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art conservation and restoration

art conservation and restoration, the preservation of structurally sound works of art, the halting of processes that lead to the damage of works of art, and the repair of already damaged works of art.


Works of art are subject to a variety of disfiguring ills, many of them caused by environmental effects, particularly temperature and humidity changes and pollution. Much modern conservation effort is directed toward producing a stable, favorable situation for the display of art works and maintaining regular inspection and diagnostic procedures to combat deterioration. Techniques for this inspection have become increasingly sophisticated; they currently involve photographic, X-ray, infrared, and other radiation examination, as well as complex chemical analysis.

All effective art conservation and restoration ultimately depend upon the restorer's understanding of materials, technical craftsmanship, and aesthetic and historical awareness. The support (such as wood panel, canvas, paper), the ground (gesso, chalk), and the surface treatment (wax, varnish) of a painting all undergo some form of decay over the years.

Support Restoration

Frescoed walls absorb moisture from the atmosphere. The moisture carries to the wall soluble surface salts that effloresce and injure the fresco pigments. To halt such injury water-permeable fixatives may be applied to help stabilize the pigment and prevent it from flaking off. A more drastic treatment is transfer, by which the mural and upper layer of plaster are cut away from the wall altogether and made fast to a new support. A major instance of successful transfer was carried out on many frescoes unearthed at Pompeii.

Wood-panel paintings undergo much swelling and shrinking with humidity variations. Wood-boring insects and the dry rot of fungus also attack them. The painting may be transferred to a new support, or the old one may be strengthened by impregnation with a consolidating medium (including several plastics) or given auxiliary support. Insecticides and fungicides may suffice to combat woodworms and dry rot; in cases of advanced destruction, reinforcement by impregnation may be necessary.

Canvas supports also absorb and lose moisture, swelling and shrinking, and thereby losing much pigment. In addition, canvases may be weakened or torn with comparative ease. A method of relining (restretching on a second undercanvas) may be effected whereby the old canvas is attached to the new by means of an adhesive. This may be a thermoplastic wax-resin combination or a water-base glue. The painted surface becomes impregnated with the adhesive and is consequently stabilized.

Irregular staining, called foxing, is the bane of print and drawing collectors. In humid conditions foxing attacks the adhesives and mounts of paper-based art, including watercolors, by producing the nutrients favored by molds present in the atmosphere. The work may sometimes be sterilized and remounted on a support chosen for its mold-repellent quality. It may be further treated with a fungicide. Some foxing stains may be removed by careful bleaching and washing, but this is a difficult technique requiring considerable knowledge of materials.

Ground Restoration

Repainting and retouching are means by which a damaged work may be restored, but both largely depend for success upon the personal judgment and aesthetic capability of the restorer. Repairs may be necessary where the results of overzealous cleanings of the past have produced injury or revealed a pentimento that disrupts the composition. Much of the restorative work of the 19th cent. had a tendency to “improve” the work of art with arbitrary additions and distortions, and a good deal of 20th-century attention was given to removing these additions.

Surface Restoration

The restorer's greatest problems concern the surface coating of the painting. A decayed or badly discolored varnish may be removed painstakingly by mechanical means or regelled with the judicious use of solvent, often applied as a delicate spray. In other cases the old varnish may be powdered by rubbing and removed by hand or, more commonly, chemically dissolved. Such techniques are beset by dangers inherent in the variable nature of the original pigments and varnish, and the risk of injury increases with the age of the painting. When a new varnish is applied, the contemporary restorer uses a much more easily removed surface protector than was common in the past.

Restoration of Sculpture

Sculpture, especially that which stands outdoors, is particularly vulnerable to environmental changes. Placing the sculpture in a temperature- and humidity-controlled situation is the best means by which to preserve it. Stone sculpture requires periodic washing; either steam, spray, or trickled water is used, depending on the porosity of the stone. Soap, but not detergent, may also be applied. Broken sculptures may be mended with clear, cold-setting adhesives, sometimes mixed with a suitably colored filler, or by means of dowelling. Large pieces of sculpture are held together with metal dowels, usually of copper, stainless steel, or brass.

Broken wood sculpture is also dowelled, as is ivory, and special cements may also be used to fill cracks. Wood sculpture is also vulnerable to woodworm and dry rot and may be treated with insecticide and fungicide. Badly decayed wood works may sometimes be preserved by means of impregnation with a plastic medium.

Metal sculpture may be waxed to protect it from atmospheric corrosives. Bronze acquires a patina, or irregular surface pattern caused by deposits of sulfides and oxides, that is widely considered aesthetically pleasing, whereas patina on lead objects results in eventual decay. Cracks in metal sculpture may be filled with special adhesives. Corrosion may be halted by electrolytic reduction, which, however, destroys patina. Various chemical solvents and mechanical techniques are used to remove specific incrustations.

Restoration Emergencies

The flood in Florence, Italy, in Nov., 1966, was among the greatest disasters in modern history in terms of the destruction of works of art. Conservators and restorers from all over the world applied emergency treatment to the treasures of painting, sculpture, and architecture that could be saved. Among those were five panels from the bronze doors of the Baptistery by Ghiberti, which had been ripped apart and ruined by the furious, oily waters. In replacing them experts made use of an exact replica of the doors in San Francisco. In 1972, Michelangelo's Pietá in St. Peter's, Rome, was attacked and mutilated by a madman with a hammer. The most delicate restoration work was required to make unobtrusive repairs on this masterpiece of sculpture. A number of well-known paintings also have been damaged by attackers in recent years, and these, too, have been restored as unobtrusively as possible. In a more recent emergency, a 1997 earthquake centered in the Italian town of Assisi damaged many works of art, most notably its 13th-cent. basilica. An international team worked on restoring its architectural and sculptural elements as well as its fragile frescoes. In late 1999 the newly earthquake-proofed and nearly completely restored basilica was reopened to the public; Giotto frescoes on two ceiling vaults still await restoration.


See H. J. Plenderleith and A. E. Werner, The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art (2d ed. 1971); Francis Kelly, Art Restoration (1972).

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Preserving and renewing, when possible, human and natural resources. The use, protection, and improvement of natural resources according to principles that will ensure their highest economic or social benefits.The management of a building to prevent its decay, destruction, misuse, or neglect; may include a record of the history of the building and the conservation measures applied.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



measures that ensure the long-term preservation of the appearance (either the original appearance or the appearance at the time of conservation), mechanical durability, and chemical stability of historical and cultural relics, archaeological finds, architecture, and works of the fine and applied arts. Conservation is closely linked to restoration.

Museums, libraries, and archives use heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to ensure that all objects are stored at optimal storage conditions: equable temperature, illumination, moisture, and air composition. Museums use showcases equipped with filters for purifying the air, and pictures are enclosed between glass and cardboard, held together by fabric. Engravings, drawings, watercolors, pastels, gouaches, and textile pieces are mounted under glass for display or placed in a passe-partout and stored in special cabinets and cases. Documents and printed texts on worn paper are strengthened by lamination—coating with a transparent synthetic film. Objects made of wood, cloth, or leather that have been damaged by mold fungi, insects, or larvae are treated with chemical fungicides or insecticides and are saturated with antiseptic solutions that do not damage the material. Objects made of unfired and low-fired clay or of dry wood with structural damage are saturated with synthetic resins that do not affect appearance; wet wood is preserved by replacing the water in it with resins, alums, and paraffin wax. Metal, glass, and bone are cleansed of corrosion and coated with a protective film of colorless synthetic lacquer. Fabric is saturated with starch paste (sometimes synthetic) and affixed to a cloth support. Buildings are preserved by strengthening the ground, walls, and arches and by erecting protective canopies and awnings to prevent the destruction of the monument before it is restored. Wooden structures are saturated with synthetic water-repellent and reinforcing compounds and other protective substances. Paintings on the walls of architectural monuments are strengthened primarily with highly stable resins that preserve the color and texture of the painting without damaging the permeability of the pigment layer and the ground.

The success of conservation depends on providing the proper conditions for each type of object. Conservation techniques are developed and practiced by specialized laboratories and workshops. In the USSR these include the All-Union Central Scientific Research Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR (1958), the Laboratory for Document Conservation and Restoration of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1934), the Laboratory for the Micro-Photocopy and Restoration of Documents of the Central Archive Administration (1936), restoration workshops of the archaeological institutions of the academies of sciences of the various republics, restoration workshops of libraries and museums, and special architectural scientific-restoration workshops. The Committee on Conservation of the International Council of Museums sponsors the exchange of ideas among experts from various countries.


Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ literaturypo voprosam konservatsii i restavratsii proizvedenii iskusstva i pamiatnikov kul’tury, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1961–70.
Annotirovannyi bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ inostrannoi literatury po voprosam konservatsii i restavratsii proizvedenii iskusstva i pamiatnikov kul’tury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1970.




the system of natural-science, technical and industrial, economic, and administrative and legal measures adopted in a state, in part of a state, or on an international level, to preserve nature and make controlled changes in the environment. These measures are taken in the interests of human progress and for the purpose of maintaining and increasing human productivity and ensuring the rational use (including the restoration) of natural resources and the environment. Conservation is of great historical and social significance. In the USSR, it is part of the program for the development of the national economy.

On Sept. 20, 1972, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed the statute On Measures for the Further Improvement of the Conservation of Nature and the Rational Use of Natural Resources. The statute expresses the Soviet point of view on conservation. “The conservation of nature and the rational use of natural resources … are among the most important state problems; on their solution depend both the implementation of national economic plans and the well-being of present and future generations. The solution to these problems in socialist society is inextricably linked with protecting the public health and providing the Soviet people with the conditions necessary for fruitful labor and leisure. In the Soviet Union the socialist ownership of the land, the subsurface, the water, and the forests by the state provides a firm foundation for the proper use of natural resources and the effective protection of nature” (Pravda, Sept. 21, 1972, p. 1).

Man’s natural environment developed during the formation of the face of the earth, under the influence of cosmic factors (solar radiation, gravity), basic properties of the planet (weight, size, composition, and rotation), and processes occurring on earth (tectonic activity, formation of the hydrosphere and the atmosphere, and the origin and development of life). The condition of the environment is determined by a dynamic equilibrium established by an intricate set of many interacting processes. Thus, climate depends on the character of atmospheric circulation and the movement of water masses in the oceans. The vegetation varies in different regions of the earth, depending on the climate, the structure of the earth’s surface, and the soil. Under the influence of these factors and as a result of the complex interaction of populations of animals and plants, different bi-ogeocenoses develop in different regions of the planet. Natural phenomena contain an enormous amount of energy and consist of a vast number of substances. However, at times they reach an unstable state, when expenditures of small amounts of energy or matter are sufficient to cause a large-scale process to take an unusual course. This makes it possible to use relatively small-scale means to affect natural processes (for example, various methods of influencing weather conditions). At the same time, it creates the danger of major, unexpected, and undesirable changes in nature.

All forms of life interact with the environment, using its resources, adapting to its conditions, and introducing changes in its structure and balance, as well as in the cycles of matter and energy. Our planet owes a number of important features to the activity of living organisms: for example, the presence of considerable oxygen in the atmosphere, and the formation of certain sedimentary rocks, such as limestone. As living matter developed, diverse forms evolved, adapted to existence under the most varied conditions. However, each separate species interacts with the environment in its own way and can exist only under certain environmental conditions. The emergence of new species in the course of biological evolution is accompanied by changes in the principal forms of interaction of animals and plants with the environment.

Unlike plants and animals, man is capable of creating the instruments of production and using them in work. Thus, man changes the ways in which he interacts with nature, broadening the conditions for human existence, increasing the number of environmental factors involved in production, and expanding the uses of each of these factors. The quantity and quality of man’s effects on nature have grown precipitously during the scientific and technological revolution.

The development of the productive forces substantially changes the value and uses of natural resources, as well as the forms in which they are used. For example, petroleum did not become a source of energy until the second half of the 19th century. Uranium became a source of energy in the mid-20th century. In discussing the degree of purposefulness with which natural resources are utilized, it is necessary to consider in whose interests they are used. The utilization of natural resources or a change in the condition of the environment is purposeful only if it is in the interests of the population of a country or of mankind as a whole, not if it is in the interests of a few persons, firms, or social groups. It is necessary to consider the long-term interests of present and future generations. Consequently, purposeful changes in the condition of the environment can only be made by a socialist or communist society, characterized by homogeneous interests and goals, the capacity to chart its own long-range development, and the practical possibility of organizing the rational exploitation of natural resources in conformity with designated goals. Knowledge of the principles of the development and interaction of all the basic processes in nature is very important, because it makes possible the assessment and calculation of their natural course and the immediate and long-term consequences of various kinds of intervention. In evaluating the consequences of an action on nature, it is important to calculate the degree to which it is permissible—that is, the level at which no harm is done to man or nature. In particular, this principle is the basis for determining acceptable limits for concentrations of various substances that pollute the atmosphere, water, or soil.

As society develops and methods of production are improved, the changing forms of interaction between man and nature become more and more intense, as well as more effective. Thus, the modern technology of construction, transportation, communications, and energy supply and the level of medical and sanitation services permit the distribution of people in large cities at densities many times greater than when urban settlements were first established. Irrigation transforms arid land into fertile fields. Selection makes possible the creation of more productive varieties of plants and breeds of animals. Although these developments are, for the most part, positive ones, they are often accompanied by the irrational use of natural resources, and they sometimes lead to irreversible, undesirable changes in the condition of the environment. Such misfortunes have occurred throughout the history of human society. In the early stages of the development of society, man’s use of natural resources, as well as his impact on nature, was insignificant; it did not noticeably disrupt the natural environment. During the epoch of capitalism, however, the effects of human activity on nature intensified and assumed menacing proportions.

The predatory use of natural resources has seriously harmed living things. In the colonial and dependent countries fertile land has been depleted and soils eroded as a result of the introduction of the monoculture system (coffee, Hevea [a genus of rubber tree], or peanuts, for example), without appropriate measures to prevent harmful consequences. Soil depletion and erosion have also assumed menacing proportions in the developed countries. Forested areas have declined sharply, and many species of animals have disappeared.

Pollution of the environment increased as industry developed. At first, pollution was a problem only near industrial plants. Owing to the diffusion of pollutants in water or air, the environment was not contaminated, even at relatively short distances from the source of pollution. Now, however, the wide variety of substances discharged in large quantities with industrial byproducts or used in agriculture as fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides can no longer be neutralized by the environment; some cannot be neutralized at all.

Environmental pollution is most serious in industrial regions of the USA, as well as in Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), and a few other European countries. The atmosphere over the largest cities and industrial centers contains a number of harmful additives (CO, CO2, nitrogen oxides, dust, and soot, for example) in concentrations exceeding by tens of times the norms consistent with public health. The Atlantic Ocean is heavily polluted, especially near the coasts of Europe and North America. Pollutants carried by currents accumulate in certain regions, such as the Barents Sea, where many countries, including the USSR, have a well-developed fishing industry. Thus, pollution of the environment has become a global problem.

The impending exhaustion of natural resources and the pollution of the environment have impelled the governments of many countries to adopt certain conservation measures. In the majority of the developed countries, the lumber industry is regulated: cutting must be in proportion to replacement. Rivers are stocked with fish. Commercially valuable animals are bred, and hunting is regulated. Natural preserves and other protected territories have been widely developed. Measures are taken to prevent soil erosion. In the USA, France, and other countries special ministries, advisory bodies, and other bureaus specializing in conservation have been established. However, in the capitalist countries the implementation of conservation laws often conflicts with the interests of the monopolies, whose profits are cut by additional expenses for such projects as the installation of antipollution devices. Foreign monopolies continue their rapacious exploitation of the natural resources of the economically dependent countries. The absence of effective international cooperation fosters a predatory attitude toward ocean resources.

The environment is particularly threatened by experimentation with and production and storage of atomic, chemical, and other types of equipment for mass destruction. About half the forests in South Vietnam were destroyed by American aircraft, which dropped defoliants and other chemical agents during the US aggression in Indochina. A worldwide thermonuclear conflict would result in irreversible changes harmful to all living things. Disarmament, the cessation of the arms race, and other forms of international cooperation are of decisive importance for conservation. The irrational use of natural resources and the negative effects of human activity on the environment are rooted in social causes. On Mar. 25, 1868, K. Marx observed in a letter to F. Engels: “culture, if it develops spontaneously, and is not consciously directed … leaves a desert” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 32, p. 45). Many foreign scientists assert that the interaction between man and nature that is characteristic of capitalist society applies to all mankind, even though there are no grounds for such a generalization. Consequently, they arrive at the pessimistic conclusion that if current trends in societal development continue, an ecological crisis is inevitable in the next century. In their opinion, only the stabilization of population growth and an end to industrial development can avert such a crisis.

However, modern science and technology have already solved many problems necessary for optimal forms of interaction between man and nature. Antipollution devices have been perfected, and a number of industries have developed closed technological processes with no by-products. Rational methods of agriculture and forestry have been proposed for various environmental conditions, and methods of breeding commercially valuable fishes and other forms of wildlife have been suggested. In a socialist society consciously directed, planned development of the entire economy creates the foundation for optimal relations with nature. This has received practical confirmation in the development of the USSR and other socialist countries. Since the first days of Soviet power the rational use of natural resources and the conservation of nature have been issues of importance to the state.

The USSR is taking measures to solve all the fundamental problems of conservation. Planning for conservation has been improved. Enterprises and organizations have been given greater responsibility for making sure that mineral resources are completely used, once they have been extracted and processed. Measures have been adopted to prevent contamination of the soil by industrial wastes and toxic chemicals and contamination of bodies of water and the atmosphere by industrial, municipal, and other wastes. The citizen has been assigned greater responsibility for conservation. An accurate account of the condition of the principal natural resources is obtained through a system of land and water cadastres and through state evaluation of reserves of mineral resources and their extraction. Pollution of the environment is a far less serious problem in the USSR than in the USA, Japan, the FRG, and other technologically developed countries.

Even in the USSR, there have been instances of the irrational use of natural resources or the unfavorable effects of human activity on the environment, despite the absence of the social reasons associated with these phenomena. In a number of cases, planning agencies consciously adopted short-term policies potentially harmful to the environment, especially during the Civil War, the Great Patriotic War, and the difficult postwar period, when there were serious shortages of the means necessary to satisfy the needs of the people. In other cases, miscalculations or errors in planning have been responsible for irrational use of resources or damage to the environment. As the country’s economy has grown stronger, greater attention and material means have been devoted to conservation, as is reflected in legislative acts and specific measures. Thus, for example, the general plan for the comprehensive use of water resources always includes measures to increase the reuse of water and improve water treatment systems, in order to reduce irreversible losses and industrial pollution of water. (The general plan for the comprehensive use of water resources provides for the satisfaction of the needs of the national economy for electrical energy generated by hydroelectric power plants, for waterways, and for irrigation.) Measures to prevent soil erosion are an integral part of plans for agricultural development.

Extensive afforestation is under way, the floating of unrafted (loose) logs has gradually been curtailed, and forest conservation measures are being implemented in greater areas of the country. To combat air pollution, new technology has been developed, and filters have been installed to trap industrial wastes and make it possible to reprocess them into useful products. (For example, sulfur dioxide is converted into sulfuric acid.) Centralized heating, the conversion to gas fuel for heating, and the development of district heating plants, as well as other measures, have made it possible to maintain satisfactory levels of air purity in Moscow and other Soviet cities. Further measures will improve air quality by lowering the total quantity of industrial wastes discharged into the atmosphere. Despite the rapid growth of industry, between 1970 and 1980 the level of dust in the air is to be reduced by 50 percent, the level of carbon monoxide by 40 percent, and the level of hydrocarbons by 50 percent.

To decrease the contamination of the soil, the use of pesticides in agriculture is regulated. Toxic chemicals that accumulate in organisms may not be manufactured or used. Biological methods of controlling agricultural pests are being expanded. Measures are under way to purify the most heavily polluted bodies of water. In the Caspian Sea, where petroleum products posed the greatest threat to the environment, pollution has been considerably reduced. In the cities along the Volga and Ural rivers, huge installations for treating industrial wastes and sewage are under construction, to prevent pollution of the river basins.

Special measures are being devised to protect particularly valuable bodies of water. For example, the character of the economic development of the Lake Baikal basin has been defined, so that the exploitation of the resources of that immense region can be combined with the conservation of its unique natural features. Measures adopted in the USSR for the protection of animals have made it possible to maintain high species populations. The commercial use of the seal and sable, as well as the muskrat, nutria, and other acclimatized animals, is regulated. Commercially valuable fishes have been successfully bred in the Caspian and Aral seas, in Lake Issyk-Kul’, and in the rivers of the Northern European USSR and the Far East. High populations of elk, saiga, and beaver have been restored and maintained. Herds of bison, Asiatic wild ass, and other rare animals have been maintained and enlarged.

In the USSR a number of specialized administrative state bodies deal with conservation, including the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR for Science and Technology, which includes the Interdepartmental Science and Technology Council on Complex Problems of Conservation of the Natural Environment and Rational Use of Natural Resources; the Ministry of Agriculture of the USSR; the Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Use Management; and the Ministry of Geology. Other administrative bodies involved in conservation efforts are the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR for Supervision of Work Safety in Industry and for Mining Supervision (Gosgortekhnadzor), the State Committee of the Forest Economy, the Ministry of Fisheries of the USSR, the Ministry of Public Health, the Central Board for Hydrometeoro-logical Services of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, and the Ministry of Machine Building for the Chemical and Petroleum Industries. The Union republics also have government bodies specializing in conservation.

Scientific research on conservation problems is conducted by many research institutions of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the Hydrometeorological Service, the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and various departments, universities and other institutions of higher learning. Research is also done at nature preserves in various natural zones of the USSR. The fundamental principles of conservation are included in the curricula of secondary schools, many technicums, teaching institutes, and universities.

It is extremely important to educate the population about nature through the press, radio, and television. A great deal of information about conservation is spread by public organizations, including voluntary conservation societies in the Union republics, the Geographic Society of the USSR, and the All-Union Society Znanie. The most important organizations involved in providing the public with information about conservation are the all-Russian, Moscow, and other major naturalists’ societies. People’s universities and departments of conservation are being organized.

The USSR participates in international measures for conservation and in collective actions with other countries.

On Dec. 22, 1972, the appeal To the Peoples of the World was adopted at a solemn joint session of the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the formation of the USSR. The appeal noted the great significance for mankind of the struggle against the danger posed by the steady deterioration of the environment, pollution in the cities, and the poisoning of the air, seas, and rivers. Participants in the session called on the peoples of the earth to unite and to make a strong effort to preserve and restore the environment.


Legal problems. In Soviet legislation, conservation subsumes the aggregate of all legal measures directed at the preservation, restoration, and improvement of favorable environmental conditions. In other countries the legal aspects of conservation are sometimes interpreted more narrowly, as the preservation of natural wonders or of especially valuable or unique natural phenomena. The preservation of other natural phenomena is included in the concept of “environmental protection.” “Conservation” (in a broad sense) and “environmental protection” are increasingly regarded as identical concepts.

RUSSIA AND THE USSR. In Russia a system of legal measures for conservation was first instituted by Peter I, who introduced strict regulation of logging in the interests of proper forestry. He also established a forestry service. Some species of trees (oak, elm, and smooth-leaved elm, for example), as well as water-conservation forests, were declared to be under protection. A decree issued in 1719 provided for strict penalties for polluting the Neva and other rivers. Among the measures adopted at the end of the 19th century were laws for the preservation of forests (1888) and the regulation of hunting (1892). However, the development of capitalism at the turn of the 20th century, which resulted in the rapid growth of industry and the cultivation of new lands, was accompanied by the violation of many conservation laws. In their pursuit of profits, private entrepreneurs greedily exploited natural resources, seriously harming the country.

In the USSR conservation is regarded as an important government task. Immediately after the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution, a series of legislative acts was issued. The fundamental act, the Decree on Land, was adopted on Oct. 26, 1917, by the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, on a motion by V. I. Lenin. Later, a number of other measures were adopted, including the decree On Forests, issued on May 27, 1918, by the All-Union Central Executive Committee. The Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR issued several decrees on conservation, including On State Therapeutic Localities (Mar. 20, 1919), On the Subsurface (May 14, 1919), On the Protection of Fish and Game Habitats in the Northern Arctic Ocean and White Sea (May 24, 1921), and On the Protection of Natural Monuments, Gardens, and Parks (Sept. 16, 1921). All of these decrees reflected Leninist principles of conservation: the solution of conservation problems by the state, the creation of a system of control and supervisory bodies and natural preserves, the organization of the rational use of nature, consideration for the interests of future generations in the use of natural resources, and responsibility for incorrect interaction with nature. These principles are also the foundation for contemporary legislation for the protection of nature.

Legal regulation of conservation is accomplished by means of the conservation laws of the Union republics and the laws of the USSR and the Union republics on land, water, and public health. Between 1957 and 1963 conservation laws were adopted in all the Union republics. (A new law on conservation was adopted in the Latvian SSR in 1968.) These laws ensure a comprehensive approach to the problems of environmental protection. In addition to provisions for the preservation of rare and valuable natural phenomena, they include measures regarding all components of nature, including exploited resources. The laws establish prohibitory measures designed to preserve natural phenomena. Moreover, they regulate certain conditions for the use of natural resources, establish preventive measures, and set up priorities for planning, financing, and supervising the execution of these measures.

In 1969 the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted the Basic Principles of Public Health Legislation of the USSR and the Union Republics. (When these principles had been developed, public health laws were adopted in the Union republics.) The Basic Principles of Public Health Legislation define the aggregate of public health and hygiene requirements (for example, standards for soil and for air and water basins), which must be met in working conditions, everyday life, and public leisure and recreation. The Basic Principles of Land Legislation of the USSR and the Union Republics of 1968 and the land codes of the Union republics regulate the totality of problems in the use and conservation of agricultural lands and all other categories of land (see LAND LAW). The Basic Principles of Water Legislation of the USSR and the Union Republics (1970) and the water codes of the Union republics deal with a wide range of problems associated with the rational use and protection of surface and subterranean water resources (see WATER USE LEGISLATION). Forest legislation regulates the use of forest resources, providing for the rational use and protection of forests (see FOREST LEGISLATION).

Many problems of environmental protection are dealt with in the decrees of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and the councils of ministers of the Union republics, which regulate the exploitation of certain types of natural resources and of the natural environment as a whole to meet the needs of the mining and processing industries, agriculture, power engineering, transportation, urban development, and scientific experimentation. Some decrees issued by the Soviet government define long-term programs of measures for the protection of the most important components of the environment; others are directed at the preservation of favorable natural conditions in particularly valuable territories, water basins, and mountain systems.

In September 1972 the Supreme Soviet of the USSR recognized the responsibility for conservation as one of the most important tasks of the Soviet government. On Dec. 29, 1972, the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR adopted an expanded decree, On Strengthening Conservation Efforts and Improving the Use of Natural Resources. The decree obliges party and soviet bodies to establish systematic control over efforts to prevent soil erosion and promote the proper use of land, water, forests, minerals, and other natural resources. Furthermore, party and soviet bodies are to supervise the observance of rules and norms now in effect regarding the continuous cultivation of lands, prevention of the contamination and salination of soils and of surface and subterranean waters, preservation of the water-conservation and protective functions of forests, maintenance of the role of peat bogs in water control, the preservation and reproduction of wildlife and plants, and the prevention of air pollution. Since 1974 conservation measures have been an integral part of current and long-range plans for the development of the national economy of the USSR.

Satisfying the general requirements of conservation is primarily the obligation of the enterprises, institutions, organizations, and citizens who exploit natural resources or who otherwise affect the condition of the environment. Legislation establishes their obligation to observe all conservation measures prescribed by law, to allocate the necessary material means for these purposes, and to carry out the necessary operations to comply with the law. Material losses due to failure to meet the requirements of conservation are subject to compensation. Officials and citizens who violate environmental protection laws are legally responsible as stipulated in the law, to the point of criminal responsibility.

FOREIGN SOCIALIST COUNTRIES. The other socialist countries have adopted both general laws on conservation and laws protecting specific aspects of the environment. In Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, and Poland special ministries of environmental protection have been established. At the federal level in Czechoslovakia, problems of environmental protection are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Construction and Technology; at the republic level there are administrative councils on environmental problems. In Hungary administrative functions related to conservation are assigned primarily to the Ministry of Construcion and Architecture.

CAPITALIST COUNTRIES. In the capitalist countries the destruction of the environment is reaching catastrophic proportions and is creating serious obstacles to the process of environmental restoration, compelling bourgeois governments to adopt conservation measures. To combat environmental degradation, the developed capitalist countries have also worked out national programs of measures to deal with the sources of environmental problems, including provisions for the complete elimination of certain sources of pollution or harmful industrial wastes. In the USA a law was passed in 1969 defining national

policy in environmental protection, and long-term programs were adopted to combat pollution of the atmosphere, water, and soil by industrial wastes and sewage. Preventive measures were devised to safeguard the environment from the negative effects of human activity. An advisory body, the Council on Environmental Quality, was established under the Executive Office of the President. The Environmental Protection Agency, a federal body, has broad powers to supervise the implementation of environmental legislation.

In Great Britain, France, the FRG, Sweden, and other countries special ministries and bureaus have been established to supervise and regulate activities related to environmental protection. Appropriate changes have been made in legislation and in the system of government administration in environmental matters. Pollution-control laws have been adopted. Rules have been established regarding the exploitation of certain types of natural resources, partially limiting the arbitrary behavior of capitalist entrepreneurs.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION. The problems of conservation have given rise to a major branch of international cooperation. Environmental problems occupy an important place among UN activities. In June 1972 a UN conference in Stockholm listed the general principles of international cooperation in conservation efforts. On Dec. 15, 1972, the 27th session of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on organizational and financial measures for international cooperation on problems of environmental protection. In addition, the General Assembly established the Governing Council of a special body, the United Nations Environment Program. The first session of the Governing Council, in which the USSR and other socialist governments participated, was held in June 1973. The council discussed the Plan of Action for the Environment, which had been adopted at the Stockholm conference in 1972, and defined the main emphases of international cooperation. The principal subjects listed by the Governing Council included protection of human health and well-being; protection of the soil and water and preventing the spread of deserts; education and professional training in conservation; and information about conservation. International efforts are also to be focused on the commercial, economic, and technological aspects of conservation; the protection of the ocean; the protection of vegetation, wildlife, and genetic resources; and energy problems.

The USSR is actively involved in the development of international conservation efforts. Bilateral agreements have been concluded between the Soviet Union and all neighboring states concerning problems in the protection of bodies of water, the regulation of fishing, and the quarantine and protection of plants. In addition, the Soviet Union has concluded agreements on the control of forest fires with the Mongolian People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of China. Treaties between the USSR and neighboring states regarding borders and cooperation and mutual assistance in the event of border problems include comprehensive conservation provisions, as well as measures for the protection of certain types of natural resources in border regions.

The members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) engage in coordinated efforts for the preservation, restoration, and improvement of favorable environmental conditions. The Comprehensive Program for the Further Extension and Promotion of Cooperation and Development of Socialist Economic Integration Among the Members of COMECON (1971) provided for the elaboration of conservation measures. In accordance with the agreement entitled Elaboration of Measures for the Protection of Nature (Apr. 28, 1971), which provides for scientific and technological cooperation in solving the complex problems of conservation, the national organizations of the socialist countries are carrying out joint scientific studies on a number of questions, including the public health aspects of conservation and the protection of biogeocenoses. The socialist countries are also engaged in joint scientific projects on measures to prevent air pollution, to protect water resources, and to dispose of or utilize sewage and industrial wastes. Moreover, they are cooperating on studies of the socioeconomic, administrative and legal, and pedagogical aspects of conservation, including legal problems associated with international conservation measures.

The establishment of cooperation between the USSR and the USA was a landmark in the development of international efforts to protect the environment. Agreements concluded between the two countries on May 23, 1972, and July 3, 1974, provide for bilateral cooperation, the elaboration of measures to prevent contamination of the environment, the study of the effects of contamination, the elaboration of the basic principles of regulating the impact of human activity on nature, and the establishment in both countries of natural zones, or biosphere preserves, for the protection of valuable flora and fauna and for scientific research on environmental protection.

Soviet scientific organizations participate in the work of a number of specialized institutions of the UN and other nongovernmental international organizations specializing in various environmental problems (for example, the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment, the International Union of Biological Sciences, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Moreover, Soviet scientific organizations have made a substantial contribution to the International Hydrological Decade, the International Geophysical Year, the International Biological Program, and Man and the Biosphere (a long-term UNESCO program). Soviet scientific organizations have contributed to several international conservation publications and documents, such as the List of National Parks and Their Corresponding Territories in the Member-Countries of the UN, The Red Book: Wildlife in Danger (by J. Fisher, N. Simon, and J. Vincent; London, 1969), and conventions for the protection of marshlands and for the protection of nature and natural resources in Africa.



Brezhnev, L. I. Otchetnyi doklad TsK KPSS XXIV s”ezdu Kommunisticheskoi partii Sovetskogo Soiuza. Moscow, 1971.
Kirillin, V. A. “O merakh po dal’neishemu uluchsheniiu okhrany prirody i ratsional’nomu ispol’zovaniiu prirodnykh resursov.” Pravda, Sept. 20, 1972.
“O merakh po dal’neishemu uluchsheniiu okhrany prirody i ratsional’nomu ispol’zovaniiu prirodnykh resursov: Postanovlenie Verkhov-nogo Soveta SSSR.” Pravda, Sept. 21, 1972.
“K narodam mira.” Pravda, Dec. 24, 1972.
Blagosklonov, K. N., A. A. Inozemtsev, and V. N. Tikhomirov. Okhrana prirody. Moscow, 1967.
Gladkov, N. A. Problema okhrany prirody i ee narodnokhoziaistvennoe znachenie. Moscow, 1968.
Gladkov, N. A. Okhrana prirody v pervye gody Sovetskoi vlasti. Moscow, 1972.
Efremov, Iu. K. Priroda na sluzhbe obshchestva. Moscow, 1968.
Parson, R. Priroda pred”iavliaet schet. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from English.)
Laptev, I. P. Nauchnye osnovy okhrany prirody. Tomsk, 1970.
Chichvarin, V. A. Okhrana prirody i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia. Moscow, 1970.
Okhrana prirody: Sb. normativnykh aktov. Edited by V. M. Blinov. Moscow, 1971.
Watt, K. Ekologiia i upravlenie prirodnymi resursami. Moscow, 1971. (Translated from English.)
Budyko, M. I. Vliianie cheloveka na klimat. Leningrad, 1972.
Fedorov, E. K. Vzaimodeistvie obshchestva i prirody. Leningrad, 1972.
Bannikov, A. G. “Krasnaia kniga prirody.” Priroda, 1972, no. 4.
Ispol’zovanie i okhrana prirodnykh resursov: Trudy Mezhpravitel’stvennoi konferentsii po ratsional’nomu ispol’zovaniiu i okhrane resursov biosfery. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from English.)
“Obshchestvo i priroda.” Voprosy filosofii, 1973, no. 4, pp. 42–56.
Ehrenfeld, D. Priroda iliudi. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from English.)
Gerasimov, I., and M. Budyko. “Aktual’nye problemy vzaimodeistviia cheloveka i prirody.” Kommunist, 1974, no. 10.
Commoner, B. Zamykaiushchiisia krug. Leningrad, 1974. [Translated from English.]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Those measures concerned with the preservation, restoration, beneficiation, maximization, reutilization, substitution, allocation, and integration of natural resources.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


The overseeing and maintenance of a building to prevent or arrest its decay or destruction, usually by applying a variety of measures. See building conservation and building preservation.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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