Last week, the UN World Heritage Committee condemned the logging in Bialowieza Forest which is a part of a World Heritage Site.  Yesterday, it was confirmed that the case is being referred to the European Court of Justice.  These interventions offer hope to everyone involved in the campaign to protect the site.  My colleague, Dan Pullan (International Casework Manager), was at the meeting and below offers his thoughts on why the forest is so special, why it is being threatened and what NGOs are doing to try to save... 

Image courtesy of Jaroslaw Krogulec

The RSPB is the UK partner of BirdLife International, and as such we support the efforts of our fellow partners in other countries to protect their best nature sites from damage and deterioration. We have a long standing relationship with our Polish partner OTOP, and worked with them to successfully resist the Via Baltica road development that threatened unique forest and wetland sites in 2009.

Now, another key nature site of global significance is threatened in Poland. Bialowieza Forest, located on the border between Poland and Belarus, is the largest remnant of primeval forest to survive in Europe. It has existed, largely untouched by man since the last ice-age. It hosts a uniquely rich flora and fauna including majestic veteran trees, wolf packs and the most important populations in the world of endangered wild European bison.

Image courtesy of Jaroslaw Krogulec

The whole of the Belarussian part is protected as a national park, while the Polish part comprises a national park, nature reserves and other managed forest areas. Additionally, the Polish part of the forest is designated as a Natura 2000 site (under the Birds and Habitats Directive in the EU) and both the Polish and Belarussian parts are also a natural World Heritage Site under UNESCO. However, the site is under threat from logging. A new Forest Management Plan adopted by the Polish government increases logging and extraction of timber in the site by threefold. Also, the Polish government is using a bark beetle infestation of spruce trees as cover to allow ‘sanitary’ clear cutting of forest stands, even though bark beetle outbreaks are a natural process, and dead and dying trees form a key part of the forest ecosystem.

Image courtesy of Jaroslaw Krogulec

OTOP and its NGO allies in Poland having been engaged in a hard fight to get the new forest management plan revoked and to stop the ‘sanitary’ cutting. A complaint was also put into the European Commission over damage to the Natura 2000 site, and the Commission announced yesterday that it is referring the case to the European Court of Justice and has also applied for ‘interim measures’ (equivalent to an injunction) to stop the damaging logging now. I also attended the World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow last week, where the Committee passed a resolution condemning the logging in the World Heritage Site. A reactive mission from the World Heritage Convention will be sent to Bialowieza soon, with the likely outcome that the site will be put on the World Heritage Sites in Danger list.

Hopefully all these actions will persuade an intransigent Polish government that it needs to take its global responsibilities toward the nature of this wonderful site more seriously and protect it rather than exploit it. You can also do you bit to help put pressure on the government – please sign the Polish NGO coalition’s petition here.

  • Apart from the environmental devastation the forest was also a refuge for the Polish Resistance in the war. We were shown memorials to resistance fighters who were massacred by the *** and we understood that these have become sites of pilgrimage for relatives of the dead. This is just another form of vandalism.