Scientists and environmental campaigners have accused the Polish government of bringing the ecosystem of the Białowieża forest in north-eastern Poland to the “brink of collapse”, one year after a revised forest management plan permitted the trebling of state logging activity and removed a ban on logging in old growth areas.
Large parts of the forest, which spans Poland’s eastern border with Belarus and contains some of Europe’s last remaining primeval woodland, are subject to natural processes not disturbed by direct human intervention.
A Unesco natural world heritage site – the only one in Poland – the forest is home to about 1,070 species of vascular plants, 4,000 species of fungi, more than 10,000 species of insect, 180 breeding bird species and 58 species of mammal, including many species dependent on natural processes and threatened with extinction.
Logging is prohibited in the Białowieża national park nature reserve, which contains woodland untouched by humans for thousands of years, but the reserve only accounts for 17% of the forest on the Polish side, leaving approximately 40,000 hectares vulnerable to state-sanctioned logging.
On recent visits to the forest, I encountered evidence of widespread logging of trees in apparent contravention of Polish and European law, including many trees that appeared to be more than 100 years old in Unesco-protected areas, with logs marked for commercial distribution.
You can read my article for the Guardian here.