Bialowieża Forest still under threat

Bialowieza Forest, Poland

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A unique piece of nature

The Białowieża Forest, along the Polish-Belarusian border, is one of the last vestiges of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across Europe. Today it is a National Park of about 63.000 ha that includes a large Natura 2000 site involving Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). The forest is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, it hosts several natural habitats of community interest like the east European oak-hornbeam-linden mixed deciduous forest Tilio Carpinetum, and is home for a large number of species listed in the Annex II of the Habitat Directives. Among these species, the European bison, the Saproxylic beetles, the Three-toed woodpecker, the White-backed woodpecker and some owls are present, and all of them are strongly dependent on the maintenance of the natural forest.

Logging as a management solution?

Sadly, some months ago Polish authorities revised the management plan of the area, authorizing logging in Białowieża forest despite strong protests of local and international organisations. Considering the crucial importance of the site, the European Commission has launched in June 2016 an infringement procedure against Poland over the tree-clearing in the site for breaching the EU Nature Directives. The UNESCO and IUCN are also assessing the situation at the moment.

The Polish government justifies the initiative in order to prevent the damage caused by the Spruce bark beetle, to protect tourists and rangers from harm by cutting down trees that risk falling on trails, to open free areas to encourage new species and the biodiversity and to let local communities to exploit natural resources. Those reasons were recently reiterated at the European Parliament, by the Polish Minister of the Environment for the opening of an exhibition on the Białowieża Forest.

EUROPARC is working in close cooperation with the European Commission, IUCN and other environmental organizations in order to ensure that the forest and its natural processes can be preserved. EUROPARC is also keen to support the Białowieża National Park authorities offering expertise and encouraging the exchange of case studies and best practices with other Protected Areas across Europe that are successfully managing ancient forest and Natura 2000 sites.

Natural regeneration process example

An example of natural regeneration can be found in the Bayerisch Wald National Park in Germany, where after suffering the Spruce bark beetle effects, the forest recovered following a natural process with little human intervention and no logging being undertook. The images below show the natural evolution of the Bayerisch Wald forest after the plague.

Bayerisch Wald Forest regeneration after spruce bark beetle plague