|Bialowieza primeval forest, Poland
The Bialowieza Forest (150 000 ha) is the last remaining fragment of primary deciduous and mixed forest in the European lowlands. It is the place where giant trees, not found anywhere else in Europe, exist. Many species which disappeared from other regions or are endangered are still present there, including large mammals (European bison, wolf and lynx) and rare species dependent on dead wood or large trees: woodpeckers, saproxylic coleopterans and fungi. Therefore, Bialowieza Forest is also a key refuge for relict, critically endangered species, because it is the only place where ecological and evolutionary processes, typical for the temperate forest biome, can still be observed.
Unfortunately, only 38% of the Polish part of Bialowieza Forest (the rest is located in Belarus) is currently protected as the national park and nature reserves. Despite of being a Natura 2000 site, most of the forest has undergone commercial logging and artificial reforestation also in the remaining natural stands. Forestry exploitation has been devastating pristine and unique habitats with the most precious flora and fauna species. Key ecological processes are being disrupted and unless the current unsustainable exploitation is stopped the few remaining fragments of natural old-growth forest will disappear in a matter of years. This loss of biodiversity will be irreparable.
Scientists warn that the protected part of the forest is too small to guarantee suitable conditions for most populations of endangered species and to safeguard natural processes in the long term. For instance, in the last two decades, the population of the White-backed Woodpecker has decreased by about 28% for the forest as a whole, but by 36% in stands managed commercially. This tremendous loss of biodiversity is a violation of the national law and it stands in opposition to the European nature conservation Directives. For decades, scientists and public opinion have demanded to stop timber harvesting except for small quotas covering the needs of local people.
OTOP (BirdLife Partner in Poland) recently entered administrative procedures aiming to change the forest management plan for the Bialowieza Forest and the related Natura 2000 management plan. OTOP is also involved in a proposal – now considered in the parliament – to change existing regulations, to enable easier extensions of existing and establishment of new national parks in Poland.
Wesołowski T. (2005): Virtual conservation: how the European Union is turning blind eye to its vanishing primaeval forests. Conservation Biology 19: 1349-1358.
OTOP, (BirdLife partner in Poland)
Dr Przemyslaw Chylarecki, pch(at)miiz.waw.pl