of the Volga Upland and the eastern point of the Oka-Don Lowland. Sura plateau is a higher area bordering the Sura - the main river of the region. The plateau lies on the right bank of the Sura, along 1/5th of its length.
Around 60 thousand hectares of the land is under gullies, even more is occupied by dry stream beds.
The highest points in the region are: Surskaya Shishka hill - 320 metres, Surscko-Mokshanskaya and Kerensko-Chembarskaya uplands at 270-290 metres.
The geology of the region, especially its western part, was influenced by the major glaciation that occurred 300-500 thousand years ago. Under the influence of glaciers, the hilly relief was flattened and the low lying areas became more level.
As the region lies in the area of continental climate, with hot summers and severe winters, and is located at the junction of forest and grassland ecosystems, the vegetation is highly abundant and varied. There is a range of forest, meadow and grassland vegetation. Forests occupy 20% of the territory. The majority of forests are in the areas around Gorodyshchevo, Nikolsk, Kuznetsk, Lunino, Sosnovoborsk, smaller forests are around Zemetchino and Mokshan. Characteristic forest trees are oak, linden, ash, maple, beech, elm, and other broad-leaf species and conifers.
The most valuable forest areas are given the status of protected areas or natural reserves. The most valuable among protected forest areas are: Salov pine wood, Akhuny pine wood (273 ha), Arbekov forest (281 ha), Bolshevyassky pine wood (605 ha), Melnichny wood (192 ha).
Meadows take up 10% of the region.
More than 64% of the region is occupied by grasslands. The protected zone ‘Volga Steppe Nature Reserve’ was created in 1989 with the area spanning 8339 ha. Three other grassland areas have the status of protected natural reserves: Ostrovskaya Steppe (352 ha), Poperechinskaya Steppe (252 ha), Kuncherovskaya Steppe (997 ha).
Animals and Fish
The species composition of animals inhabiting the region is quite varied. There are 316 species of verterbrates, including 10 species of amphibians, 8 secies of reptiles, 200 species of birds, and 68 species of mammals. The most common species are medium-sized animals: foxes, hares, weasels, badgers, squirrels.
As part of the programme of restoring the wildlife diversity, 7 new species were introduced in the region: Amercan mint, muskrat, racoon dog, wild boar, siberian roe deer, red deer, spotted deer. Bobak marmots, beavers, Russian desmans were reintroduced. Muskrats and American mints have adapted and populated the water bodies of the region. The hunting species, such as roe deer and wild boar, became the common inhabitants in local forests.
There are 5 wildlife protection areas and several scores of game reserves in the region.
There are more than 50 species of fish in the region. The largest water basin of the region, Sura Reservoir, accounts for 30 species. The major sport fish species in the reservoir are common bream, silve bream, pike-perch, ide, wels catfish. Rivers and small water basins are abundant with roach, perch, crucian carp, carp, pike. The most valuable and the rarest species is sterlet. Sterlet is listed in the Red Book of Penza Oblast, which has 10 fish species in total.