Only restoration can save UNESCO World Heritage Site Bialowieza – not the chainsaw!

In the Belarusian national park Belovezhskaya Pushcha the forest gets its water back. Restoration of the Dziki Nikar fen mire is to contribute to the rescue of UNESCO World Heritage Site Bialowieza Forest.

Restoration of 1,100 hectares of fen mire in Belovezhskaya Pushcha has begun. ©APB BirdLife Belarus

(Frankfurt, 7th December 2016)  Alexander Bury, director of the Belarusian national park Belovezhskaya Pushcha, used a large excavator to perform the ground-breaking ceremony a few days ago. After a one-year-long preparatory phase, this was the beginning of the restoration of 1,100 hectares of fen mire in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The national park is part of the Polish-Belarusian Bialowieza forest complex. It borders on the Polish national park Bialowieza.


This is a first step to restore the natural water regime in the forest. 75 kilometres of drainage ditches will be sealed with 112 dams within the next six to eight weeks in order to impound water. In a short time, the water table will settle close to the ground surface again and hopefully, within a few years, rare bird species such as great snipe and corncrake will reinhabit this area. On the forest edges, the greater spotted eagle, another rare species, will find food and breeding sites as this bird favours moist and wet transitions to forest areas, as they would develop as a result of the restoration. 

Signal to the Polish side: the use of chainsaws is pointless!

„Only restoration can save this UNESCO World Heritage Site, not the chainsaw!“ ©APB BirdLife Belarus

„Now the unique Bialowieza forest – or Beloveshkaya Pushcha, as it is called in Belarus – is getting a little wilder again,“ says Viktar Fenchuk, local FZS project leader. „With this fen mire restoration we also want to put down a marker against the logging plans of the Polish government,“ Fenchuk continues.


While restoration takes place on the Belarusian side, the Polish government is planning massive logging in the forest around Bialowieza National Park – despite national and international protests. In this way, it threatens the natural development of the forest and its status as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Polish Ministry of the Environment argues that logging serves the protection of the forest and justifies their intentions with drought in the forest and with the risk of bark beetle infestation.


„Cutting down trees does not solve the possibly existing drought problem. The forest rather needs to get back its function as a water reservoir. And this is what the Belarusian colleagues are working on now,“ says Michael Brombacher, Head of Europe Department of Frankfurt Zoological Society, who is in charge of this project. „Only restoration can save this UNESCO World Heritage Site, not the chainsaw!“

Opposition to logging

The operations planned in Poland counteract EU nature conservation directives and all agreements made in association with the designation of the World Heritage Site. IUCN, UNESCO, the Council of Europe as well as numerous international and Polish forest ecologists, conservation experts, forest scientists and a coalition of Polish and international conservation organisations strictly oppose these activities.


Logging causes harm to the biodiversity of the area. In a natural or near-natural forest, bark beetles do not constitute a major threat. The forest can handle this alleged problem without human intervention, as experience in the Bavarian Forest National Park reveals.


The expansive Bialowieza forest is one of the few remaining large-sized natural forests in Europe. It contains remnants of primeval forest and near-natural forest stands as large as nowhere else in Western and Central Europe. The forest area, which is about 200,000 hectares in size, is politically divided with almost equal shares on the Polish and Belarusian state territories. Large parts of Bialowieza are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The restoration of the Dziki Nikar fen mire is jointly implemented by the Belovezhkaya Pushcha National Park administration (Belarus), the Belarusian nature conservation organisation APB BirdLife Belarus and Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS). It is funded by FZS and several private German foundations, among them Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung, Stiftung Wolfgang Wüsthof and Stiftung Vogelschutz in Feuchtgebieten.


The Bialowieza Forest


Large parts of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park on the Belarusian side were heavily exploited in the past. Only about 8,000 hectares of the former primeval forest still remain. In 2012 the Belarusian government expanded the national park’s core zone from 30,000 to 60,000 hectares. In the following springtime, hunting, feeding of game animals and timber extraction were already completely ceased in this area. Hence, the core zone of the national park, where nature can develop according to its own laws and unaffected by humans, is almost four times bigger in Belovezhskaya Pushcha than in the Bavarian Forest.


The natural water regime of Bialowieza Forest was substantially disturbed by large-scale drainage and river straightening works that took place since 1950, mainly in the Belarusian part. Typical tree species like oak, elm, ash and lime as well as silver fir and spruce rarely rejuvenate naturally anymore. Due to drainage of fen mires on the forest edges and straightening of the rivers flowing to the northwest, the ground-water table dropped significantly (by 1-1.5 metres on average).



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Dagmar Andres-Brümmer | FZS Communications

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