MY IMPRESSION OF THE COLD WAR SOVIET UNION WAS OF GRIM SALT MINES AND GULAG LABOUR CAMPS. The former can still be seen in Belarus but it also has a huge proportion of natural vegetation cover compared to most European countries and with a sparce population (it has never fully recovered from losing one third of its people in WWII) wildlife flourishes here. Although we did not see any large predators we enjoyed several great encounters with a total of 29(!) European Bison and bird life was very much in evidence everywhere. The immigration process at a modern-looking Minsk airport was painless and quick and we were soon heading south, past cyryllic road signs on a broad new dual carriageway almost empty of traffic. Fields were a lot larger than I was expecting, owing to the former communist co-operative farming methods but away from them, swathes of silver birch trees cloaked vast Scots Pine forests that stretched to the horizon. Several hours later we reached the Pripyat Valley and our comfortable hotel in the ancient town of Turov, where we had time for a quick walk through of the site for our follow morning's photography, Turov Meadows - Western Palearctic hotspot!