Save Bialowieza Forest

Campaign description

Save Bialowieza Forest

Protecting the last pristine lowland forests in Europe, home of the European bison

Białowieża Forest is one of the very few remaining parts of the primeval forest that used to stretch across the European Plain. It is home to giant spruce, oak and ash trees, and more than 20,000 animal species. The most famous of these is the European bison. Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko approved a proposal from the State Forests Service to expand planned logging areas, threatening […]

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Białowieża Forest is one of the very few remaining parts of the primeval forest that used to stretch across the European Plain. It is home to giant spruce, oak and ash trees, and more than 20,000 animal species. The most famous of these is the European bison. Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko approved a proposal from the State Forests Service to expand planned logging areas, threatening natural habitats with irreversible degradation. The European Commission responded to a complaint from 7 environmental organizations but logging has only been stopped temporarily. In 2017 Camp for the Forest was set up to stop the devastation of this piece of wilderness and advocate for turning it into a national park.

The year 2017 in Białowieża Forest was a special one. After over 20 years of campaigning for protection of this unique forest in Poland, with some small successes along the way, the situation took a dramatic turn. The last primeval forest of lowland Europe, a UNESCO World Heritage site home to half of all European bison, was being devastated on an enormous scale.

The original excuse for the logging was the outbreak of the spruce bark beetle. In a primeval forest such outbreaks happen every 10 years or so. The current outbreak is bigger than normal because of changes in climate that make spruce more prone to attack. Decaying spruce trees provide a habitat for numerous species which find it difficult to survive in a typical forest-plantation and also play a key role in natural forest regeneration. But for the State Forest Authorities it mainly means loss of timber, and, as a result, loss of money.

This is why—for the first time in history—harvesters were hauled into the forest. Such a machine is able to cut up to 300 trees daily. What’s more, the harvesters have entered the most precious parts of the forest: tree stands which are over 100 years old. What makes the tree stands of the Białowieża Forest so unique is that, until now, they have not been subject to modern forestry techniques. The Białowieża Forest constitutes just 0.6% of all Polish forests and is unique in that it was not created through artificial means. Despite this inestimable value, approximately 180 thousand trees were felled in the Białowieża Forest throughout 2017.

In 2017 the Camp for the Forest was set up to stop the devastation of this piece of wilderness and advocate for turning it into a national park. While intensity of logging has (temporarily?) decreased, we still have plenty of things to do, both on-site and online. First of all, we continue to monitor the forest so as to be able to react quickly to any changes. Currently, we see foresters setting up more and more new plantations, which are an even greater threat than logging to the continuity of natural processes. Nonetheless, it is challenging to build public resistance to this threat. In addition, we have learned of an outrageous plan to log in the forest’s nature reserves. In response, we have launched an instant media campaign and staged a walk-in to disrupt discussion of this plan. Thanks to our swift reaction the plan was postponed but not fully dismissed. This shows that we have to remain alert and be prepared to oppose logging as soon as it returns. 

We are determined to achieve our ultimate goal: a national park for the entire Białowieża Forest. Currently, only 17% of the Polish part of Białowieża Forest is protected as a National Park. The remaining 83% is managed by the State Forest Authorities. Knowing that local opinion is one of the main barriers to the park’s enlargement, we are working with the community. We do informal education for kids, we create platforms for discussion about the region’s future, we are trying to overcome negative clichés about environmentalists by engaging in everyday, direct contact with our neighbors. The way ahead is long but changing people’s attitudes creates a far more stable ground for improved protection than counting on top-down decisions imposed by politicians.

Apart from this, we are struggling with a growing legal burden. Much of our work is now devoted to coordinating the logistics of more than 150 legal cases. Activists have been sued for entering “closed” parts of the Forest (trespassing); for blocking the work of harvesters (incurring losses for the foresters and/or disturbing public order); occupying public offices of the State Forest Authority (classified as a criminal offence!); blocking the trucks used for removing illegally harvested wood (blocking public roads); etc.

Photos:
© Adam Wajrak: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12
© Brais Palmás: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
© Pavel Simeonov: 11

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Our Needs

Online help
General online help Urgent
  • Your help is needed
Act, share info, sign the petition and join the crowd-funding campaign
Graphic design of posters and social media posts
On-site help
Participation in Camp for the Forest, patrolling, cooking, cleaning, and taking direct action, support to local people (choose local housing and local restaurants)
Online and on-site help
Photo and video reporting, journalists
International law help, legal aid in Poland

Languages we speak

  • English
  • Polish

What we do

What we offer to volunteers

  • Accommodation
  • Birdwatching
  • Environmental learning
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife watching

Videos about the campaign

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Documents

Article-Please_do_not_disturbe_ecosystems_further.pdf
Press_release-European_Court_of_Justice.pdf

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